Su embroidery, Xiang embroidery, Yue embroidery, and Shu embroidery are China’s four famous types of embroidery.
According to the book Said Yuan, authored by Liu Xiang of the Western Han Dynasty, the Kingdom of Wu applied embroidery in its apparel 2,000 years ago in the Chun and Qiu periods.
Since the Song Dynasty, Su embroidery has prospered and its technology has gradually matured. At that time, almost every household in the rural country worked in embroidery.
In the city, several famous manufacturers also started producing embroidery handicrafts. Not only were there a lot of people working with embroidery for a living, but often the wealthy ladies embroidered in their recreation time, which resulted in the distinctions between so-called “folk embroidery,” “boudoir embroidery,”and “palace embroidery.”
In the Ming Dynasty, South East China became the center of embroidery handicraft.
Combined with painting skills, the embroidery artists have created lifelike embroidered masterpieces.
Skills such as acupuncture, and different patterns like landscapes, pavilions, flowers, birds, and characters were developed in the Su embroidery during that period. Later, Su embroidery absorbed Shanghai’s Gu embroidery, as well as the characteristics of Western painting, creating a more three-dimensional style with light and shade.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, Chinese embroidery and Chinese painting became popular in the French court.
Chinese brocade becomes ‘Fine Vogue’ in Qing Dynasty
During the Guangxu Qing Dynasty, artist Chen Yunzhi (later renamed Shen Shou) created “emulation embroidery” by learning Western painting and integrating its conventions into embroidery. She was nicknamed the “Sage of Embroidery.”
Her works entitled “Portrait of an Italian Empress” were served as national gifts to Italy, and won the “World’s Highest Excellent Honor Award” during the Italy Dulang Expo exhibition. The Italian emperor and empress sent an open letter to the Qing Government praising the exquisite Chinese embroidery.
In 1915, a piece called “Portrait of Jesus” embroidered by Shen Shou won first prize and sold for $13,000 in the “Panama-Pacific International Exposition” organized in the United States.