Dongtai Hair Embroidery
2011-12-23 09:17:00


Dongtai Hair Embroidery(东台发绣)

Dongtai Hair embroidery, a handcraft embodied with both antique craft and state-of-the art skills.

As the ballad goes: who could reject to admire of the marvellous hair embroidery! Needling the beautiful hair with great tender, a vivid stitch work of rosy clouds is born.  

Hair embroidery, as the name indicates, outstands itself with sleek and tough nature, as well as never-fade color, hair embroidery adopts hair instead of thread as the raw material. The natural color in black, white, grey and brown, the characteristic of slender, soft, luster and smooth, and treated with various stitches such as connecting stitch, cutting stitch, twinning stitch, and rolling stitch, the hair embroidery is adept at presenting line drawing figures, landscape and buildings, etc, so hair embroidery wins its name for its plain and neat picture without rare background, fine and close stitch, as well as tender and soft color, unique in style.

In the splendid Chinese embroidery history, hair embroidery takes a marvellous and unique place. As indicated in the historical records, "the Oriental Statue", currently reserved in London Museum, UK, is the oldest hair embroidery work ever discovered so far, this museum piece is said embroidered by Liu An, concubine of Emperor Zhao Gou of Nan Song Dynasty. The ancient hair embroidery discovered early also includes: "Maitreya Buddha" preserved in Shosoin of Japan, which was worked out by Han Ximeng of Ming danasty; "Teng Wang Attic" and "Yellow Crane Tower" in the photocopy "Spectacle Paintings of the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties" were embroidered by Xia Mingyuan of Ming dynasty; the "Lady Leaning on the Musical Instrument under Moonlight" of the Jiajing Period of Ming Dynasty, which is preserved in Shanghai Museum; "Water-Moon Kwan-yin", embroidered by daughter of Shan Xi governor general in the 5th year of Emperor Daoguang period in Qing Dynasty  and currently kept in Chengdu Wenshu monastery. All the said ancient hair embroideries are treasures handed down from ancient time, which are highly appreciated by posterities as "slender as cilia, marvelous as accomplished with God’s favor".

  In the heyday of Buddhism in the Tang Dynasty, numerous devout women came to use their own hair to embroider Buddha-to-be, image of Kwan-yin Bodhisattva over silkscreens to prostrate themselves in worship everyday, this is the origin of Hair embroidery. Until the late Yuan Dynasty and the beginning of Ming Dynasty, Hair embroidery broke through the theme religious subjects, with embroidered contents no longer limited to personal portraits. It weeded through the old to bring forth the new in artistic techniques, combining paintings and the embroidery, with output of numerous famous masterpieces. Whereas until the period in late Qing Dynasty, such wonderful art declined even to disappear, and people can appreciate its splendid charms by the collections in museums.

In the late 1970's, the ever declined masterstroke craftsmanship of Hair embroidery got a miraculous recovery in Dongtai Jiangsu, and regained marvellous 

It was not by accident for Dongtai to become the new birthplace of in the "Hair embroidery. The records of Hair embroidery in Dongtai region was first found in the "Xituan Travel Notes" by Kong Shangren of years of Kangxi Period of Qing Dynasty (1662-1722): "There are embroideries of Kwan Yin Buddha researved in Liangwang temple in Xituan Twon (used to belonged to Dongtai FIELD", and are regarded as treasure of Hair embroidery." In the late Yuan Dynasty, the peasant movement started leader Zhang Shicheng was defeated in Suzhou, numerous skillful embroidery artists were stranded to the region of Lixia River, bringing forth the consummate arts and crafts from river south. It was an amazing historical repeat: in the 60's and 70's in last century, in an unprecedented political movement, quantities of South Jiangsu were sent to the countryside, and many artists, painting masters and embroidery workers came to Dongtai. After Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, with the steps of opening-up and revolution, Dongtai concentrated it efforts on development of art and rescue the cultural heritage, and the new Hair embroidery was then born. Wu Lei, an native Suzhou artist, with the help of Mr. Gao Boyu, the founder of Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, who ever stayed in Dongtai, succeeded to invite the student of Mr. Gao, the famous embroidery master Ms. Gu Wenxia to give technical guidance. With the joint efforts of a great number of painting masters and embroidery workers, the first article of Hair embroidery in Dongtai "Autumn Breeze and Fine Silk Fan" was finished completed. And, with this as a starting point, such antique & mysterious art of Hair embroidery gained fabulous development, and Dongtai also becomes world famous as the Hair embroidery goes.

As an oriental commodity, Chinese Hair embroidery takes its place on the market, and is also faced with fierce competition. This comes from the heart of artist of Dongtai Hair embroidery.

Nowadays, such antique oriental art of Hair embroidery marks a new epoch. The artists replace the ink embroidery with color embroidery, with integration of painting and embroidery, changing the double hook stitch to stitching operation, with development of double-faced embroidery and double-faced embroidery in different colors.

We did not have the chance to appreciate the excellency of original Hair embroidery article "Riverside Seene at Qingming Festival" which was already auctioned in Hong Kong, but we can catch a glimpse of its splender. Using hair instead of pens, the hair embroidery workers depicted the painting meaning of Zhang Zeduan; and the inscription "Riverside Seene at Qingming Festival -- Hair Embroidery" and the book writing by Wu Zhongqi by famous calligrapher & painter Xie Zhiliu "It gives full dispplay of the Qingming Festival, Conveying the folk custom". When it is framed, it has a full length of 9.98m, the longest in the world at that time; it was the only existing copy and became the pursuit goal of collectors both home and abroad. Lately, a long-roll hair embroidery " Flourishing City Gusu" that is 13.2 m in length broke through such record. It was a long scroll hailed as one of the top ten masterpieces Chinese Painting, fully describing the flourishing scene of the ancient city of Suzhou in the prosperity in the Reign of Kangxi and Qianlong, embroidered with over 4600 persons from all sectors, 2140 mansions in various styles, over 40 bridges, all kinds of cargo vessels and 300 bamboo rafts, as well as 300 pieces of business stores, known as the historical masterpiece. In recent years, there were successive emergence of multitude of long-roll hair embroidery articles in Dongtai, such as "Panorama Three Gorges"

Production develops simultaneously with business, both in top grade and low grade, which already becomes the only route for Dongtai Embroidery to go abroad. As in marketing, they focus on the strategy of market demands: decrease the prices properly for low-grade products to make hair embroideries available to ordinary people; whereas, image of famous people and painting masterpieces by famous masters are chosen for top-grade embroideries, with emphasis on  integral framing, making hair embroidery step to the holy palace of art. At present, there are more than 70000 persons engaged in technique design, color matching, outline, embroidery and framing of hair embroideries, most of which are young girls, and re-employed of laid-off works. The whole city is in possession of 1 professional company engaged in hair embroidery, over 20 professional factories, 300 technical points, and over 40 sale points of hair embroideries, with annual worth exceeding one hundred million Yuan.

Dongtai "Chinese Hair Embroidery" won decades of domestic awards, and honors in international expositions and folk art expositions, which catches much attention of high-level executive leaders. Song Ping -- the Standing Committee Political Bureau, the CPC Central Committee, Ye Fei, Ji Pengfei, Chen Pixian -- Vice-Chairperson of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Sun Jiazheng -- Minister of the State Ministry of Culture, Han Peixin -- former Secretary of CPC Jiangsu Provincial Committee, and Gu Xiulian -- Governor of Jiangsu Province, every carried out inspection & visitation, and put a high value upon Dongtai Hair embroidery. Editor:吴心海