Suzhou embroidery

By / 07-15-2015 / (Chinese Social Sciences Today)


Short for Suzhou embroidery, Su embroidery is an excellent traditional craft of the Han nationality. Su embroidery is an umbrella category for all embroidery products in Suzhou area, Jiangsu Province. It originated in Wu County and has already spread over many areas in Jiangsu Province, such as Wuxi and Changzhou.

This type of embroidery is closely connected with the local silk industry, which is why it's also known as silk embroidery. In the Qing Dynasty (1616-1911), Su, Xiang, Yue and Shu embroidery were considered the four famous types of Chinese embroidery. Su embroidery reached its peak in the Qing Dynasty, during which a variety of schools and competing masters emerged.

With its beautiful designs, elaborate patterns, delicate techniques, vivid knitting and elegant colors, Su embroidery is unique and rich in local characteristics. Because most Su embroidery was made by noble ladies in ancient times, it is also called "ladies' embroidery."

Su embroidery has a long history of more than 2,000 years in China. Records about how to make Su embroidery can be found from as early as the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280). The foundation of the style and lingering charm of Su embroidery was laid during the Sui (581-618) and Tang (618-907) dynasties. By the Song (960-1279) and Yuan (1206-1368) dynasties, its fundamental techniques and characteristics had already taken shape. During the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing dynasties, the technique reached maturity.

Since the Ming Dynasty, a number of great Su embroidery masters have emerged. Various schools showed their abundant and unique skills. Three schools have exerted a significant influence and passed on their skills to inheritors. The first is called traditional fine embroidery; the second is emulated embroidery, combining the skills of Western photography and drawing created by Shen Shou (1874-1921, a female embroider), and the third is random-needle embroidery created by Yang Shouyu (1895-1981, a female embroider). With the development of the modern commodity economy and scientific technology, computer embroidery is rapidly taking the place of traditional techniques and threatening the practice of Su embroidery with extinction.