Zhejiang embroidery impresses modern people
The traditional craft of embroidery is energy-consuming but famed for its fine and delicate products. [Photo: vcg.com]
Embroidery, also called woman craft, is a basic life skill that women were good at in ancient China.
In modern times, the adoption of computers and machines has greatly increased the efficiency of this traditional craft.
But still, the mechanized embroidery works can’t beat hand-made embroidery in its finery and sophistication.
In Changxing County, eastern Zhejiang Province, one embroidery craftswoman has been dedicating her time and skills to preserving and promoting the traditional craft.
Sixty-seven-year-old Qian Weixing first tried embroidery when she was a child.
Qian recalls that in those days, most women stayed at home embroidering rather than go out to work. Her grandmother was no exception.
“At that time, many women didn’t go out to work because they had bound feet. When I was four or five years old, I watched my grandma embroidering. I thought her work was beautiful, and it sparked my interest,” recalls Qian.
The then little girl learned her skills from her grandma. But as she grew up and times changed, Qian stopped embroidering because the craft was time-consuming and she couldn’t make much money out of it.
Things changed in 2007, when a TV series featuring the life of traditional embroiders in the early 20th century revived Qian’s interest in the craft.
Qian was already retired, so she had more spare time:
“A lot of the embroidery shown in the TV series was really beautiful. When I saw it, I wanted to try and embroider similar beautiful patterns to impress my family and friends.”
But Qian’s son objected, arguing that the work was tedious and bad for her eyes. He wanted his mother to simply enjoy her leisure time in retirement.
But his stubborn mother refused to back down.
“All my family objected. I was so frustrated that I cried at night. My son even came to my room to check on whether I was doing embroidery. I would hide my work before he came in. After he left, I would carry on.”
Her persistence paid off and Qian’s family gradually dropped their objections. And Qian doubled her efforts to improve her skills.
“I usually embroider at night. You know, there are times when people can’t always do it. You have to concentrate your attention.
“You can only be sure of the quality of the embroidery when you do the work quietly and alone. So I often embroider until two o’clock in the morning. I’m passionate about it.”
This late-night demanding work hasn’t been good to Qian’s eyes, which have grown tired and sore.
But she can’t stop. She simply makes her desk lamp brighter and continues working with her needle and thread.
“The smaller the pattern, the harder it is to make. This one is tiny. You can’t even see it clearly with your naked eye. I was on the verge of giving up at one point.
“There are too many details you have to take care of in the pattern. It’s very difficult to make. But I stuck to my work and made these two patterns. It’s not that easy!”
Qian says it takes at least a month to finish an ordinary piece of embroidery. To make a masterpiece, Qian has to work on something for one to two years.
But it’s finally paying off. In recent years, some 40 pieces of embroidery have been selected to be exhibited at the cultural center in Changxing County, which attracts a lot of art lovers.
Qiang has also won a lot of fans and customers on social media platforms, like Weibo and Wechat.
One particular fan, from Taiwan, likes her work so much that he visited her home to buy a work called Family Happiness. Qian earned 200,000 yuan for the one piece.
Qian Weixin was surprised but very pleased. And at last her son is proud of her:
“She persisted in embroidering for about two decades. Now she has made some achievement. Her works are very good. I admire her very much!”
Qian now hopes to pass her skills down to her daughters-in-law and granddaughter.
"The government is making a lot of efforts to protect intangible cultural heritage. And I like embroidering very much.
"I’ll ask my two daughters-in-law to learn these skills. If they don’t learn them, the skills will be lost to future generations.”
But Qian’s fears have proved to be unfounded. The younger generations of the family, especially her granddaughter, have shown their eagerness to learn the craft.
“I think the embroidery done by my grand-mom is very beautiful. I am also really interested in handiwork. I’d like to learn from her and continue this family craft.”