Phase 3: Interpreting Information

Updated 6 years 10 months ago

Background Information (from Phase 1, Step 4)

Instead of having holes to go through and make crosses, you sew lines on another piece of cloth using silk threads, not cotton ones. On one side you tie the knots so the other side will appear to be perfect, with the other side messy and ugly. Threads must be very thin and fine to make the artwork look flawless and without lines sticking out when colors dissolve into each other. The difficulty of embroidery is also a lot higher, since every time the color changes, you have to switch a thread, and the beginning of another thread is always so easy to spot. (1)

Silk is the most commonly used embroidering material. Silk doesn't get tangled as easily as other materials, it can separate into a lot of strands, therefore making the embroidery finer, and lastly, it gives the product a shine. To prepare silk for embroidering:

  1. It is first boiled for softness and flexibility.
  2. Then stretched over an arch-shaped tool, enough to make the beginnings visible and for thinness, but it is one continuous thread consisting 300 strands. 
  3. Then it is dyed, ready for use. 
  4. But it before the embroidering, it is folded into half, separated into three strands, braided, so it will not get tangled when you draw one out. 
  5. To separate the strings into smaller strands, you make a loop at the top and twist the thread, and as it unrolls, you will see several strands. Pull one out. 

Machine embroideries look less natural then hand-made embroideries, because machines are way too precise and caused the transitions of tones to be unnatural. Symbolism are often found in zodiac animals, fishes, and flower designs on the clothing or art-piece, which most of them symbolizes good luck, wealth, prosperity, and so. The patterns in Bai women's clothing are made up of floral decorations entirely, while Miao women dresses's designs use flowers and repeating geometric patterns. An embroider earn around 16,000 RMB a year, but could his/her salary may vary depending on the price their embroidery sold for, which is determined by the fineness of silk and workmanship. (2)

Embroidery dated back to the Shang Dynasty, when this art symbolized wealth and social status. In the Han Dynasty, this skill flourished and was common knowledge to every girl in the town, flooding the homes of elites, from mattresses to burial clothing. During the Three Kingdom Period, the wife of King Wu was granted the name of Master of Weaving, since she was talented in calligraphy, painting, and embroidering, even producing an embroidered map of China to King Wu. From the Wei to Tang Dynasties, Buddhism was introduced and new skills emerged to show honor to Buddha statues, also turning the paintings of nature into tapestries. In the Song Dynasty, by combining the style of calligraphy and painting, quality and quantity of embroideries flourished and reached its peak, which allowed people to divide this technique into two categories- art for daily use and art as art itself. Symbolism was commonly used during the Ming Dynasty, and materials from Japan and the Western world were used in the Qing Dynasty. Zhang Jian, an outstanding industrialist in modern Chinese history, published the first book of embroidery in 1918, by recording every word of Xue Huan, a famous embroider that was also known to the West from winning awards and producing national gifts, but spends most of her time in bed, ill.  There are four major styles of embroidery in China- Su (Suzhou), Shu (Sichuan), Xiang (Hunan), and Yue (Guangzhou and Chaozhou). Others include styles from ethnic groups such as Bai, Miao, and Bouyei. (3)

 

(1) My brain- This is my own knowledge. 

(2) http://www.sasmicrocampus.org/node/2535 - These are the findings of Audrey C., a previous Microcampus student. 

(3) http://www.travelchinaguide.com/intro/arts/embroidery.htm - This is a Chinese travel guide's writing of the history and styles of embroidery. 


Information from 3-to-5's

Most of the shops I will find in Si Fang Jie that sells embroidery focus more on tie-dye products rather than embroideries, so therefore, the main place I will focus my research on is Happy Embroidery. (1)

To Fay, she doesn't think embroidery is a local topic to build a business upon. The market and businesses in Xizhou that sells or produces embroideries are not very vast and ancient. (2) 

The history of embroidery is very long. In the old days, the people used to grow leaves that feed the silkworms, originated from Si Chuan, and eventually the Bai people here learn the techniques of embroidery and tie-dying, for coloring the threads and tie-dye clothes. When women marry, the have to wear a grand wedding dress that includes the skills of tie-dye and embroidery, which is handmade by themselves. Most of the Bai women's belt have embroidery stitched onto them. Even though they probably bought it from a shop, most of the tiny decorations are made by themselves. (3)

It is not determined rather embroidery derived from this area, or is it bought in by travelers from other cultures and countries earlier in history. This is not a village focusing on embroidery, you won't find hundreds of people in their houses stitching all day long. (4)

(1) Mrs. Mai

(2) Fay

(3) Xiao Tang

(4) Mr. Tafel


Information from Local Contacts

1. What technique did you use to embroider without tying knots to start or end a thread in a double-sided embroidery?

9/19/2013- In Happy Embroidery, a local embroidery shop, both single and double sided embroideries does not need to tie knots to start sewing. The silk even-weave fabric that people embroider on is very dense and closely knitted, so it can trap the silk threads once you sew several times around the same place. To cover up the lose threads, simply sew over it, and when doing double sided embroideries, remember to backstitch (definition: sewing with over lapping stitches) more times to keep the designs on both sides layered and full with colors. To end a thread, sew several times back and forth at around the same place. It would not be visible once the next layer is added on. Another way is to sew under all the other threads, so you can hide the ending thread underneath everything else. (1) 

Interpretation: This is useful because it tells me exactly how they do this technique, and I also have a video of Mrs. Li starting a thread. I never knew you can start a thread by not tying it, so this information might raise a question like, "Is tying a knot at the beginning of a thread better than leaving it untied?" 

2. Does a double-sided embroidery takes longer to complete? If so, why?

9/19/2013-Longer, because you have to embroider more layers on both sides, more backstitching, and use more threads, which means you have to change threads very often. (1) 

Interpretation: It explains why it takes longer, and gave me the answers. I knew that it will take longer because it looks harder, but I never knew that it was because of that, so it might raise a question like, "What happens when you do not embroider a lot of layers and do not backstitch a lot?"

3. Is everyone qualified to make embroideries as long as they learn it?

9/19/2013-A person can learn for a very short time and do very well, while another person can do really bad even if he/she learned for a longer period of time. Patience is also needed to complete a product. Basically, everything depends on the person's natural skills. (1) 

9/19/2013-Even if a person learn it, the final product's appearance can still look bad. The good or bad skills depends on the person natural hold on the technique. (2)

9/23/2013-When it comes to cross-stitching, everyone can do it just fine, since you only need to look at the photo and do the same. But when it is the traditional embroidery, the color combinations and the number of layers used and sewed depends on the person. (3)

9/23/2013-Patience is needed, and the color combination depends on the artistic mind of the person. (4)

9/24/2013-Most of the girls this days does not even bother to learn this technique, and rather go to school and get a good job in the city someday. Basically, they need a personal style of ways of sewing, layering, or color combination. (5)

9/24/2013-After a person learns it, he/she can probably embroider pretty well, since you only need to embroider on the cloth you drew beforehand. The cloth can be drew by someone else, with the colors filled in, and the embroiderer only need to follow the drew pictures to complete the clothing or artwork, but the common ones in clothing are shoes. (6)

Interpretation: To summarize, the good and bad of the final product depends on the person. Some people might me naturally talented, while others can never get it right. The artistic thinking of the person is also very important, since it determines the looks of the product. I thought all you need is patience, and with that you can make and finish everything, but never thought about the artistic side of things. I thought they just embroider directly on the cloth, and just plan everything in their head, never knowing that even small designs on shoes, they have to draw it first. A question might be, "Are there embroideries that doesn't require colors?"

Symbolism/Design

4. Are embroidered designs found somewhere else other than in clothing and artwork? If so, where?

9/19/2013-Shoes, scarves, hats, handkerchiefs, bags (1)

9/23/2013-Pillow cases, chair cushions (3)

9/23/2013-Anywhere with cloth. (4)

​9/24/2013-coasters for cups and bowls (5)

​9/24/2013-Head scarves, blankets, table cloths (6)

Interpretation: I found out that embroidery can be found anywhere that has cloth to decorate the object. But the answers I received are basically what I knew. A new question could be, "Which object does people embroider upon the most frequently?"

5. Are special clothing that is worn during festivals embroidered with a special animal, fish or flower? If so, what do they symbolize?

9/19/2013-During the Fire Torch Festival, people wear Bai minority traditional clothing, symbols include more of: 

  • Flowers- Peonies: prosperity, plum blossoms: strong-minded, orchid: simple and elegant.
  • Butterflies-happiness, love, encouragement
  • Dragons and phoenixes are used all over China, everyone likes them, since they both mean power and luck. (1)

9/23/2013-​The headdress worn during festivals symbolizes wind, flower, snow, and moon. The tail of strings hanging from it symbolizes wind, the embroidered patterns symbolizes flowers, the white fur on the top of the headdress symbolizes snow, and the shape of the ornament symbolizes the moon. (3) 

9/23/2013-People in Xizhou do not wear a lot of traditional clothing to attend festivals nowadays. But by the seaside, villagers still wear Bai clothing. (4)

​9/24/2013-People these days do not wear traditional clothing during festivals anymore. But they still wear Bai minority dresses or costumes by the seaside. (5)

​9/24/2013-People wear traditional clothing during the huge festivals like New Year. They wear it during performances, and are mostly decorated with flowers, but they are mostly for decorations. (6)

Interpretation: The answer from Mrs. Li was very useful, but the other two are not very relevant to my question. Although the headdress does symbolize something, it is a little too board, and the decorations are not all embroideries. Even if I know that people wear Bai clothing, without any symbolism, I cannot answer my question. I knew the meanings of dragon and phoenix, but not the flowers, and especially not the butterfly. A new question might be, "What are the difference in symbolism between different minorities that live around the same area, like Bai and Miao?"

History/Life of a Embroiderer

6. Since the artwork and clothing you embroider is classified as the work of Yunnan ethnic groups' style, which of the four major styles in China are your art most similar to? What is it the differs your kind from the others that are alike?

9/19/2013-There are more Yunnan style embroideries here in Xizhou, fewer embroideries using the Four Major Styles, but more or less, the pictures or designs are about the same. Embroideries with Shu style uses a lot of fish, since it symbolizes prosperity, and they are able to make the fish look more realistic and active than other styles. Using the Xiang style, colors are brighter and the combinations of shades are better. Both Su and Yue uses a lot of pictures of Beijing opera singers. Embroideries with Yunnan Ethic style creates more designs of the local religion, like pictures of gods or spirits. (1)

9/19/2013-Yunnan embroideries are bigger and rougher, and the style depends on the person. The color combination and way of sewing signifies the style, and it could be different for everybody. (2)

9/23/2013-The embroideries here does not have a general style, but a way of sewing, Tu Xiu, is to embroider first, and then cut the threads to make it look furrier. Those techniques could be found on baby carriers, as in the cloth, and normal shirts. (3)

9/23/2013-The embroideries here does not represent the area here. The personal styles can never reach the state of the Four Major Styles.  (4)

​9/24/2013-There are styles called Lao Xiu and Xin Xiu, which is the older style and newer style. The older style is mostly embroideries showing the natural world in a easier version, which is when you sew a duck, it will not be as detailed and used different shades or brown and yellow. In Xin Xiu, they are symmetrical patterns on the coasters for cups and bowls. The embroideries here does not really have its own style. (6)

Interpretation: I found out that most of the interviewees do not see a similarity between Yunnan Ethic style and the Four Major Style. But they can find a lot of differences, especially the images they embroider. I thought that it will be similar to Yue/Guang Xiu or Shu Xiu. But apparently I was incorrect. A new question might be, "Is Yunnan Ethic style a common theme in Xizhou, or do most people just use their personal styles or one of the Four Major Styles?"

7. Are embroidery skills passed down from generation to generation, or are learned from a schools that teaches skills in this area?

9/19/2013-In the old times, the skills are passed from generation to generation, every girl likes it and often sews tons of these because they were not allowed to go to school. Nowadays, it depends on the interest of the girl, rather they decide to learn it from their mother, or some others go to embroidery schools to open a business and do it for living. (1)

9/19/2013-Generation by generation (2)

9/23/2013-When you hang out as a group of people, when one person knows how to do something, the others will learn it unconsciously. But the parents will still teach their children if they know how to do it. (3)

9/23/2013-Relatives can also teach us how to do it, especially when it is teaching us how to use the machine to sew, instead of handmade embroideries. (4)

​9/24/2013-Generation by generation (5)

​9/24/2013-Some watches the people in the village making embroideries, and as you observe more and try it yourself, you will gradually get the hold of it. (6)

Interpretation: All the answers gave me one conclusion- most of them are passed down from generation to generation. I thought most of the people were taught in schools, since most of the shops are quite new. But it is the exact opposite of what I thought. A new question could be, "Does the style change over generations as the skills are used by a different person?"

8. Is embroidery a local tradition that started a long time ago, or is it bought in by other Chinese cultures? If it is bought in by other Chinese cultures, you sell them because tourists expects Chinese embroidery to be in a ancient town, or some other reason? If so, explain. 

9/19/2013-Every minority has a different style or symbols that represents different things. If a local made it, it is considered traditional to the area.  If a foreigner made it, it's not. The basics of all embroideries are about the same. (1) 

9/19/2013-Traditional (2)

9/23/2013-It started at least 100 years ago, the tradition of embroidery in this area. Shoes, clothing, everything was handmade and has embroidery designs on them. (3)

9/23/2013-Traditional (4)

​9/24/2013-The embroideries here are traditional, but cross-stitched embroideries are foreign, brought in by some travelers a few years ago. (5)

​9/24/2013-Traditional, and there were a few ethic groups that try to influence us, but since our style was not very specific from the beginning, it did not really affect us. (6)

Interpretation: I thought that it was something other ethic groups bought in. It turned out that it started at least 100 years ago, and that everything was handmade in those times. A new question might be, "Did any ethic groups brought in some style that altered or influenced the original one?" 

Economics

9. How do you keep your raw-material's cost low in order to earn more profit?

9/19/2013-We buy a lot at once, since the more you buy, the cheaper they will be. Another advantage of starting a business here is that the salary here is low, and the rent for the shop is also low, unlike the city, where you have to consider these matters seriously. Sometimes, some Bai women brings their embroideries here, the shop sells it, and return the money to the Bai women, occasionally earning a little throughout the process. (1)

9/19/2013-10 years ago, everything was cheap. Nowadays, all girls go to school, and do not learn this technique anymore. This technique is going extinct with the old generation, therefore the prices of embroideries are more expensive each year. (2)

​9/24/2013-In our shop, the embroideries we use are for our own purposes, so we do not need to care about raw-material's cost and everything. The products we got are from wholesale (definition: selling goods in a large quantities to the venders that will sell to customers, relatively cheaper for the vender to get products), and we just sell it for a cheap price, but a bit over the price we got from wholesale. (5)

​9/24/2013-Buy a lot at the same time to lower the price, and they get most of their products from wholesale of the factories. (6)

Interpretation: The first answer helped, but the second did not really help. It told me why it is so expensive nowadays though, so I guess it should have some help in my later work then. I knew some of the ways they used to lower to profit, so it is not very new to me. A new question might be, "If all girls go to school, then why are there still some that devote all of their time to embroidery? Is it because they are interested in it, or simply because their family cannot pay for their school fees?"

10. Are you making services that will increase the price of the artwork or clothing, for example, shipping it to the buyer, or adding a high quality wood-carved frame, or wrapping the scroll with a piece of unique local cloth?

9/19/2013-By framing the artwork, it adds a lot of money to the entire product, which means you can earn a lot more profit. By selling it on the internet, customers usually buy a lot at the same time on online shops, you can earn the shipping fee, the insurance, and the price you sold it for. (1)

9/19/2013-We can earn the shipping fee by sending it to the customer. Some tourists visit a different shop of the same owner, so the shopkeeper shows him some pictures of the original shop, and it is probably not from around the same area, so the original shop get to earn the shipping fee. (2)

Interpretation: I know about most of the techniques, so the information I received is not such a great help to me, but the internet thing was surely new. I never knew internet businesses can become that big. A new question could be, "Do you earn more when you sell it on the internet, or as an actual shop?"

(1) Mrs. Li from Happy Embroidery

(2) Mrs. Shi from the embroidery shop next to the Linden Centre

(3) Mrs. Yang from YZR, one of the kitchen staff

(4) Mrs. Gao from YZR, the housekeeper

(5) Mrs. Dou at the home where they make cheese and sell embroideries

(6) Mrs. Zhang, the neighbor of Mrs. Dou, at the home were they make cheese and sell embroideries


Answers to Previous Questions

 

Big Questions

Techniques/Skills

1. What technique did you use to embroider without tying knots to start or end a thread in a double-sided embroidery?

Both single and double sided embroideries does not need to tie knots to start a thread for sewing. The silk even-weave fabric that people embroider on is very dense and closely knitted, so it can trap the silk threads once you sew several times around the same place. To cover up the lose threads, simply sew over it, and when doing double sided embroideries, remember to backstitch (definition: sewing with over lapping stitches) more times to keep the designs on both sides layered and full with colors. To end a thread, sew several times back and forth at around the same place. It would not be visible once the next layer is added on. Another way is to sew under all the other threads, so you can hide the ending thread underneath everything else.

2. Does a double-sided embroidery takes longer to complete? If so, why?

It takes longer to complete a double-sided embroidery, because you have to embroider more layers on both sides, more backstitching, and use more threads, which means you have to change threads very often. The technique is also harder, because you have to care about the appearance on both sides of the embroidery, instead just one side. Usually, in one-sided embroideries, the back is very messy, so in double-sided embroideries, both sides will mirror each other, with the threads neat and tidy. 

3. Is everyone qualified to make embroideries as long as they learn it? 

No, it depends on the person's natural hold on this technique. Some people can learn for a short period of time and sew perfectly well and complete glamorous products. Others learn for years, and can still be like a beginner at this skill. Patience is also needed, since a person without this will never be able to stay at one thing for a long time, and we are talking about embroideries (one complicated piece can take years to finish). The artistic mind of the person is also needed. Before you starting embroidering, the person has to draw a picture or image on the cloth beforehand, and maybe even filling in the colors, and the good looks of the artwork or clothing depends on the color combinations, layering of threads, and the way of sewing (neat with each stitch clear, or stitches crossing each other and creating a mess). But if a person were to sew a cross-stitching piece, everyone can do it, even people who never learned to use a needle and thread before. 

Symbolism/Design

4. Are embroidered designs found somewhere else other than in clothing and artwork? If so, where?

It can be also found in shoes, scarves, hats, handkerchiefs, bags, pillow cases, cushions, coasters for cups and bowls, head scarves, blankets, and table cloths. Basically embroideries are possible on any object that includes a flat cloth surface. 

5. Are special clothing that is worn during festivals embroidered with a special animal, fish or flower? If so, what do they symbolize?

During the New Year, people wear Bai minority traditional clothing during performances. But during other less significant festivals, only the villagers who live by the seaside wear Bai minority traditional clothing. The headdress worn during festivals symbolizes wind, flower, snow, and moon. The tail of strings hanging from it symbolizes wind, the embroidered patterns symbolizes flowers, the white fur on the top of the headdress symbolizes snow, and the shape of the ornament symbolizes the moon. The dress, or tops and trousers, include symbols such as: peonies, which means prosperity; plum blossoms, which symbolizes a strong-minded person; and orchids, which represents the beauty of simpleness and elegance. They also decorate the clothing with a lot of butterflies, one of the symbol of happiness, love, and encouragement. Lastly, they also embroider dragons and phoenixes, which are used all over China, because they both mean power, luck, and other good characteristics. 

History/Life of a Embroiderer

6. Since the artwork and clothing you embroider is classified as the work of Yunnan ethnic groups' style, which of the Four Major Styles in China are your art most similar to? What is it the differs your kind from the others that are alike?

Although some villagers think that they don't have a specific style here, and rather consider it as "personal styles", it is still considered at the Yunnan Ethic Style. The interviewees, from experts to locals, think that it is not similar to any of the Four Major Styles. Yunnan embroideries are usually larger and rougher, and the color combination signifies its own style. There are more Yunnan style embroideries here in Xizhou, fewer embroideries using the Four Major Styles, but more or less, the pictures or designs are about the same. Embroideries with Shu style uses a lot of fish, since it symbolizes prosperity, and they are able to make the fish look more realistic and active than other styles. Using the Xiang style, colors are brighter and the combinations of shades are better. Both Su and Yue uses a lot of pictures of Beijing opera singers. Embroideries with Yunnan Ethic style creates more designs of the local religion, like pictures of gods or spirits. Other ways of sewing also created different styles including: Tu Xiu, a way by embroidering first, then cutting the threads to make it look furrier. This technique could be found on baby carriers, as in the cloth, and normal shirts; Lao Xiu, meaning the older way of embroidering, is mostly embroideries showing the natural world in a easier version, which is when you sew a duck, it will not be as detailed and used different shades or brown and yellow; Xin Xiu, meaning the modern way of embroidering, uses symmetrical patterns, which can be found on the coasters for cups and bowls. 

7. Are embroidery skills passed down from generation to generation, or are learned from a schools that teaches skills in this area?

Most embroidery skills were passed from generation to generation, including the hand-made way, and machine making way. But some villagers learned it simply by observing others of their group. When one person knows how to do something, the others will learn it unconsciously, and gradually the others will also get a hold of it. 

8. Is embroidery a local tradition that started a long time ago, or is it bought in by other Chinese cultures? If it is bought in by other Chinese cultures, you sell them because tourists expects Chinese embroidery to be in a ancient town, or some other reason? If so, explain.

Embroidery is a local tradition, dating back to at least a 100 years ago, when everything was handmade and girls did not go to school, therefore using this skill as a leisure activity, and understanding it by heart. But nowadays, they all went to school, so there are fewer and fewer families that specializes in this technique. There were ethic groups that brought their style in, but they did not influence the locals. Basically, every minority has a different style or symbols that represents different things. If a local made it, it is considered traditional to the area.  If a foreigner made it, it's not. The basics of all embroideries are about the same. Lastly, the invention of cross-stitching is quite popular in this area, and this skill is brought in by other groups a few years ago. 

Economics

9. How do you keep your raw-material's cost low in order to earn more profit?

They buy a lot at once, since the more you buy, the cheaper they will be. Another advantage of starting a business here is that the salary here is low, and the rent for the shop is also low, unlike the city, where you have to consider these matters seriously. Sometimes, some Bai women brings their embroideries here, the shop sells it, and return the money to the Bai women, occasionally earning a little throughout the process. But most of the shops get their products from wholesale (definition: selling goods in a large quantities to the venders that will sell to customers, relatively cheaper for the vender to get products), and just selling it for a cheap price, but of course higher than the price they got from wholesale. 

10. Are you making services that will increase the price of the artwork or clothing, for example, shipping it to the buyer, or adding a high quality wood-carved frame, or wrapping the scroll with a piece of unique local cloth.

By framing the artwork, it adds a lot of money to the entire product, which means you can earn a lot more profit. By selling it on the internet, customers usually buy a lot at the same time on online shops, you can earn the shipping fee, the insurance, and the price you sold it for. Some tourists visit a different shop of the same owner, so the shopkeeper shows him some pictures of the original shop, and it is probably not from around the same area, so the original shop get to earn the shipping fee by shipping it to the area the tourist is.


I know I am ready to move on to Phase 4 now, because I am now full with information from the local contacts and have completed Phase 3. My main point I want to share with my audience, the whole world and especially the experts who specializes in Bai minority or simply Yunnan embroidery artworks and clothing, is going to be a sentence summarizing what I have learned so far, including the techniques, symbolism, history, and economics of embroidery. If my thesis cannot hold that much information all at once, I can always share the additional equally important findings as part of my final product. I have already started my final product- creating a piece of embroidery myself, as an artwork. By preparing for the next step, I know I am totally ready to take on what comes next- Phase 4

Hey! I am Miranda who was a member of the Dynamite Puxi and Pudong mix group. I am from Hong Kong, but moved to Shanghai when I was 8, and lived there ever since. My inquiry project was about embroidery. I loved the air and scenery of Xizhou, and wish to come back another time. All of the active Microcampus students can always ask me for help and advice!