Phase 3: Interpreting Information
Updated 1 month 3 weeks ago
Background Information (From Phase 1)
I already have a little idea of what my topic is, however, I still do not know enough to prepare myself for the trip. From my research, I discovered those women in ethnic minorities (especially in Yunnan, where it is rich in culture) tend to wear delicate embroidery designs. Aside from clothing, embroidery is also used on wall hangings or framework. In some minorities, such as the Miao minority, embroider their history onto their clothing. Embroidery was first created the Zhou dynasty, however, this art form in Dali has been around since the Eastern Han dynasty. Their traditional embroidery style could be associated with dermatoglyphic patterns, and tend to symbolize auspiciousness. Their work values both aesthetics and utility. Despite my previous beliefs, Bai embroidery uses cotton and linen as raw material. Aside from Bai embroidery, there are 3 main schools of embroidery. These include the Yue (Guangdong), Su (Suzhou, Jiangsu), Xiang (Hunan province), and Shu (Chengdu, Sichuan). From a travel blog, I learned that there is a XiZhou Silk School. The school is owned by the long line of local family to study and continue the tradition of embroidery. From Microcampus alumni, I learned of a local embroidery workshop called "Happy Embroidery" or "喜绣坊" in Chinese.
History of Embroidery
Embroidery began in the Zhou dynasty to signify position, wealth, and status. During the Han dynasty, where the silk road was created, silk and embroidery commerce flourished. From there, Chinese embroidery became known across the world. After the Han dynasty, embroidery became popular in expressing religious beliefs due to the introduction of Buddhism. The Tang dynasty greatly influenced the art of embroidery in China. Before then, the only method used in embroidery is chain stitching. The satin stitch introduced during the Tang dynasty gave more creativity and diversity to the pieces. New methods of stitching were derived from the satin stitch during the Song dynasty. At the same time, new tools and styles were developed and eventually created embroidered paintings. In the Ming dynasty, new materials were introduced such as paper thread, lace, and pure gold thread. Embroidery began to differ by province during the Qing dynasty, where different schools (as mentioned earlier) of embroidery were created.
Information from 3-to-5's
- Younger generations are not interested in embroidery anymore.
- Most pieces done today are solely for tourists, nothing fancy and exquisite.
Information from Local Contacts
05/03/2017 Mr. Zhu:
Mr. Zhu owns an antique store between Ranyixiang and the morning market. His antique embroidery collection was mainly composed of Bai minority pieces created during the Min Guo (1912-1949) time period. Most of the pieces he had were children's hats and adult shoes. He explained the girls' hats were embroidered fishtails and boys' were embroidered tigers. All were decorated with metal strips and mu dan blossoms (the national flower of China). There were three pieces that stood out to me in his store. The first was an embroidered piece of a fish beneath the sea. The back of the piece had "福如东海", a family slogan. The most interesting part of the piece was the fish scales. They were made of folded metal strips, giving the piece a three-dimensional trait. The second piece was an embroidered hat with the colors all faded. After further examination, I noticed the insides of the hat used a more modern printed fabric. The reasoning was that because the insides of the hats get worn, the previous owner must have replaced the fabric. The final piece was another hat, older than the two pieces before. This was evident in the coin that was attached to the bottom of the hat with the words "开远通宝" printed on it. Those coins were used in the Tang - Song dynasties a thousand years ago. The hat was embroidered with typical flowers, but what stood out to me were the silver smithed figurines on the brim of the hat. The figurines were the Eight Heavenly Beings from Chinese folk stories.
Mr. Zhu also showed me a photograph of a lady living during the Min Guo time period who wore the small shoes. I went a bit off of the topic of embroidery, but I learned a lot about the wealthy life back then. Since photography was such a wonder back then, wealthy people enjoy having their photos taken. Those photos were a great way to show what life back then was like, especially with feet binding. The clothing they wore (the people in the photos were all Bai minority) were plain, but the shoes were embroidered with unique patterns.
05/03/2017 Ms. Li:
Ms. Li owns an antique store by Sifangjie. She had an antique collection of embroidered wallets and shoes from around the Min Guo time period. Like Mr. Zhu, she obtained her pieces from the elders in the countryside. As I asked her about guo jiao she showed me a pair of small blue shoes that look vastly different from the ones I saw in Mr. Zhu's store. She explained the ones she had were from 海东 and the ones from Mr. Zhu's shop were locally from Dali. She told me how only wealthy folks wore them since peasants worked in the fields. She also had a grand collection of children's belts.
05/04/2017 Ms. Li:
Ms. Li is the owner and founder of Happy Embroidery. The embroidery factory/exhibition was originally meant to be just a factor until the tourism industry began to bloom in Xizhou. Happy Embroidery was then transformed into a more tourist friendly location. Her ideas and dreams for Happy Embroidery were very practical, especially economic-wise. She explains how embroidery has been her passion as a child after learning from her mother. It was difficult for me to learn more about the embroidery history because the pieces presented and done were using modern styles and techniques. Although she claimed the techniques were traditional, I saw a great difference between the work done there and the work presented in antique stores.
05/10/2017 Ms. Yang:
Ms. Yang owns a clothing store directed towards tourists. In front of her store, there were many colorful and seemingly traditional shoes. She explained to me the shoes she sold were mechanical, from factories in Zhoucheng. Other shop owners either claimed the shoes as "hand-made" to sell or did not know where they came from. Although the shoes were machine made, they were traditional Bai patterns. I was able to verify that the patterns were traditional because I saw similar patterns in antique stores.
Embroidery for a Living
05/08/2017 Yang Nainai:
Yang Nainai is an elder who embroiders for a living. Her children, living in Xiaguan, cannot for her, so she has a small embroidery stand as her retirement. From her, I learned a lot more about the history of embroidery, especially during the cultural revolution. The material she uses now to sew is cotton instead of silk. She explained to me how she used to use wax to shine the silk, to keep it slippery and vibrant. When I asked her about the difference between the embroidery she does now and the embroidery in the past, she said it was the techniques. As everything else evolves, so does embroidery techniques. To suit the more fast paced and simplified modern ages, she showed me a technique which is commonly used. It was to wrap the string around the needle, then to create a thicker string. Then the string was wrapped around into a circle, creating tiny flower buds. She showed me one of her better pieces, a padding created for carrying babies. The piece's base was stiff, preventing the baby's neck from dangling. The piece had embroidered narcissus and cherry blossoms. Between a discussion with Yang Nainai and Mr. T, he was able to give me insight on the history of embroidery and specifically how it affects the lives of women. Back then when women lacked mobility (due to foot binding), they mostly stayed at home, and especially when the situation outdoors was unstable. During those times, women spend their time embroidering and continuing the tradition. Yang Nainai's mother tried binding feet for two days and gave up because it was very uncomfortable.
05/15/2017 Zhao Nainai:
Zhao Nainai makes embroidered pieces for local stands to sell. She embroiders kids' shoes and 绣花球, embroidered balls traditionally used in weddings. Her pieces used a similar style to Yang Nainai's, which was Bai Minority embroidery: bright colors with flowers and birds. She, along with other elders, embroider in their free time and sell them to local stands. The shoes she made starts off as a single piece of fabric, then she folds the heel to sew them together and connect the front part of the shoe. Which then begins to look like a child's shoe.
05/05/2017 Ms. Shi:
Ms. Shi owns a Miao embroidery store by the Linden Center. I chose not to investigate her store any further, although the work was amazing and detailed. This was because Miao embroidery differed greatly from Bai embroideries, such as the purpose and style. Miao embroidery was more pattern focused, whereas Bai had flowers and birds. The pieces Ms. Shi had were decorative patterns placed on the shoulders of traditional Miao clothing. There are 78 sub-minorities under the Miao minority. Ms. Shi had pieces from most of the sub-minorities. The main differences were the styles and techniques. One that caught my eye was the 叠绣, which basically was a technique where you fold small pieces of silk fabric into triangles, and they are normally layered with more triangles. When I asked how the Miao embroidery differed with the Bai and Han embroidery, Ms. Shi explained how the Han embroidered intricate pictures (instead of patterns), and the Bai were famous for their embroidered headpieces. The Miao were known for their diverse techniques. She prefers older pieces since she claims embroidered pieces "age with beauty".
Answers to Previous Questions (from Phase 1)
1. How does the embroidery in XiZhou, specifically the Bai minority embroidery, differ from the rest of China?
Bai minority embroidery is actually really similar to Han embroidery, and they are often difficult to tell apart.
2. What are some of the popular patterns of embroidery in XiZhou? What do they mean?
Popular embroidery patterns were the 牡丹 flower, tiger heads, and fish. 牡丹 is the national flower of China and represents the Bai minority. The tiger heads were mostly embroidered on hats or shoes for little boys, for boys to be fierce. The fish is normally embroidered for girls, and they mean good fortune. 
3. What does the future of embroidery look like? How is the tradition maintained?
The future of embroidery depends on the future economy, specifically if people could make much money out of embroidery.
4. Why is this form of art so popular and important to their culture?
Embroidery was very important to women because that was how suitors judged them. If they could embroider and are good at it, men would say they have deft hands ("心灵手巧"), whereas they do not embroider, men would call them lazy. 
5. How does embroidery contribute to the everyday life in XiZhou?
It was a common pastime for women and embroidered clothing show a sign of wealth. 
6. How often are the embroidered clothing worn? In what occasions?
Embroidered clothing are often worn to host guests. Embroidered hats were worn once every three weeks, and embroidered belts were worn once every 4 weeks.
7. Why is embroidery mostly practiced by women of the village?
Because back then, women had bound feet, and they could barely walk in them. While men are able to work in the fields, women were only able to do work with their hands, such as embroidery.
8. What were some historical events that affected the style or development of embroidery? And How did it affect this art form?
The main historical event was the feet binding. As mentioned in question 7, women lost their mobility and the only thing they could do were chores and embroidery.
9. How has embroidery evolved over the years?
The main difference is the techniques. Because now people do not have as much time to embroider, more efficient techniques are developed. The silk quality also got worse over the years, since now the silk were machine made. Another is the number of people who practiced embroidery.
10. Why is embroidery still being practiced today? What kept the people of China continuing on this tradition?
Embroidery is barely being practiced today. Those who do practice embroidery do it for a living because they did not go to school, so embroidery is their only income. 
1. Yunnan Provincial Tourist Administration, "Embroideries That You May Show A Little Interest In."Yunnan Provincial Tourist Administration. Accessed April 15, 2017.
2. Cultural China, "Bai Nationality Embroidery and Dyeing Skill." Cultural China. Accessed April 15, 2017.
3. Wu, Annie, "Chinese Embroidery." China Highlights, January 4, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2017.
4. Merideth, "Yunnan Blog Post#2: Dali". Where In The World With Aunt Mer, October 18, 2016. Accessed April 15, 2017.
5. L., Ryane, "The Embroidery of XiZhou." SAS Microcampus. Accessed April 15, 2017.
6. GoKunming, "Happy Embroidery Workshop." GoKunming. Accessed April 15, 2017.
7. Cultural China, "An Introduction to Chinese Embroidery." Cultural China. Accessed April 15, 2017.
8. Mr. Zhu. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 3, 2017.
9. Ms. Li. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 3, 2017.
10. Ms. Li. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 4, 2017.
11. Ms. Yang. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 10, 2017.
12. Yang Nainai. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 8, 2017.
13. Zhao Nainai. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 15, 2017.
14. Ms. Shi. Personal interview conducted by Audrey T, May 5, 2017.
Now that I have gathered all my information from local contacts, I can begin my work on my final product. First, I must create an outline of what I will be discussing in my final product. This can be found in Phase 4.