Phase 3: Interpreting Information
THE PROCESS/CREATION OF EMBROIDERY:
- Why do they use silk thread mostly instead of other materials such as cotton or nylon? According to Ms. Li, they use silk because silk doesn't get tangled as easily as other facrics. As well, one thread of silk can be separated into many strands (there are 300 strands in one thread), to make the embroidery finer. Lastly, silk has a nice shine to it.
- How is the silk prepared for embroidery? After the silk coccoon is made, it's boiled so that the silk is softer and more supple. It's stretched over an arch-shaped tool (think of a convex lens). Once it's stretched enough, where the silk strand starts is very visible. It's super thin, but the entire coccoon is one continuous thread. The strand is made into a thread consiting of about 300 strands. It's dyed, then ready to use. Before using it to embroider, the thread is folded in half (with a loop on top), separated into three separate strands, and braided, so that it will be easier when you want to draw out a single thread without getting the rest of the strings messed up. To separate the string into smaller strands, you make a loop with the silk at the beginning of the thread while twisting the silk. You can see the silk separating into two strands. You pull one strand out.
- How is hand-made embroidery different from machine embroidery? In machine embroidery, flowers, animals, other things will all look alike. Nothing is one-of-a-kind. Also, in machine embroidery, the threads can't go from color to color as smooth. In a flower, as blue fades into indigo, the machine makes stitches too precise and the color transformation doesn't look as natural. Lastly, the backside of the piece is 'perfect', not a stitch out of place for machine embroidery. But in handmade embroidery, the front is different from the back, the back isn't as perfect (unless the embroidery is a two-side piece).
- I see a lot of flowers, zodiac animals, and goldfish in embroidery. What do they symbolize? Some flowers, like the lotus, symbolize purity, because although they grow from mud, they look clean and spotless. Superstitious people believe having their zodiac animals in embroidery brings them good luck. Lastly, fish symbolize prosperity, becuase the chinese character for fish is pronounced the same way as a word for prosperity.
- How has the embroidery changed from before to after the cultural revoution? Before, there are things like peonies and mythical/'supernatural' people being embroidered. But after, it got more modern after the cultural revolution. Now, though traditional embroidery is still popular, more embroidery also copies modern oil paintings.
- There's always one type of flower that keeps showing up in Bai costumes. What is it and why is it there? The flower is called cha hua, or the cammelia. People embroider it on their clothes because there's a lot of that flower around Yunnan. It's kind of like the 'flower of this area'. However, when I interviewed some people in Zhou Cheng about this, they didn't seem to know the signifigance of it. LiPing said that they put it on clothes because the factories send them this embroidery, and the cultural meaning of this has diminished.
- What embroidery is on the clothing of the Yunnan Bai women? The Bai have more floral patterns. They have either trousers with floral embroiderry on the side, or skirts with a flower in the middle. Another type of skirt is with geometric or floral patterns embroidered on the hemline. They have belts with floral embroidery in the front and where they tie it. The xiu pian, translated into 'embroidery piece', that ties the belt together also has flowers embroidered on it. Their blouse has floral embroidery on the collar, hemline, and sometimes, geometric/floral patterns on the sleeves. They have flowers on the front. Their headdresses have floral embroidery around it. For floral embroidery, they use mostly red and pink colors, but sometimes, they have multicolored or blue ones too. Also, butterflies or birds are embroidered, but they're less common.
- What embroidery is on the clothing of the Yunnan Miao/Hmong women? In Yunnan, the Miao women use mainly red, green, or yellow thread to make stitches on the skirt. Miao women wear blouses and skirts with red and yellow threads stitched in geometric patterns on the sleeves, collars, hemlines, and loinclothes. Sometimes, the entire blouse or waistbelt is covered with patterns. Also popular in Yunnan is blouses with a 15cm wide stitched floral trimming border, or floral decorations on the blouse hemlines. There also can be floral designs on the collar, sleeves, loincloth, and belt. They can use whirl-like patterns (spiral), mountain-like patterns, and cross patterns. Embroidered floral scarves are popular amongst girls. On their shawls, the traditional style is to have a square embroidered decorative plate on the back.There are a few 'wooden comb Miao' (who wore horn-shaped wooden combs on their head) and 'small floral Miao women (who wear wigs before they have children) who live in Yunnan. They have different embroidery on their shawls. The 'small floral Miao' style of shawl is red, black, yellow, and sometimes white flowers on floral fabric. Additionally, finely stitched geometirc patterns apprear on the shawls of 'wooden comb Miao'. For festive clothing, silk and satin is used in embroidery to decorate clothing. Some Miao women also wear headscarves with am embroidered floral belt around it.
9. What makes one piece more expensive than another? It depends on the fineness of the silk. Usually, embroidery with the silk thread separated into two strands will be cheaper than a piece of embroidery with silk separated into eight strands. But if both pieces of embroidery uses a thread separated into four strands, then craftsmanship and the size of the painting decides which one is more expensive. A two-sided embroidery (looks good on both sides, can be displayed on either side) is more expensive than one-side embroidery.
10. How much would a professional embroiderer make? About 16,000 RMB a year. Usually, Ms.Li embroiders four pieces and sell them for 4,000 each. However, she could work on one piece for over a whole year, and sell that for 24,000. I saw a piece valued for as much as 180,000, but that takes more than a year to make.