Monday, March 7, 2011

Off the Cuff

I have had these two beautiful framed Chinese embroidery pieces for many years, a present from my cousin, Gail Bowers Irons. I think she purchased them for me at an antique store somewhere in Texas. You can always click on images to see them in a larger version.
Someone took the time to meticulously cut the embroidery (which must have taken forever) away from the background. If you will notice, it is done with silk thread and gold metallic embroidery thread. The detail is incredible and so tiny, I think this garment must have belonged to someone of high standing. I am really not certain what part of the garment it might have come from, but from other similar Chinese embroidery work I have seen, it is likely 19th Century Chinese, but other than that, the provenance is unknown.
My cousin or someone in my family had told me that the embroidery stitch overall was the "forbidden stitch" which was indeed done around that time, but when I went to a most wonderful site,,  that really tells about the forbidden stitch and another stitch I will tell you about shortly, it was clear that the stitching seen here is NOT the forbidden stitch. I guess the truth about why it is called the forbidden stitch is not really clear, but some say that it was because mostly young girls were working that stitch, and it was so tiny as to be hard on the eyes. This seems quite unlikely as a reason to me, and more likely that it was reserved for just very, very special people and other people were forbidden to wear it. We will probably never know the actual reason.
The embroidery on my piece seems more likely to be the Pekinese stitch, also known as the Peking stitch or Chinese Stitch. When I look at how the stitch is created on Marla's site, vs. how the forbidden stitch is created, they both seem to put about an equal amount of strain on the eyes, especially when they are worked as small as my piece, which lends further to the idea that the forbidden stitch was not forbidden because of potential eye strain.
There are some lovely examples that are similar to mine on the second page of Antique Chinese Textiles - Gallery Page.
I can't emphasize what a wonderful and educational page this is.  I so enjoyed reading about the embroidery that is most likely what is on my piece, but also she has a fantastic collection of pieces that can be purchased and that you can learn more about in different ethnic textile items.  She also had a very rich resource of sites to read further for more history and information on ethnic textiles. I am always looking to increase our list since I love doing research and learning more about everything I come across.  I will never tire of these textiles. These are a sort of living history if you will, and fascinating to think of the lives of the people who created them. Who were these people and did they live long and happy lives, or were their lives cut short by illness, war or other causes?  Were they royalty themselves, or people who served the royalty and made these beautiful items under orders?  Or were they perhaps business people who were in business to create such garments?  Oh, if we only knew . . .

1 comment:

Diana said...

Many things reserved in China for the Emperor were described as forbidden as in The Forbidden City which is where the royal family and the court lived.

Pure speculation - I have no proof but I wonder if this stitch used for embroidery and decoration was so special and coveted that it was reserved for clothing for the special silk garments worn in the Fobidden City.