Technically, embroidery can be broken first into two major categories – Hand and Machine.
Hand embroidery can probably be traced back to the very beginning of clothing. Cultures often can be identified by their adornments. As a society becomes more stable and prosperous, the people have more time and resources to create embellishments and add adornments to clothing, linens and furnishings. Technology also plays a part in making supplies more affordable and easier to obtain. Some techniques are known by the stitch or thread they use such as cross stitch or redwork. Other techniques are named after the place they originated from like hardanger or mountmellic embroidery. It can get confusing because the technique might be known by a variety of names or is a compilation of several types of embroidery. We will look at some of the better known embroidery techniques later in the newsletter.
Machine embroidery has been around much longer than you might imagine. There are embroidery machines dating back to the 1800’s! Joshua Heilmann had a design for a hand embroidery machine that led to the invention of shuttle and chain stitch machine embroidery methods. One method, called schiffli, was invented around the late 1870’s. It used the concept of another new invention, the sewing machine. Issac Groebli used a threaded needle and a shuttle with a thread bobbin, to stitch yarn on both sides of the fabric to create a raised design. The shuttle resembles the hull of a sailboat, so the machine was called a "schiffli" machine which means "little boat". In the early 1900’s Dr. Robert Reiner was an American salesman responsible for bringing large quantities of embroidery machines into New Jersey. As a result, many Austrian, German, and Swiss immigrants who owned the companies saw the industry expand. However, World War II had a negative impact with a couple of major foreign manufacturers stopping production. It took fifteen years before production began again, but this time it was Robert Reiner, Inc. with the first American made schiffli machine. Today, technology has made it possible to have incredible machines for commercial and home use. Many people own machines that will do everything from a few decorative stitches to complex designs in a multitude of colors. There are even machines that profess to stitch a Hardanger design, but it’s not like the Hardanger we all know!
Types of Chinese Embroidery
Su Xiu (苏绣)
Su Xiu (苏绣) — Suzhou embroidery is crafted in areas around Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, having a history dating back 2,000 years. It is famous for its beautiful patterns, elegant colours, variety of stitches, and consummate craftsmanship. Its stitching is meticulously skillful, coloration subtle and refined. Suzhou artists are able to use more than 40 needlework and a 1,000 different types of threads to make embroidery, typically with nature and environment themes such as flowers, birds, animals and even gardens on a piece of cloth.
Xiang Xiu (湘绣)
Xiang Xiu (湘绣) — Hunan embroidery comes from areas around Changsha, Hunan Province. It is distinct for its starkly elegant black, white and gray colouration. Its emphasis is on contrasts of light and shade that highlight the pattern texture to give a three-dimensional effect. Xiang embroidery composition combines void and solid imagery, utilizing empty space in the same way as Chinese ink and wash paintings.
Yue Xiu/Guang Xiu (粤绣/广秀)
Yue Xiu/Guang Xiu (粤绣/广秀) — Guangdong embroidery is crafted in Chaozhou, Guangdong Province. It is composed of intricate but symmetrical patterns, vibrant colours, varied stitches and a defined weave. Its use of primary colors, light and shade are reminiscent of western paintings.
Shu Xiu (蜀绣)
Shu Xiu (蜀绣) — Sichuan embroidery comes from areas around Chengdu, Sichuan Province. It is oldest known embroidery style in Chinese embroidery history. Its raw materials are satin and colored silk, its craftsmanship painstaking and refined. The emphasis is on even stitching, delicate coloration, and local flavor. Sichuan embroidery is used to decorate quilt covers, pillowcases, garments, shoes and painted screens.