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Chinese Silk

Information on Chinese silk including the legends of the origin of the silk, silk culture, spread of the silk throughout the world, and some interesting facts about silk.

The cultivation of the silkworm can be traced back to the 3 rd century BC. It was said that Demigod Leizu, a legendary figure of prehistoric China, started the planting of mulberry trees and raise of silkworms. According to archeological discovery, silk and silk fabrics emerged at least 5,500 years ago. In the Zhou dynasty, special administration was set up to manage sericulture and silk production. From 138 B.C. to 126 B.C., Zhang Qian started his diplomatic mission under imperial order to the west along the famous Silk Road. Gradually, sericulture and silk production techniques spread to many countries. Now, Chinese silk still enjoys high reputation in the world.


Embroidery always accompanies silk and its development. The most famous embroideries in China are Su embroidery in Jiangsu, Xiang embroidery in Hunan, Shu embroidery in Sichuan and Yue embroidery in Guangdong, namely Four Renowned Embroideries.

 Su Embroidery

Suzhou Embroidery appeared in the Northern Song Dynasty and was briefly named Su embroidery. According to history records, Su embroidery was so popular in the Song dynasty that people even named their lanes with names concerned with silk and embroidery. Almost every family raised silkworm and embroidered. Su embroidery reached its peak in Qing dynasty.

Su embroidery has wide range of themes. Its techniques include single face embroidery and unique double-face embroidery, which looks the same from either side. Simple composition, clear theme, vivid image and gentle color are basic features of delicate Su embroidery. Now it even absorbs some western painting techniques.

 Xiang Embroidery

Combining merits of Su embroidery and Yue embroidery with local embroidery, Xiang embroidery came into being in the later Qing dynasty. However, Hunan's local embroidery had a long history. Archeologists have discovered fine silk embroidery items in the Chu and Han Tombs, which were both more than 2,000 years ago.

Compare with the other embroideries, it is unique in style. Its unique embroidery techniques facilitate tiger patterns embroidery, which Xiang embroidery is famous for. Although it features techniques of painting, engraving, calligraphy and embroidery, it is generally based on the Chinese painting. Now, it has developed a new unmatched embroidery product - Double-face and Different Images Embroidery, which features different images and colors on each side of the transparent chiffon.

 Shu Embroidery

As it is mainly produced around Chengdu, Sichuan province, it is also called Chuan Embroidery. It has a long history although it formed a style in the middle of the Qing dynasty. The materials adopted for such embroidery are local-produced soft satin and colorful threads. The threads are neatly and thickly used and the colors are elaborately arranged. It is characterized by even stitches, bright threads, closeness and softness in texture, delicate needling. Its theme covers mainly animals and plants in the nature, especially adept at embroidering pandas and fish. The embroidered products include mirror curtain, wedding dress, hats and shoes etc., with the main themes of auspicious happiness.

 Yue Embroidery

It is also called Cantonese Embroidery for it is produced in Guangdong province. It is said that it was created by a minority people in the middle and at the end of the Ming dynasty. A variety of threads are used, including thread twisted from the peacock quill and down thread from the horsetail. The whole piece is bright in color with gold thread as the contour for embroidering complicated patterns, looking splendid. Such themes are usually employed as A Hundred Birds Displaying Homage to The Phoenix, marine products and melons.

Silk Goods

Originated in the primitive society, silk skills are one of great Chinese contributions to the world development. It demonstrates the brilliant civilization of ancient China. According to the different weaving skills and silk fabrics, silk goods are divided to many types, such as brocade, satin and so on. Historically, most of these silk goods served as clothing material and decorations. However, the common people, who once produced excellent silk skills and goods, could not afford this expensive material because of poverty.

 Chinese Embroidery Pouch

Hebao, the Chinese name of embroidery pouch, was named after the original name of an ancient food, although it really was a bag for containing things instead of a food for eating.

There are several meanings of embroidery Pouch: 1. It refers to a bag woven out of stain and cloth. The outside of embroidery pouch is embroidered while the inside has a thick layer. It was popular with people as gift to express friendship and souvenir. In daily life, it can be used for containing thins, such as watch, wallet, mirror, tobacco and fan.

In China, as a custom, a girl began to learn embroidery at the age of about seven. When married, the pouches made by the girl would be given to the relatives and friends as a gift or manifestation of her deftness in handwork.
Secondly, on the Dragon Boat Festival, Chinese people often insert Chinese mugwort to exorcise the five poisonous creatures. When the girls made pouch, they also filled it with mugwort and perfumed grass.

Thirdly, pouch also served as a gift between young girls and boys as a symbol of love.

 Cloud Brocade

Due to the high-quality silk and exquisite skill were used, this kind of brocades look like colorful cloud, hence the name Cloud brocade. From the Yuan dynasty to the Ming dynasty, Cloud brocade was mostly used for imperial clothing material.

 Dai Brocade

As its name suggests, Dai brocade is the product of Dai minority. Early in the Han dynasty, they have produced muslin, a kind of cotton cloth, which was classified to cotton and silk brocades.
Different from the smooth development of cotton brocade, the growth of silk brocade had experienced several undulations. The cotton brocade takes the yarn of original color as its material while the silk brocade is woven by the weft dyed in red or black.

 Dong Brocade

It is a brocade of the Dong minority. Taking yarn and silk as its materials, the Dong brocade can be woven with one or two materials of these two. Featured by its patterns, which mainly are flora, fauna and Chinese characters, this kind of brocade commonly served as the material for child's sleeveless garment, quilt facing, scarf, etc.

 Li Brocade

Produced by the people of Li minority living in Hainan Island, this kind of brocade mainly served as the material for women's tube- shaped skirt, bag, etc. Woven with cotton yarn and silk thread, Li brocade was once called as "Li cloth" and "Li curtain" in the Song dynasty.

 Lu Brocade

Mainly produced by people in the south and north of Shandong province, this kind of brocade is featured by its bright color and strong texture. It was in the 1980's that Lu brocade experienced a large progress and gradually catered to the need of the modern life.

 Miao Brocade

Made by the people of Miao minority, this kind of brocade is popular in Guiding, Guizhou province. It is used as ornament for the collar, front and sleeve of woman's garment, as well as the material for daily costume and quilt.

 Sichuan Brocade

Produce in Chengdu, Sichuan province, in Han dynasty, Sichuan brocade is the main branch of the traditional silk brocade. Since Sichuan and the middle China was linked up, the brocade-making skills were spread throughout China. With more and more designs, patterns, and colors applied, Sichuan silk brocade had flourished in Tang, Song, and Yuan dynasties. Especially in Tang dynasty, Sichuan brocade produced a large number of marvelous goods, in which the bundle flower lining brocade and the red lion and phoenix lining brocade were magnum opus of this period.

 Yao Brocade

As the History of Xiangzhou recorded, Yao minority is the originator of Yao brocade. The main patterns of Dong brocade are flora and fauna or geometrical grains. Woven with dyed yarn or silk thread, these beautiful brocades are widely used by Han people as dowry when the girls are married.

Not all brocades are suitable to the festive occasions. In some places, brocades with different colors have different meanings. Such as in Quanxiu, Guangxi province, the red brocades suggest happiness and propitious, while the orange or green brocades imply mourning and sadness.

 Suzhou Brocade

Produce in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, this kind of brocade was the most famous brocade in China. It once was lost at the end of the Ming dynasty, but soon revived at the beginning of the Qing dynasty. Suzhou brocade was characterized by the harmonious colors and geometrical patterns. It is divided to big brocade and small brocade according to the size. Big brocade, also called heavy brocade, mainly served as mounting picture and decoration, while the small brocade is used as decorations for small articles.

 Zhuang Brocade

Produced in the Guangxi province, it is a brocade of the Zhuang minority. Taking the silk down and locally produced silk threads as materials, the articles such as quilt facing, tablecloth, and scarf are woven on the weaving machine, which operated by one woman. The patterns on the Zhuang brocade are mainly figures, flora and fauna and geometrical grains.

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Comments and Questions

how do i find different facts about chinese silk

Reply2/29/2012 11:52:06 AMcorine,   Aruba

I havr a silk scarf dated 1900 and wish to have it preserved and framed can you advise

Reply8/17/2010 12:10:00 PMSy,   United Kingdom

My Grandad was in the first world war and had a picture of my mum,then as a baby. When he was in China he had her picture put on as I am told on chinese silk. I have taken the silk from the frame as the frame was broke and now have it rolled up. Could you tell me anything about this.

Many thanks

Beryl Walker

Reply7/14/2010 11:00:00 AMBeryl Walker,   France

anna :7/14/2010 9:47:00 PM

i'm a little confused, are you asking about how to preserve the silk or the picture?