'The abduction of Helen' is the name given to a large hanging now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. It probably dates to the early seventeenth century, and was likely made in China (Macau?). It measures 363 x 480 cm and is made of a cotton ground material with silk and gilt-paper wrapped embroidery thread (Japanese thread) and with painted decorations.
ULITA in Leeds (UK) houses a Chinese, late eighteenth century apron panel. It measures 54 x 57.5 cm and is made of silk. The main Daoist design is that of the boy Liu Haichan playing with the toad. The ground fabric is a red silk satin, now faded to a gold colour. The embroidery is carried out with chain, satin, and seed stitches.
ULITA in Leeds (UK) houses a Chinese, nineteenth century apron panel. It measures 76 x 45.5 cm and is made of silk, cotton and metallic threads. The design is based upon the theme of the 'promising life of the children'. The main theme shows the mythical qilin carrying a boy, together with two other boys.
The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam houses a bed cover made of silk satin with floss silk and metal thread embroidery, which was made in China in the early eighteenth century. The cover measures 330 x 235 cm. The cover goes with two other items in the Museum's collection, namely a bed (acc. no. BK-1958-20-A) and a bed curtain (BK-1958-20-C).
A Chinese bed cover now in the Victoria and Albert Museum appears to have been produced in China for the export market. It dates to sometime between 1550 and 1750. Although now of a vermillion colour, originally it must have had a brightly red ground material. The cover shows a large degree of Portuguese influence. It measures 259 x 208 cm.
The cheongsam is regarded as the ‘standard’ dress for Chinese women from the 1930's until the 1960's. During this time it was popular in China’s main cities such as Shanghai, as well as Hong Kong, Taiwan and among the Chinese diaspora throughout the world. They were often embroidered, either by hand or with a machine. There have also been attempts to make the cheongsam into the national dress of China.
Embroidery has been popular in China for thousands of years. It is generally called xiuhua or zhahua ('making decorations with a needle'; xiu referring to embroidery itself). Most of the Chinese embroideries are made of silk. Documents from the Qin Dynasty (221-206 BC) refer to embroidered robes. In the Shujing history book, which is even older, embroidery is also being mentioned.
For hundreds of years, mainland Chinese ateliers have been making hand worked embroidery for international markets. These forms are often worked in Chinese or Chinese related styles. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, many 'Chinese' pieces sold in Indonesia, for example, were intended for Dutch customers. Chinese shawls were also embroidered for the Moroccan, Palestinian and Spanish markets.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York houses a small fragment of Chinese embroidery that shows two confronted birds. The fragment measures 31.1 x 36.8 cm and is worked in silk on a silk ground material. It is dated to the early eighth century. The pattern with the two opposed birds was popular in the early Tang period (Tang Dynasty: 618-907).
Some extant Early Chinese embroidery from Dunhuang, western China, is housed in the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum (both in London). The Dunhuang embroideries derive from excavations and clearings in the early twentieth century under the direction of Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943). They date from the second half of the first millennium AD.
The Ethnologisches Museum in Berlin holds a pair of embroidered boots from Yarkand, Xinjiang, in the western parts of China. The boots were collected by the British explorer Robert Barkley Shaw in c. 1869. The embroidery is worked with metal thread and cotton thread. Some of the decoration is worked with chain stitch. The boots measure 40 x 24 cm.
The British Museum in London houses a textile fragment with the embroidered figure of a Buddha standing on a lotus pedestal. The fragment dates to the eighth or ninth century AD, and was recovered between 1906-1908 by Sir Aurel Stein at Dunhuang, in Gansu Province, China. The fragment measures 10.9 x 6.2 cm.
A small group of entangled and embroidered silk strips were recovered from Dunhuang in western China. They are now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London (acc. no. LOAN: Stein.518). It was discovered by the Hungarian/British explorer Sir Aurel Stein (1862-1943) in the early twentieth century (1907), and derives from what is called Cave 17 of the Mogao Grottoes at Dunhuang.