Sunday, 4 October 2015

Crafts of China: horsetail hair embroidery

Horsetail hair embroidery, source

Every ethnic group of China has its own unique way of designing and adorning their costumes and textiles. An ethnic minority of the Sui (Shui) counts just about 400 thousand people. For centuries a special traditional type of embroidery has been kept alive by the Sui women. This unique kind of embroidery uses horsetail hair for the needlework.

A Sui woman in traditional costume embroidered with horsetail hair, photo  source

Sui legend says that when one of the ancestors groomed his horse prior to a race, a lot of horse hair fell to the ground. His wife thought it would be a shame to leave these strong and glossy hairs unused. She collected them and started to use those hairs in her embroideries along with silk threads. What does this legend tell us about the Sui people? First, that they really love their horses; second, they are really practical people who don't like to waste any material; and third, their women are really proficient in embroidery.

Working with horsetail hair, photo source

Horsetail embroidery is a hard, time-consuming craft.  Girls begin learning embroidery at about 5 or 6 years old. Some of them spend 10 years on a single embroidery piece, which is specially prepared for their wedding. 

Horsetail hair embroidered baby carrier, photo  source

Detail of horsetail hair embroidery of a baby carrier, photo source

Besides decorating with embroidery all parts of their traditional costume - blouse, trousers, apron, headdress, shoes and even insoles - women use the horsetail hair for embroidering baby carriers, tablecloths, wall hangings, bags and wallets. 

Horsetail hair embroidered insoles, National Museum of China, Beijing

Horsetail embroidery, source

Horsetail embroidery, source

The most popular motifs of the Sui embroidery are dragons, birds, moon and stars, and fish. As another Sui legend says during an ancient flood , a brother and a sister were saved by fish. Their descendants multiplied to become the Sui ethnic group and the image of double fishes became one of the favourite motifs of the Sui artisans.

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