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Gu Embroidery

Gu Embroidery

Gu embroidery originated from the Gu Minshi household in Songjiang, Jiangsu Province. Gu Mingshi was a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). It is the first family to create this style of embroidery. Han Ximeng, Gu Mingshi’s second grandson daughter-in-law, was skilled at drawing, she notably improved the art value of embroidery by using an unique stitching techniques and color. Gu embroidery is also known as embroidery painting.

There are three striking features of Gu Embroidery, first, it is a combination of embroidery and painting; second, it is the way of selecting materials; and third it is the use of neutral colors. Han Ximeng spent several years copying and embroidering eight famous painting of Song and Yuan dynasty, they are now view as treasure. Even Dong Qichang, representative of Songjiang painting gave a high praise to the Gu embroidery. The period when Han Ximeng invented embroidery painting is an initial stage of the Gu embroidery, the embroidery works are mostly needlecrafts and used for collecting and giving others as presents.

After the death of Gu Mingshi, the living condition of the family began to deteriorate since they made a living on Gu embroidery. So the Gu embroidery was put onto the market. Gu Mingshi’s great granddaughter, Gu Lanyu, taught in person and passed the skill down. In the early 20th century, Gu embroidery classes appeared in Sungkiang, and Dai Mingjiao, near ninety years old, inheritor of Gu embroidery in Songkiang, is the student of the class and wrote a book titled, Stitch technique of Gu embroidery.

Combining traditional needle skills used in embroidery and the painting skills of traditional Chinese painters, Gu embroidery requires artisans equipped skills of traditional painting and brush writing, also that, it is also a time-consuming business which reduces its appeal. Since the 1950’s, Shanghai had ran many Gu embroidery plants, but now almost all of them clothed. Influenced by the modern industry, many counterfeit Gu embroidery entered into market, which has had an impact on its reputation. Gu embroidery has a very good reputation, but almost no one mastered the skill in Shanghai. Thus positive measures are needed to protect this traditional embroidery, more materials and the embroidery skills will need to be discovered and cleared up.