The embroideries of the Miao Community: works of art–tapestries recording their ethnic history


The embroideries of the Miao Community: works of art–tapestries recording their ethnic history

by Live in Guizhou

PUBLISHED Nov 11, 2021 • 4MIN READ

The embroideries of the Miao Community are works of art–tapestries recording their ethnic history that one can wear. These hand-woven pictures tell of how the Miao migrated throughout the ages, their reverence of life, their religious beliefs, and their epic legends. Just as there are many stories told through the weaving, the technique is also many and varied. Each region has its different style, which is further branched by the weaver’s own experiences and how they were taught. Let us look at some of the embroideries.

Flat embroidery 

Flat embroidery is the most basic form. Simply sew the desired shape onto a piece of fabric, and you’ll have a piece of vivid decoration. It is the easiest and quickest form and does not require drawing, layering, or counting.

The couched braid stitch

The couched braid stitch is a technique favored by the Changqun and the Tong communities. First fine threads are twisted into braids. Next, the braids are arranged according to a pre-designed pattern and sewn onto the fabric.

The crewel embroidery

This is the crewel embroidery. It produces a highly stereoscopic feel and is a three-thousand-year tradition based on the couched braid. Thread braids are bunched tightly together and sewn based on a special pattern. The pattern is designed to maximize spatial contrast–thick braids with deep colors produce a hefty feel that almost shouts something solid.

The Broken Thread Embroidery

The Broken Thread Embroidery creates a richer and more vibrant weave. First, the pattern is outlined with paper cutouts. Thin threads are then broken into 8-13 strands and sewn onto both the paper and the cloth. The edge of the weaving is sewn with a different color to highlight the outlines. This type of embroidery gives a sense of direction. The smooth texture brought by threads going in the same orientation gives it a luxurious feel. For the best Broken Thread Embroidery, you must visit the Miao Community in Taijiang Shidong.

The Dazi Embroidery

The Dazi Embroidery is similar to French knots. First, the floral design is outlined with paper cutouts, and the shape is woven using cross-knots or French knots. Every addition is crossed 2-3 times. This technique is usually applied to flowers, giving pedals a more exquisite texture.

Embroidery in the Kaili Region

Embroidery in the Kaili Region uses plenty of red and green, with other colors on the sidelines. The threads are arranged in tight formations, and the deeper color used gives the cloth a luxurious look. The locals favor strong colors, particularly the three primary colors of red, green, and blue. Warm and cool tones are also contrasted in the weaving for a balanced and harmonic whole. Threads by themselves exert a strong presence, but together they tell simple yet elegant stories.

Leishan Embroidery

Leishan is a beautiful mountain almost but not quite tucked away from civilization. The embroidery in this region is heavily influenced by the surrounding nature. The Miao community here likes to use exaggerated stitches that often distort nature into bold and abstract shapes. You’ll often find multiple layers of threads sewn onto each other, shapes within shapes, and colors that harmonize and clash with each other in often surprising ways.

Taijiang’s embroidery 

Taijiang’s embroidery is also based on nature. Plain weave, overlapping stitch, broken-tread weave, lock weave, and loop stitch are just a few of the techniques used to express the artisan’s observation and outlook on nature. Some may intuit their weaving with impromptu outbursts; others may carefully plan their patterns on colored paper cutouts. The pictures themselves often feature natural beauty, birds, fish, insects, or flowers. Sometimes fantastical animals may also be woven if they struck the embroiderer fancy.