Miao Nationality Embroidery (Leishan Style, Huaxi Style and Jianhe Style) 苗绣(雷山苗绣、花溪苗绣、剑河苗绣)

Time: 2006
Category: Folk Art
Region: Guizhou Province
Ref. No.: VII-22
Nominating unit[s]:
Leishan county, Guizhou Province
Guiyang city, Guizhou Province
Jianhe county, Guizhou Province
Miao nationality embroidery refers to an embroidery skill originally developed by and passed down in Miao folks. Miao nationality embroidery is popular in Leishan County, Guiyang City and Jianhe County of Guizhou Province, and all of these places have different forms and distinct styles.
Leishan County of the Miao and Dong Autonomous Prefecture of Guizhou Province is located in Southeast Guizhou and is one of the main settlements of the Miao people. Miao people account for 83.6% of the total population in Leishan County. Leishan Miao costumes still retain their traditional style with exquisite embroidery and dazzling silver ornaments, which remains impressive even today. Miao costumes can be classified by size or style into four categories, namely long skirts, medium-length skirts, short skirts and ultra-short skirts (also known as Xijiang type, Yemeng style, Gongtong style and Datang style).
Leishan Miao costumes have a unique production process and highly representative shapes. Some of them are worn exclusively in Leishan County, while others can also be found in other areas. Nevertheless, most of them are distributed within the Territory of Leishan County. The embroidery skills associated with the various shapes also have unique elements such as double-stitch locking embroidery, crepe embroidery, braid embroidery, sticking embroidery and so on. Although these skills can be found elsewher, Leishan Miao nationality embroidery has a great many features and diverse techniques in terms of skill. There is extensive use of deformed and exaggerating techniques in different shapes and styles of patterns. The combined approach of multidimensional shapes and pattern-in-pattern styles and the presentation skills of analogy, metaphor, metonymy, symbols, etc. have also boldly been used so as to embody the aesthetic taste of the Miao’s distinctive ethnic style.
The Huaxi Miao cross-stitch from Guiyang City is fairly typical among the Miao embroidery skills in Guizhou Province. According to historical records, the Jiuli tribe, the ancestors of the Miao people, originally settled in the areas along the Yellow River. However, they moved gradually to the west several times after having lost battles against other clans. Some of their branches went into the territory which is now today’s Guizhou Province. Among which, one branch called itself "Mou" (also referred to as "Huamiao" by other clans) and settled in Geluogesang (i.e. today’s Guiyang). This branch of the Miao Nationality originally mainly used batik for their dress ornamentation. Not until the time when they found they could create richer colors with the cross-stitch work did they start cross stitch on the shading of batik patterns. The cross-stitch work gradually transformed from batik into a unique style and artistic language. Popular cross-stitch patterns include pig’s footprint, calf’s footprint, cow’s head, sheep’s head, snowflake, thorn flower, duckweed, lotus flower, ear of rice, buckwheat flower, bronze drum, lantern, silver fork, copper coin, sun, frog, water reptile, crab, swallow, pavilion, countryside, bridge, river, Miao King’s imprinting, etc.
Huaxi Miao cross-stitch skill is often used by Miao people for commemorating ancestors, recording history, expressing love and embellishing themselves, and has a strong decorative nature. based on the cross stitch, the special technique of back-front stitching with several yarns and no drafts makes the entire cross-stitch work look more beautiful and elaborate. The evolution of Huaxi Miao cross-stitch artistic style can be divided into early, middle and later periods. The early period refers to the time prior to 1900, during which the base fabric of the cross stitch was hand-woven blue linen. The color was simple yet elegant and gave priority to a silver tone with a small colored area laid in the middle of the white. The composition was rigorous, and the patterns were characterized by geometrization and stylization. The middle period refers to the period between 1900 and 1966 when most base fabrics of the cross stitch remained as the blue linen and very few of them were blue cotton cloth. The colors were warm and magnificent and gave priority to a red tone accompanied by yellow, green, and white silk yarns. The composition looked livelier than that of the early period, and the patterns were more imaginative. The later period refers to the time after 1967, during which both the color and texture of cross-stitch base fabric showed a trend of diversification, wher red, blue, yellow, white, black and other colors were added into the process of cloth weaving, even plastic window gauze and coarse sack cloth were used as the base fabric, cross yarns and woolen yarns were used together with silk yarns for cross stitch. The compositions were in a freer style, the pattern looked more diversified, and some artists started imitating realistic patterns on modern fabrics when doing their cross-stitch work.
Since the Miao Nationality has no writing system, Huaxi Miao cross stitch has become a carrier of their history and legends. The unique cross-stitched Guanshou gown (gowns made by cutting a hole for head in entire pieces of cloth) has also become an identifying mark and symbol of the Miao Nationality. Huaxi Miao cross stitch is widely used by Miao people in their daily life, during festival celebrations and spouse selecion, weddings and funerals, as well as in religious ceremonies, and hence has a high practical value. When doing the cross-stitch work, Huaxi Miao women always lay a stress on inheriting the nation’s artistic tradition, and they are also good at giving play to their imagination. They always boldly innovate, regardless of how many pieces they make, and two identical works can hardly be found. This provides cross stitch with high artistic quality and originality. A great number of artists and collectors are fond of cross stitch, and the works of cross stitch are collected in many museums both at home and abroad.
Miao Tin embroidery of Jianhe County is mainly practiced in Nanzhai, Mindong, Guanme and other towns within the territory of Jianhe County of Guizhou Province, and it has been passed down from generation to generation for five to six hundred years. Miao Tin embroidery uses navy blue cotton fabric as its base, and its production process is as follows: first threading the cotton yarns and cross stitching on the fabric; then stitching and embroidering the tin wires into the pattern; after that, using black, red, blue and green silk yarns to embroider colorful flowers in the gaps of the pattern. Silvery white tin wires embroidered on the navy blue fabric form a sharp contrast. It looks bright and dazzling and has good gloss and strong sense of texture, making the fabric look exactly like silver. It looks even more beautiful and magnificent when accompanied with silver caps, silver earrings, silver necklace, silver chains and silver bracelets. Tin embroidery, with a unique process, is a very fine handiwork, and has clear patterns and sophisticated workmanship. It uses special materials and is very valuable in terms of appreciation and collection. The difference between Miao Tin embroidery and the embroideries of other ethnic groups is that Miao Tin embroidery uses tin wires rather than silk yarns to embroider on the cross-stitch patterns of navy blue cotton fabric. In addition, its core pattern is like a maze, which is unpredictable and interesting, has profound meaning, and is full of mystery.
As people’s aesthetic standards and tastes are constantly changing, however, folk costumes are becoming increasingly uncommon. Nowadays, there are a decreasing number of Miao young people wearing Miao costumes. As such, Miao nationality embroidery artisans have become fewer and fewer. It can be concluded that the more developed the modern culture, the faster will the traditional skill of Miao nationality embroidery be lost. In face of the crisis that Miao nationality embroidery skill has encountered, immediate measures must be taken so as to ensure this ancient craft can be successfully passed on to future generations.

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