I’m a little late on updating this week because the history of Chinese silk embroidery dates back thousands of years with many different styles and schools. I wanted to take more time to do some further research to make sure I was describing the right timeframe and style of embroidery.
At the beginning of my research, I was told that these pieces were from the Qing Dynasty. But, based on what I found about the Sixi Wawa last week, there was a cultural bleed from the Ming Dynasty to Qing! So artistic interests and practice could easily have been passed down. That grey area could make it difficult to date these pieces. In other words, research brought more questions than answers. Once I have more time to do further research, I’ll post an update!
Anyway, worries aside, I took photos of two embroidered pieces.
What were they made of?
The panels and sleeves are typically made of silk threads sewn into silk fabric. The fabric can also be dyed a certain colour, but they are typically beige. Occasionally, gold thread would be used on its own or woven into the silk thread to give the piece some glimmer. Typical stitches that were used include the seed stitch, satin stitch, Pekinese stitch, and couching stitch. I don’t have a picture of the seed stitch. This article by Marla Mallett has some great information on the seed and Pekinese stitches!
Currently, these types of panels are priced based on the condition of the stitches (if they’re still intact), the colour vibrancy of the threads (they are not colourfast), the colours that were used (bright yellow, purple, and red were reserved for the royal family) and the condition of the silk fabric (presence of any stains, pulls, and pills). Some pieces were intended to be appliqué on clothing which could show some wear and tear. Also, the fact that these pieces are organic makes fixing stains and preserving colour very difficult. So you’re very fortunate if you own a brightly coloured piece!
What were they used for?
Historically, the royal family would employ hundreds of embroiderers to create pieces and clothing for them. For example, some of these requests included clothing for the royal family, palace decor, and costumes for the royal theatre troop.
As you can see, these panels and sleeves are very versatile. During the Qing Dynasty, they were used as wall hangings or the two reflected pieces were separated and sewn into clothing as decorative panels. This practice of decorating walls, pillars, and screens was also done throughout the past dynastic periods as well!
I also found a panel on the website for The Metropolitan Museum of Art called Fairy and Crane. This panel is dated to the 18th Century during the Qing Dynasty (although, the metadata states it’s from the Ming Dynasty as well… Remember what I said about overlapping cultures?) and is sewn in the same style as the ones we own. Based on the condition of the colours and the type of stitches that were used, I’d say I could safely date my grandpa’s panels to the early Qing Dynasty as well.
Note: This is just an estimated date. I’m not a professional!
I encourage collectors to also check out The MET! The website has some great pieces! It’s also a great resource for collectors as all their pieces are dated in dynasty and century.
I’ll have to say goodbye for now and update with a part 2 later on. I’ve only skimmed the very surface of a very deep and interesting history. I’ll try to keep all my updates to Sunday morning but research-intensive topics like these might push me behind schedule. We’ll see what the future brings! See you next week!