Embroidery of the Ming-Qing period is diverse in artistic style, and is done on a range of materials including brocade, satin, silk cloth, silk gauze and crape. Brocade, which originated from the Song and Yuan dynasty, became the most popular silk textile in the country during the Ming Dynasty. A range of varieties was developed with techniques combining jacquard weaving and gold thread weaving, including brocade with blind flower designs, shot brocade, tapestry satin and tapestry satin with flower designs.
Far back in the Song Dynasty, products of embroidery and cut silk brocade had already become divided into two main categories, those for practical use and those for artistic appreciation. Pursuit of the same artistic effect as traditional Chinese paintings characterizes embroidery and cut silk brocade of the Ming-Qing period. A most striking example is the Gu school of embroidery, which has remained famous to this day for products dubbed as “embroidered paintings”. The most representative “embroidered paintings”, so to speak, are attributed to a woman named Han, which were produced by copying famous paintings of the Song-Yuan period. Embroidered paintings and calligraphic works, many on Buddhist themes, were done on cut silk brocade, too.
Chinese embroidery, particularly folk embroidery not produced for commercial purpose, has always been favored by collectors across the world. China is the birthplace of silk and silk textiles. In ancient China, families followed the maxim “men doing the crops while women engaging in weaving and spinning”, which was not only the prevalent way of living but also the philosophical and ethical basis for the Chinese society. For well over 2,000 years, needlework was compulsory for women. In following the tradition, betrothed girls would be busy working on anything and everything that could be judged by families of their future husbands as material evidence to their virtue, ranging from screens, sheets and towels to their own underwear. This may be a major cultural factor that contributed to development of embroidery in ancient China.