Embroidery, also called “needlework”, is commonly known as Xiuhua. It was called Zhi (“meaning “sewing”) or Zhenzhi (meaning “needlework”) in the ancient times. Namely, embroidery is to pull colored threads (including silk thread, wool thread and cotton thread) with embroidery needles to stitch patterns or characters that have been previously designed on the fabric (such as silk or cotton cloth).
In primitive societies, people used body and facial tattoos for decoration. Since they had clothes made of linen, wool, and silk, they found that the tattoos had been covered although the clothes them warm. So they came up with the idea of transferring the pattern from the body to the clothes. This gave rise to embroidering all kinds of patterns on clothes.
As far as the Shang and Zhou Dynasties 3,000 years ago, China had already created the magnificent shadow silk and colorful embroidery. The Shang Dynasty embroidery work discovered in Henan province proves to be the earliest embroidery handicraft in China. This embroidery pattern consists of diamond-shaped patterns and angular wavy patterns. Strand-twisted silk threads were also used on the edge of those patterns, including that the technique had reached a very high level. In Baoji City of Shanxi province, a piece of dyed silk relic belonging to a tomb of the Western Zhou Dynasty had been excavated. The pattern was embroidered by yellow silk with Bianzi Stich. The lines are smooth and neat, reflecting the embroidery skills at that time. This method of embroidery is still being used right now. and there are colorful drawings in yellow, red brown, brown and red. The method of combining embroidery and painting at that time still belongs to the start-up phase of embroidery.
According to the Book of History, the hierarchical dressing system of the Zhou Dynasty provides that “clothes should be painted and embroidered”. There are twelve patterns on the Mianfu (official costume) worn by emperors of the Zhou Dynasty, which are the sun, the moon, stars, mountains, the dragon, the ringed pheasant, ritual vessels, algae, fire, rice, axes and two back-to-back beasts respectively. All those patterns are either painted or embroidered. There are records in the documents of pre-Qin Dynasty that people used vermilion to dye threads and embroidered scarlet patterns on pure white clothes, and this is how the phrases such as “scarlet embroidery on white clothes”, “dragon embroidery on imperial robes” and “black and blue-green embroidery on officials’ robes” came into being. At that time, some of the clothes were embroidered and painted together while others are embroidered first and then filled with color.