Origin of Embroidery (4)

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According to historical records on the Wei, Jin, Northern and Southern Dynasties, there were five-colored embroidered skirts during the reign of Emperor Wu of Liang. The skirts were decorated with strings of pearls with red threads, and this was the forerunner of the later beaded embroidery. Judging by fragments of the silk embroidery for donors of Buddhist statues unearthed in Dunhuang of Gansu and Hotan, Bachu and Turpan of Xinjiang, both the patterns and the blanks were entirely embroidered in fine and exquisite lockstitches, which forms a characteristic of allover embroidery. This is also the earliest record of Chinese embroidery used for the Buddhist themes.

The embroidery was widely applied and new stitches were developed in the Tang Dynasty. Generally, it was used to decorate clothes for its exquisite workmanship and gorgeous colors, which can be reflected in literature and poetry of the time. For example, the famous Chinese poet Li Bai’s lines “ Emerald green and golden threads are embroidered into dance clothes” and Bai Juyi’s lines “Rich girl from the red house used golden threads to embroider a short jacket” are both descriptions to the embroidery.

In the Tang Dynasty, embroidery was used not only for making costumes and paintings, as well as Buddhist scriptures and images. This is a major change in the history of Chinese embroidery, which separated embroidery from fabric decoration and made it relatively independent works of art for appreciation. Tang embroidery, either handed down or unearthed, has a close relationship with the religious art of the time, many of which are embroidered Buddha images, such as the bed-curtain embroidery Sakyamuni Expounding Scriptures on Lingjiu Mountain unearthed from the Thousand-Buddha Cave of Dunhuang and now collected in the British Museum and Picture of Sakyamumi Preaching the Law collected in the Nara National Museum of Japan. All of them are directly related to the popularity of Buddhism at that time.

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