Developed from Hunan folk embroidery, Xiang Embroidery is the general term covering embroidery works from Changsha, Hunan. Xiang Embroidery patterns are mostly realistic depictions, especially patterns of animals like tiger and lion, with unique stitches giving life to each hair and vividly shaping the power and robustness of the animals.
As early as in the Warring States Period, Xiang Embroidery art had already developed to a high level with skilled craftsmanship. The embroidery with the dragon and phoenix pattern excavated from a Chu Tomb in Changsha shows that it was embroidered by chain stitches on a fine piece of silk fabric. Its even stitches, exquisite techniques and lively patterns deserve high praise. In 1972, some pieces of Xiang Embroidery were excavated from Mawangdui Tomb in Changsha, among which 41pieces are embroidery brocade for decorating the coffin. These pieces depict more than 10 patterns with untwisted yarn of more than 18 colors, and vary in stitches which includes Chain Stitch, Qizhen Stitch, Jiezhen Stitch and Dazi Stitch. Featuring even and neat stitches, free and rich lines, and various patterns, they present adept craftsmanship and solid skill foundation, and reflect that the Xiang Embroidery art had reached to a certain high level in Western Han Dynasty.
By the Qing Dynasty, Xiang Embroidery had been popular among the rural and urban areas in Hunan. In particular, in Changsha Xiang Embroidery became an agricultural sideline product to every household.
Rural women not only beautified their life with embroidery after their housework, but also adopted it as a means of making a living. In the 24th year of Emperor Guangxu’ reign (189), Wu Hanchen, son of the outstanding embroiderer Hu Lianxian, set up in Changsha the first self-marketing workshop “Wu Caixia Embroidery Workshop”. The other important person was Yang Shizhuo from Ningxiang, who promoted folk embroidery of Hunan and spent most of his life drawing embroidery patterns and inventing many different stitches in embroidery workshops, which greatly improved Xiang Embroidery art. At the time, Xiang Embroidery workshops in Changsha totaled as many as 40, gradually promoted the development of Xiang Embroidery art and techniques which gradually distinguished itself from other embroidery art by its innovative artistic style. Products from the embroidery workshops in Changsha were superior and popular in many places, establishing its fame across the whole country.
Xiang Embroidery features silk velvet thread (untwisted velvet thread), careful thread splitting, lively flower patterns embroidered on the fabric. Patterns are mostly based on Chinses painting with bright colors, and the strong contrasts of light and dark are emphasized. The items it depicted are lively and vivid in a bold style. The early Xiang Embroidery mainly focused on household decoration while later it extended to products based on paintings.