Textiles imitating textiles: Chinese embroidery

P1200152I am fascinated by cross-pollenations between textiles of different cultures (such as batik influenced by patola designs, or block-printed fabrics imitating Thai kit designs) as well as across media (such as stone carvings depicting patterning in clothing). In October, I finally made my first visit to the National Textile Museum in Washington DC, and saw the exhibition China: Through the Lens of John Thomson and found another skilled imitation of one textile technique in another textile medium.

Current-exhibitions-ChinaI had dreamed of visiting the National Textile Museum for over a decade, and had imagined there would be several exhibitions to view needing a whole afternoon. I was initially disappointed to find that not only was there only one current exhibition and that a large portion of it was photographs, but most of the textiles on display were embroidered (I’ve never been very excited by embroidery myself).

China GWU photo

Once I realised I had hours to explore the handful of pieces on display, I slowed down and looked more closely. I began to notice the detail in the clothing worn by some of the embroidered figures. With low lighting and glass cases limiting how close I could get to the pieces, I had the impression that variegated thread had been used to illustrate itajime shibori fabrics.  An example of Itajime shibori: 

Image courtesy of Doris Lovadina Lee www.blog.dorislovadinalee.com

Itijame imitated in embroidery:P1200163

But really? The indigo itajime was so convincing, how did the embroiderer achieve that?

indigo-itajime-on-bamboo-silk-fabric shiborigirl.wordpress.com

Image courtesy of Glennis Dolce shiborigirl.wordpress.com

How lucky we are to have access to digital cameras! I was able to take a photo and immediately enlarge the image to see how the itajime effect had been achieved, and it wasn’t variegated thread at all, but two shades overstitched in a way that gave a perfect impression of the shades of colour on fabric that is a hallmark of shibori. Incredible!


Both these figures are from the large collar pictured at the top of this post.P1200164

I spent at least an hour examining these embroideries closely to enjoy the minute details so masterfully brought to life by the artisans who created these pieces.


The collar above reminds me of this:

Image courtesy of Upstate via textileartscenter.com


And the lower garment in this one has a similar spaciousness to this yukata’s pattern:


Image courtesy of Stephen Szczepanek srithreads.com

Version 2P1200218 P1200221

What a beautiful robe!  It appears quilted: P1200227 Version 2


The golden robe with a hexagonal design above has a similar busyness to this eight-fold one:

Image courtesy Bruce Malcolm narablog.com

Notice also the detail in the centre of the red flower as well as in the railing behind her, which appears to me to be bamboo:Version 2 P1200300

The clothing of these figures from the border of the skirt above are rendered in very fine detail:P1200303

Even the fish has scales and a shimmering tail: 
Version 2

From the main panel of the same skirt:

P1200324Version 2Version 3

If you would like to learn more about shibori, an excellent book to begin with is Shibori: The Inventive Art of Japanese Shaped Resist Dyeing by Mary Kellogg Rice and Yoshiko Iwamoto Wada:

You may also wish to visit the World Shibori Network

The exhibition at the National Textile Museum at George Washington University, Washington DC continues for another month, and the gallery guide can be viewed here.

GWU China gallery guide coverSee more photos from my visit to this exhibition at GWU Textile Museum: Chinese Embroideries

See images of a beautiful Bhutanese embroidered depiction of sumptous fabrics at https://textiletrails.com.au/2016/04/12/imitating-textiles-bhutan/

3 thoughts on “Textiles imitating textiles: Chinese embroidery

  1. Pingback: Imitating textiles: Bhutan | Textile Trails

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