Horsetail Embroidery, the Unique Craft of the Shui People of China

Every ethnic group of China has its own unique way of designing and adorning their costumes and textiles. For centuries a special traditional type of embroidery, horsetail embroidery, has been kept alive by the Shui women in Guizhou province, southwest China. The horsetail embroidery is a special craft which uses horsetail hair as a main raw material for embroidery, and is passed down from generation to generation by women of Shui Nationality.

A Shui woman in traditional costume embroidered with horsetail hair
 Chinese Culture

Origin

The horsetail embroidery of Shui Nationality has an untraceable origin. Shui legend says that when one of the ancestors groomed his horse prior to a race, a lot of horse hair fell to the ground. His wife thought it would be a shame to leave these strong and glossy hairs unused. She collected them and started to use those hairs in her embroideries along with silk threads.

Techniques

Horsetail embroidery is a hard, time-consuming craft. Girls begin learning embroidery at about 5 or 6 years old. Some of them spend 10 years on a single embroidery piece, which is specially prepared for their wedding.

Working with horsetail hair
 Chinese Culture
 Chinese Culture

There are a variety of unique skills and methods involved in this craft. The first step is to take 3 to 4 pieces of horsetail hairs as the core, around which white silk threads are tightly wrapped by hand, making pre-made embroidery threads akin to bass strings. The second is to use the threads to embroider the outline of traditional embroideries and paper-cut patterns. The third is to make flat colored threads with 7 colored silk threads and use them to fill the inside area of the coiled embroidery patterns. The fourth is to complete the rest using such ordinary techniques as flat embroidery, cross-stitch embroidery, random stitch, skipped stitch, etc.

Motif

Horsetail embroidery
 Chinese Culture

Flowers, plants, and mystical creatures from Shui folklore are the common embroidery motifs. Butterfly patterns are woven mostly into children’s clothing or accessories. This is related to Shui beliefs that butterflies are children’s guardians. Dragons, a phoenix and fish also possess great symbolic meaning and are commonly seen on Shui handicraft.

Horsetail embroidery
 Chinese Culture

As another Shui legend says during an ancient flood, a brother and a sister were saved by fish. Their descendants multiplied to become the Shui ethnic group and the image of double fishes became one of the favourite motifs of the Shui artisans.

Features

The horsetail embroidery technique is very intricate, and works using the technique appears to have a bas-relief, with abstract, generalized, and exaggerated shapes.

Horsetail hair embroidered insoles
 Chinese Culture
Horsetail hair embroidered baby carrier
 Chinese Culture

Besides decorating with embroidery all parts of their traditional costume – blouse, trousers, apron, headdress, shoes and even insoles – women use the horsetail hair for embroidering baby carriers, tablecloths, wall hangings, bags and wallets.

Unfortunately, due to social changes and other reasons, the inheritance of horsetail embroidery craftsmanship has been seriously neglected and the quality of modern horsetail embroidery products has become poor. As a result, few people are willing to use such products. As such, it is imperative to protect the special craftsmanship of horsetail embroidery of Shui Nationality from disappearing forever.

by Xiao Xiao xiaoxiao@interactchina.com    

About Interact China

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“A Social Enterprise in E-commerce Promoting Oriental Aesthetic Worldwide”

Aileen & Norman co-founded Interact China in 2004 with specialization in fine Oriental Aesthetic products handmade by ethnic minorities & Han Chinese. Having direct partnerships with artisans, designers, craft masters and tailors, along with 10 years solid experience in e-commerce via InteractChina.com, we position well to bridge talented artisans in the East with the rest of the world, and bring you direct finely selected products that are of good quality and aesthetic taste.

So far we carry 2000+ goods covering Ladies Fashion, Tailor Shop, Home Furnishings, Babies & Kids, Painting Arts, Textile Arts, Carving Arts, Tribal Jewelry Art, Wall Masks and Musical Instruments. Our team speak English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, and serve customers worldwide with passion and hearts.
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