Gu Embroidery

 Gu Embroidery

Gu embroidery originated from the household of Gu Mingshi in Songjiang, Jiangsu Province. Gu Mingshi was a successful candidate in the highest imperial examination of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). In his later years he lived in the Luxiang Garden in Shanghai.

Almost all the female members in his family would embroider. Thus Gu embroidery came into being. Among the family members, a woman with the surname Miao and another named Han Ximeng were the most skilled embroiderers.

After the death of Gu Mingshi, the living conditions of the family began to deteriorate so Gu embroidery was put on the market. Initiated by men of letters such as Dong Qichang in the south of the Yangtze River, some government-run or private embroidery workshops called their products Gu embroidery so as to cultivate the fame of the Gu name in embroidery.

It is said that the silk used in Gu embroidery was thinner than human hair, the lines embroidered were as fine as soft, long hair and the colors were fine and ingenious. The landscape, figures, flowers and birds on the embroidery were all very vivid and favored by both feudal officials and ordinary people.

After the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Gu embroidery was widespread in neighboring areas around Shanghai. Many women tried to imitate the skills; businesspeople opened embroidery workshops and purchased Gu embroidery works. As a result, Gu embroidery became famous nationwide. However, after the reign of Jiaqing (1796-1821), Gu embroidery gradually lost its fame and almost no one mastered the skill. After the founding of new China, this skill regained some development.

The silk embroidery of the Gu family style was created earlier than the other four famous embroidery styles - those of Suzhou, Guangzhou, Hunan and Sichuan. Only painted artworks were embroidered in Gu embroidery, so it's quite unique. Combining the traditional needle skills used in embroidery and the painting skills of traditional Chinese painting, Gu embroidery uses the needle as the brush and uses the thread as the ink to paint a beautiful picture, which makes it even more distinguished.