yunnan

China: Exquisite Textiles And Embroidery In Baisha

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BAISHA

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The sleepy town of Baisha rests at the bottom of the Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in western China, and is known for the ethnic minorities that live there, and the exquisite embroideries that they produce.  We were lucky to stumble onto Baisha, after cycling out of Lijiang without a fixed destination. We ended up staying there for a week to soak up the chilled out atmosphere and to explore the rich array of textiles.  We had finally found our 'beach' after 5 months of travelling.

As a clothing designer, I was in my haven.  There were tens of shops selling both new and antique textiles, and every day I would look at the embroideries in awe, chatting to the owners to learn about the pieces they had collected.  Many were made by the local ethnic minorities, which have great tribal names like Yi, Dong, Bai, Yao, Naxi, and Miao.  

The hundred of antique embroideries for sale in Basha, all priced at a few hundred dollars a piece

The hundred of antique embroideries for sale in Basha, all priced at a few hundred dollars a piece

 

Embroidery

The level of detail on the antiques is extraordinary, and many would make fine examples of Chinese ethnic embroidery in any museum or gallery.  I couldn't believe they were just there, hanging up for anyone to touch and see!

So I took as many pictures as I could, to share with you the wonderful embroideries that exist in this tiny town in rural China.  

Cotton appliqué technique embroidery, made by the Yi minority.  Cotton appliqué technique

Cotton appliqué technique embroidery, made by the Yi minority.  Cotton appliqué technique

Sequinned silk embroidered baby carrier, made by the Dong minority

Sequinned silk embroidered baby carrier, made by the Dong minority

Many of the pieces on display were baby carriers, and this is still how young children are carried around today on their mothers backs, wrapped in beautifully embroidered pieces of fabric.  The mothers don't tend to use the antique carriers because I would imagine they are too valuable, but there were many mass produced options with machined embroidery, which are more popular.

Double needle embroidery, made by the Dong minority

Double needle embroidery, made by the Dong minority

Embroidered decorative neck collar

Embroidered decorative neck collar

Horsetail embroidery - this is where horse hair is bound by threads to form a rope, and is then stitched onto the top of the fabric in a decorative arrangement

Horsetail embroidery - this is where horse hair is bound by threads to form a rope, and is then stitched onto the top of the fabric in a decorative arrangement

This is a new piece of embroidery stitched onto an oversized necklace.  The lady in the shop told me that her sister produced this by hand

This is a new piece of embroidery stitched onto an oversized necklace.  The lady in the shop told me that her sister produced this by hand

Some very 3D hand embroidery, using beads.  Probably one of my favourite pieces because it was just so heavy and chunky

Some very 3D hand embroidery, using beads.  Probably one of my favourite pieces because it was just so heavy and chunky

 

Tie Dye

This is a speciality of the Bai minority that still live and work in Baisha.  They make tie dyed pieces on cotton fabric, and sell them in this area of the Yunnan province.  Each piece takes hours to make due to the intricate tying of the fabric, and one of the ladies showed me a work in progress in the courtyard of her shop.

Tie dyed fabric for sale, hand produced by the Bai minority in Baisha

Tie dyed fabric for sale, hand produced by the Bai minority in Baisha

A local making some tie dye pieces in her shop.  These take quite some time to prepare and tie before the dying process

A local making some tie dye pieces in her shop.  These take quite some time to prepare and tie before the dying process

After dying, she has to untie the threads to reveal the un-dyed sections

After dying, she has to untie the threads to reveal the un-dyed sections

The final piece... the one on the right is dyed a second time to get the additional colour

The final piece... the one on the right is dyed a second time to get the additional colour

 

Embroidery Work Of The Masters

One of the most incredible things to witness was seeing the workshops where the finest level of hand-embroidery was still being produced to this day.  A handful of incredibly skilled women are still in training to become master-level embroiders, and work long hours every day to hone and develop their skills.  We were shown around the on-site gallery which displayed hundreds of their works, all exquisite in the level of skill and detail.  All of the pieces they produce were photo-realist in style, and traditional in content so imagine an image of an oriental woman in a garden, or a fish swimming in a bowl.  Despite the content not appealing to me, you can't help but appreciate the level of work involved.  Some pieces even take the master a year and a half to complete!

The embroiderers hard at work in one of the institutes and there is always one master who is the most skilled embroiderer.  At this particular institute, the master had been commissioned for a year an a half's worth of work, for a private customer

The embroiderers hard at work in one of the institutes and there is always one master who is the most skilled embroiderer.  At this particular institute, the master had been commissioned for a year an a half's worth of work, for a private customer

Work in progress - an exquisite hand-embroidered artwork being produced by one of the masters.  Something of this quality will take months to hand stitch

Work in progress - an exquisite hand-embroidered artwork being produced by one of the masters.  Something of this quality will take months to hand stitch

 

New Embroideries

If you couldn't have afforded the vintage pieces like me then not to worry!  There were hundreds of newly produced embroideries available that had been mass produced by machine, how very China.  Lots of them however look quite cheap and brash due to the colour combinations, but if you hunt around you can find some nicer ones that look a bit more vintage.  These are more around the £10-£40 mark, so get negotiating. I managed to get prices down to under half of the initial price on most sales, so start low and work your way up.

This is an example of typical mass produced embroidery in Baisha, Yunnan.  This one is quite a nice design and relatively good quality, but some look cheap and brash.  The colours of this one help it to look more vintage in style

This is an example of typical mass produced embroidery in Baisha, Yunnan.  This one is quite a nice design and relatively good quality, but some look cheap and brash.  The colours of this one help it to look more vintage in style

Newly produced hand cross-stitched coasters.  These are very quick to produce for the skilled locals. They were 75p each

Newly produced hand cross-stitched coasters.  These are very quick to produce for the skilled locals. They were 75p each

Hand-sewn brocade throws, made by the Yao minority.  Believe it or not, all stitches are sewn by hand on a cotton base cloth. I negotiated down to £37.50 per blanket

Hand-sewn brocade throws, made by the Yao minority.  Believe it or not, all stitches are sewn by hand on a cotton base cloth. I negotiated down to £37.50 per blanket

 

Clothing

Along with the embroidered baby carriers and antique pieces of fabric, you can find a few minority tribe garments including vintage floor length dress jackets from the Miao minority, pleated flared skirts with hand cross-stitched trims, and some cropped jackets in denim fabric with embroidery.  

Many older women of the minority tribes still dress in traditional clothing even today, and you only have to walk down the street to spot them in their unique attire.

Traditional Naxi women's clothing, with embroidered detail on the back.  Many of the older members of the Naxi tribe wear these jackets daily

Traditional Naxi women's clothing, with embroidered detail on the back.  Many of the older members of the Naxi tribe wear these jackets daily

Close up of a vintage Miao dress jacket that I purchased.  With beautiful hand embroidery and fastenings.  Some of these were selling for £400!

Close up of a vintage Miao dress jacket that I purchased.  With beautiful hand embroidery and fastenings.  Some of these were selling for £400!

Newly produced clothing from the Miao minority, the cross stitching is done by hand but is quick to produce.  It is typical to find this embroidery detail on the hem of a batik print garments like this one

Newly produced clothing from the Miao minority, the cross stitching is done by hand but is quick to produce.  It is typical to find this embroidery detail on the hem of a batik print garments like this one

 
Me wearing a new Maio batik jacket.  The pink trim on the neckline is embroidered

Me wearing a new Maio batik jacket.  The pink trim on the neckline is embroidered

 

The reason why I loved Baisha so much was mostly down to the pure creativity and skill of the people that lived there.  Seeing textiles of this level really inspired me to want to get making and using my hands.  An amazing quality of the Chinese is that they work so hard, regardless of everything else they get on with whatever they put their minds to and get the job done.  Whether that be selling, building a new home, or producing beautiful textiles like these ones, they are brilliant at working quickly and efficiently, and some are incredibly skilled.  

I feel so privileged to have spent so much time looking at these exquisite pieces of antique fabric, to me they really demonstrate Chinese minority embroidery and textiles at it's finest.

 

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China - Exquisite Embroidery And Textiles In Baisha, by Studio Mali
 

 

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