Embroidery revival bears fruit in rural Hubei county

Hong Li demonstrates basic sewing techniques to children at her workshop in Huangmei, Hubei province, in June. [For China Daily]

A college graduate who longed for a slower life returned from Wuhan to her hometown in Huangmei County, Hubei Province, and began a career based on her rich embroidery tradition.

Hong Li, 35, has trained around 100 rural women in the county to embroider for her workshop, which sells their craft across the province.

Huangmei embroidery, a national intangible cultural heritage, was passed down thousands of years ago. The craftsmanship uses multicolored silk threads to form flower or animal patterns on scarves, garments, curtains and tents.

In the past, there was a saying that a good wife in Huangmei should master the skill. Hong learned it from her mother and grandmother when she was a teenager.

“Embroidery patterns reflect simple life ideals and the aesthetic tastes of ordinary people,” she said. “It is increasingly rare and should be treasured like a work of art.”

For example, works of art usually feature fish to express a wish for wealth or a phoenix as an auspicious omen.

After graduating from Hubei University of Technology, Hong learned other embroidery skills from masters in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province, Wuhan, the provincial capital of Hubei, and Shanghai.

In May 2020, she founded a business with her partner, selling Huangmei embroidery pieces made by her and other local women.

“I made embroidery my profession because I had always dreamed of a slow-paced life, especially when I saw grannies spending entire mornings doing embroidery on their doorsteps,” she said. declared.

“However, the sewing is difficult and requires endurance and patience. The fingerprints on two of my fingers have almost been erased from the work.”

Her career confidence was boosted when someone who loves embroidery asked Hong to do bespoke decorations for an entire house.

Hong’s sewing product designs have grown from 10 to around 100, and her workshop brings in around 1 million yuan ($157,800) a year.

Each woman who brings handicrafts to her workshop earns at least 2,000 yuan per month. Local women who worked as migrant workers or were unemployed learn sewing in Hong.

“At first I chose it out of a desire for a slow life,” she said. “But now I feel compelled to pass it on.”

She plans to expand production, but said it was difficult because traditional Huangmei embroidery relies on pure handwork, which is both a selling point and a barrier to growth.

“Pure manual labor is time-consuming and labor-intensive, so we can’t scale up production immediately,” Hong said.

Also, some people prefer to buy a machine-made embroidered piece rather than a handmade piece, although the patterns and quality are similar, since the handmade piece usually costs more. “It’s hard to resist the impact of modern industrial products,” she said.

Hong designs semi-finished products that can be put on a production line. She also plans to establish more training bases and hold creative skill competitions to revive crafts.

(Source: China Daily)