A Brief History of Chinese Embroidery 2. Early Emergence—the Western Zhou Period (1046–771 BC)

Traces of chain stitch on a silt of the Western Zhou Dynasty preserved in Baoji Museum, Shaanxi Province.

Based on present archaeological excavations, the immature dyeing techniques at the time did not make it possible for color to be applied to threads before stitching. Instead, color was applied after the embroidered patterns were finished. Let’s take a look at the marks of silk fabric with patterns embroidered in chain stitch from the Western Zhou Period that was found in the mud in the Tomb of Yubo in Baoji, Shaanxi Province in 1974. With this kind of embroidery, patterns were first outlined by yellow silk threads on the dyed silk fabric and then big patches of color were smeared and dyed on the embroidered patterns, including such colors as red (natural cinnabar) and yellow (realgar), etc. This was the feature of embroidery in its early period of development.

Traces of chain stitch on a silt of the Western Zhou Dynasty preserved in Baoji Museum, Shaanxi Province.
Traces of chain stitch on a silt of the Western Zhou Dynasty preserved in Baoji Museum, Shaanxi Province.

 

Fabrics used for embroidery in this period did not have close-knit fibers. Therefore, patterns embroidered were sparser than those in the following generation. It was even more evident if the fabrics were cotton, linen, and wool. For instance, in 1978, a piece of woolen embroidery from the Western Zhou Period unearthed from the Ancient Cemetery Area in Wubao, Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region is marked by a reddish brown wool with plain woven fabrics structured with the same warp and weft. Gorgeous geometric patterns in small triangles were embroidered with running stitch by white wool threads as well as threads dyed in yellow, blue, and pale green. When unearthed, they were seen over the body of a dead female. So far, it is the earliest embroidered object.

Woolen embroidery with running stitch of the Western Zhou Dynasty preserved in the Museum of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
Woolen embroidery with running stitch of the Western Zhou Dynasty preserved in the Museum of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.