Showcasing the Chinese Embroidery Tradition

By / 4th of September, 2014
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AN expert in Chinese silk embroidery will launch an exhibition of traditional Chinese embroidery done by western artists tonight as part of South Australia’s Oz Asia Fetival.

Silk Legacy – A showcase of Chinese Embroidery Tradition is the work of Adelaide artist and curator Margaret Lee, who is also one of the few teachers of the art outside China.

Silk embroidery, an ancient art form dating from the Shang Dynasty (1700 – 1027BC) features strongly in politics, religion and economics throughout China’s long history and has been awarded UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status.

Su embroidery, the specific style of Chinese embroidery practiced and taught by Lee, is renowned for its detailed, intricate and highly realistic style. It is also perfectly suitable for contemporary applications.

Lee works with only pure Chinese filament silk from the bombyx mori moth species.

Silk filaments, in its continuous form as it is reeled off the silk cocoon, are used in single strands or in thicker clusters of up to eight strands.

Layering these fine strands of colour to achieve depth and dimension is a skill that only comes with good instruction and many years of practice.

“Unlike in the West, in China embroidery has always been viewed as an art form as opposed to craft,” says Lee.  “In this respect, there has been continuous innovation in the stitching techniques, which has resulted in the continuous development of the art whilst maintaining this ancient tradition. 

“This custom has left us with a legacy that is as relevant today as it was thousands of years ago. Such a long and rich tradition deserves to be maintained and further developed into the future.”

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Margaret Lee was born in Malaysia into a traditional Chinese family and had a successful career as a banker in Hong Kong and Singapore before relocating to Adelaide with her husband and three daughters in 1996. 

In keeping with the Chinese tradition, she was taught embroidery from a young age by her mother and grandmother. 

“My passion lies in preserving the tradition and I am committed to passing on these knowledge and skills,” she says. 

To achieve this dream Lee has developed a program - considered to be a world first - to teach Chinese embroidery to the western world. 

Lee mentors students from Australia, New Zealand, France, United Kingdom, USA and the Netherlands in the art of Chinese Embroidery. 

“Silk Legacy” was established as a way to showcase their achievements. 

“These art embroideries created by western embroiderers in the traditional way shows that art has no boundaries and we are one through our shared passion in creating beautiful art embroideries,” she says.

The selected works exemplify the functions of embroidery from the past to the present day. 

“It demonstrates how the Chinese love of embroidery and their pursuit of excellence and realism in embroidery artistry have more than kept the tradition alive,” Lee says. 

Silk Legacy is on from 4 September until 12 October in the Artspace Gallery at the Adelaide Festival Centre.