Shandong family showcases Lu embroidery for six generations

(chinadaily.com.cn)Updated: 2022-04-24

Lu embroidery is the general name for embroidery products in Shandong province and has a history of more than 2,000 years. Based in Liangshan county in Jining, Lu embroidery practitioner Zhang Haifeng has continued her family legacy in showcasing the intricacies of the traditional craft. Six generations ago, her ancestor Zhang Zhenxi set up a dyeing workshop named "Fuxingyuan" in the Emperor Yongle period of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), which became very famous in that time.

Fuxingyuan frequently customized embroideries, such as quilt covers, sachets, and court dresses, for the empress dowager who greatly loved its handmade works. As Fuxingyuan always served the ethnic Han Chinese group by spinning yarn, weaving brocades, and embroidering patterns, the empress dowager granted Fuxingyuan's crafts the name of "Han Chinese Textile Embroidery" as one branch of Lu embroidery.

Although the business' popularity reached its peak during Emperor Qianlong's rule in the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Zhang Haifeng is currently a sixth generation inheritor of Han Chinese Textile Embroidery. 

In 2005, she established her own company to specifically engage in handmade weaving and embroidery. She also registered two brands named "Showpo Lu Brocade" and "Han Chinese Textile Embroidery" to protect this hereditary craft. In 2008, the weaving and knitting craftsmanship of the two brands were designated intangible cultural heritage items of Liangshan county. They were also named time-honored brands of Shandong by the province's Department of Commerce in 2011.

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Zhang's embroidery artwork. [Photo/jnnews.tv]

In Zhang's view, embroidery is more than a kind of delicate craft. "It requires a lot of time to come up with a good concept to express your embroidery work, to which what implied meaning or theme should be applied and what colors should be used," she said. 

"Embroidery is not only a craft, but an elegant art form that portray the full of emotions of the creator, whose heart is closely tied with every needle and every thread used through their nimble fingers."

Zhang uses a bedding work with a lotus on it as an example of how the creator's true emotions are reflected in their pieces. "The lotus represents auspiciousness, peace, and joy, expressing people's longing for a happy life. When embroidering a lotus, there are some certain principles on how to run the needle and how to slant its petal and leaf to make it seem more rational and real," she explained. "A good embroidery work features dignified colors, real images, and perfect stitching."

Zhang innovatively combines modern designing concepts with traditional craftsmanship. "I tried to apply modern elements like 3D objects into Lu embroidery, while drawing on the outstanding stitch and knitting of other types of embroidery like Su Embroidery of Suzhou, Jiangsu province and Shu Embroidery of Sichuan province to make my creations more fashionable and interesting," she said.

Based on her innovative stitching, Zhang has also brought new ideas to her embroidery work by integrating flowers like peonies, plum blossoms, and orchids, which represent good wishes and noble qualities. 

In order to promote Lu embroidery, Zhang organizes training classes in several towns of Liangshan county to teach local housewives how to embroider. These women can work at home and their embroidery works are gathered collectively by Zhang's company. 

Zhang said that she regards the cloth as her canvas, the thread as ink, and the needle as her pen to express the traditional charm of handmade Lu embroidery. "I will stick to this craftsmanship and promote the innovative development of 'Han Chinese Textile Embroidery' through constant inheritance," she said.