How to: Chinese Silk Embroidery

Written by rachel terry
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How to: Chinese Silk Embroidery
Chinese embroidery is elegant and beautiful. (Hemera Technologies/ Images)

An ancient art form, Chinese silk embroidery has been practised for more than 3,800 years. In the past, women from wealthy households practised Chinese silk embroidery as a hobby while lower class women embroidered for pay. The art form gained prestige and worth as products were traded along the Chinese Silk Road. Made by pulling strands of silk through a canvas background, Chinese silk embroidery is still admired today. Learning how to embroider in the Chinese fashion makes for a satisfying and challenging hobby.

Skill level:
Moderately Challenging

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Things you need

  • Chinese silk embroidery thread
  • Embroidery canvas
  • Permanent marking pens
  • Scissors
  • Embroidery needle

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  1. 1

    Clip your fingernails and rub lotion on your hands. Chinese silk embroidery thread is very fine and will catch on almost anything, including chapped hands.

  2. 2

    Draw your design onto your canvas or obtain canvas with a design pre-printed onto it. Because you will be working on this project for a long time, make sure you use some sort of permanent ink for your design. If you like, you can also colour the canvas to indicate which colour of embroidery thread to use as you go along. Many pre-printed canvases are coloured.

  3. 3

    If your canvas is wrinkled, iron it with low heat. Insert your canvas into an embroidery hoop, and make sure the canvas isn't puckered anywhere.

  4. 4

    Separate your first colour of silk embroidery thread into four strands. Expert Chinese silk embroiderers separate their thread into as many as 16 strands to give their finished product a very refined look. But if you are just beginning, settle for four strands. Thread your needle with one of the four strands. It doesn't matter which colour you begin with or which part of the picture you start on.

  5. 5

    Poke your needle up through the canvas from the bottom, and pull the embroidery thread until you have a tail of about 2 inches left on the back side. Hold the tail against the back of the canvas while you send the needle back down, leaving a nice, long satin stitch on the front of the canvas. Send the needle back up again, right next to your first stitch. Make sure the tail catches in this stitch. Continue making long satin stitches, making sure the thread's tail is getting caught each time for the first five or six stitches. Using this method, you don't have to make any knots in the thread that could cause bumps in the canvas.

  6. 6

    Continue to make nice long satin stitches, filling in the sections of your outline on the canvas until your thread is nearly gone. To end your thread, turn the embroidery hoop over so you can see the back side. Slide your needle under several stitches, perpendicular to them. Pull the thread taut, but don't pull so tightly that you deform your stitches. Send the needle back the other way underneath a few stitches, and clip the thread very close to the canvas. Continue using this process until you have filled in the entire picture.

  7. 7

    Iron the finished embroidered picture with a very low iron setting to get rid of wrinkles in the canvas caused by the embroidery hoop. Mount the picture in a frame, and hang it on the wall.

Tips and warnings

  • Keep your silk embroidery threads in a smooth, closed container to keep them from getting tangled.
  • Wear a thimble to keep your pointer finger from getting too sore.

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