Traditional Korean embroidery is known as "jasu." It is admired for its striking colour schemes and designs. Jasu has been used through the centuries to adorn clothing, embellish boxes, ornaments, screens, curtains and wrapping cloth. Korean women practised this craft: embroidering nature scenes, traditional Korean motifs as well as Buddhists designs in their work. It is an intricate part of the traditional culture of Korea.
The colour of clothing and embroidered symbols on them have been used in history to define the social position of people in Korea for centuries. The recorded history of Korea points to the Koryo Dynasty of 1215 to 1368 as a time period when traditional Korean embroidery flourished. In addition to its use in decorating personal items and creating artwork of decorated scenes; donations of embroidered items with religious symbols were donated to Buddhist temples.
The Joseon Dynasty, dating from 1392 to 1910, established the use of embroidered insignias that were worn by civil and military officials. Embroidery studios were established within government offices. It was during this dynasty that embroidery gained its true foothold in Korean culture, becoming something recognised as a virtuous craft and activity for women according to the Korean Cultural Service.
Embroidery in 20th Century Korea
Western influence and Japanese occupation of Korea led to the diffusion of traditional Korean culture in the earlier decades of the 20th century. Hahn Sang Su, born in 1935 in what is now South Korea, began researching Korean traditional embroidery. She felt that it had been neglected in favour of a Western style of life. She opened an institute dedicated to the study of traditional embroidery in Seoul in 1963. She published several books on the subject and remained dedicated to promoting the craft in Korean society for several decades. In 1984 she, herself, was honoured as a Living Treasure for the Craft of Embroidery according to the Korean Cultural Service.
Korea's Traditional Embroidered Crafts
A Bojagi is a square piece of cloth that is used in traditional Korean culture to wrap items. These are often embroidered with simple and sometime ornate designs. Wedding gowns and ceremonial wear are some of the backdrops for beautiful embroidered designs. Silk folding-screens and tapestries are also embroidered using this craft.
There are a number of museums which display the historical and modern craft of Korean embroidery. Included in these are the Hansangsu Embroidery Museum, dedicated to traditional embroidery. Additionally, The Traditional Culture Experience Hall and the Korea House feature displays, but also hands-on programs, of Korean traditional embroidery.
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