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Art Exhibit

The Chinese Art of Painting 
with Silk Threads

a photo essay by Nancy Fox

painting with silk thread
In this photo the artist is painting a farm scene using a photograph for inspiration.

Clever photographer, Nancy Fox, recently returned from a tour of mainland China. A visit to an embroidery factory in Suzhou was high on her list of places to see. She was not disappointed. When she arrived, the artists were hard at work producing these paintings. They readily consented to let Nancy photograph them while they worked.

They work indoors using indirect light sources to illuminate their canvases, which are mounted on frames, much like the ones quilters might use. For inspiration and information they use photographs, print illustrations, or even other paintings in developing their works of art.


The embroidery pieces are considered great works of art and many take a year to a year and a half to complete. They sell for thousands of dollars. Small pieces are available that sell for less but the big, intricate ones are very expensive, as they should be, considering the time involved in completing them.

Nancy wished she could ask the artist how much time it took for her to produce this spectacular landscape. The silken threads she used were so fine and the stitches were so small -- it appears to be an incredibly time-consuming process.

silken landscape
The silken threads appeared to sparkle as the light played off of the water in this landscape.

An interesting note: there are some artists in the factory that do two-sided embroidery pieces that are different on each side. An example is one piece that had a portrait of Princess Diana on one side and Prince Charles on the other. The likeness of Diane and Charles was amazing. It was done on a single piece of fabric and both sides were completed at the same time! The guide explained that the technique will remain a secret. Imagine putting your needle through the fabric and creating two entirely different pictures at the same time.

A note on Suzhou as a tourist destination: Suzhou, a historic city in China, is considered the pearl of the Yangtze Delta. It is what they call a small city with a population of about a million and a half people. Many wealthy retired mandarins of the Ming and Qing dynasties spent their last years in Suzhou because it is such a beautiful area.

If you are interested in learning more about Chinese Embroidery or making a purchase, check out Red Peony! They'd love to hear from you.


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