Gu Embroidery

Example of Gu embroidery. Example of Gu embroidery.

Gu embroidery is a style of Chinese decorative needlework that originated during the late Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and was very popular well into the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911). The embroidery is worked with fine floss silk thread in various colours on a silk background.

The motifs of Gu embroidery are taken from nature and historical incidences and it is said that they were originally based on classic ink brush paintings from earlier periods (especially the Song and Yuan Dynasties). Traditionally, Gu embroidery is associated with Miao Ruiyan, a concubine of the eldest son of a high ranking official named Gu Mingshi. The family lived first in Songjiang, Jiangsu Province and later in Shanghai.

Miao Ruiyan is described as having developed a method to split silk thread, so that it was reputedly finer than a human hair. According to early accounts, Miao Ruiyan was already a skilled painter when she started to experiment with irregular, long and short stitches, couching and satin stitches, in order to imitate the strokes of an ink brush. Other women in the household learned her techniques, including a woman named Han Ximeng. Her work became so fine and well-known that she was given the nickname of 'Saint Needle'.

Following the death of Gu Mingshi, Miao Ruiyan, Han Ximeng and various other ladies started to sell their work in order to support the household. The embroidered paintings of the Gu style were, and still are, considered in China and elsewhere as a form of high art, so much so that it is regarded as acceptable for male artists and scholars to embroider in this style. Gu embroidery influenced the four other well-known embroidery styles (Su, Ting, Yue and Shu), especially the Su style of Suzhou.

The Shanghai Museum (Shanghai, China) has several examples of Gu embroidery from the Ming and Qing periods.

See also Chinese embroidery


  • CLUNAS, Chris (1997). Art in China Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  • YU, Ying January 2010). 'Gu’s Embroidery,' Asian Social Science, vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 61–79    

Digital source (retrieved 30 March 2016).

Digital source of illustration (retrieved 5 July 2016).


Last modified on Sunday, 16 October 2016 16:17