Seventy-one-year-old Gao Fenglan, an inheritor of embroidery based in north China's Shanxi Province has trained more than 6,000 people over the past decade, most of whom include laid-off workers, rural women, and jobless young women, in a bid to pass down the traditional craft to younger generations while giving impoverished people a tool to escape their poverty.
When she was 9 years old, Gao began to learn Yan embroidery, which is a kind of embroidery that originated in Daixian County and is considered a particular genre of Jin embroidery in Shanxi. By carrying forward the skills used in the making of handmade silk embroidery products, Yan embroidery also absorbs the best of Suzhou embroidery, one of the four most famous embroidery styles in China, while combining the essence of paintings and calligraphy artworks in a way that presents traditional Chinese culture. In October 2017, Yan embroidery was added to the intangible cultural heritage list of Shanxi.
According to Gao, there are two types of Yan embroidery — flat embroidery and three-dimensional embroidery. Flowers, birds, fish, insects, mountains and rivers are patterns commonly seen on flat embroidery products. Meanwhile, embroidered tiger-head shoes, which express the hope that children will become as robust and dynamic as tigers, and embroidered sachets are representative of three-dimensional embroidery products. Based on these two types of embroidery, Gao creatively developed a new embroidery craft, called Yan embroidery, which has proved its popularity among her clients.
After Gao retired in 1999, she realized that there were no people who could pass down the craft. To prevent the skills from going extinct, Gao decided to rescue and carry forward them through her own efforts. She visited elderly embroidery artists to learn skills from them and collected their embroidery products and design patterns. In 2008, she learnt embroidery skills from two artists from Suzhou during two months, and every year since then, she would go to Suzhou to learn from the two teachers.
Gao was invited to teach embroidery in 2009, when Daixian County organized a training session for impoverished rural women. "The classes were popular," Gao recalled. Two years later, she established a workshop that offered training for laid-off workers, rural women, and jobless young women. The workshop was designated by the local government as an entrepreneurship base for women in 2012.
"The embroidery products from my students were sold by the workshop, with some students earning more than 10,000 yuan a year from the products," Gao said, adding that the embroidery products have been sold to overseas markets. "Currently we are promoting the craft at vocational schools with the hope that young people can cultivate an interest in the craft and then learn it," Gao revealed.
(Source: People's Daily Online)
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