Veteran Patchwork Artist Brings Needlecraft to Life

ByZhou Huiying September 16, 2021
Veteran Patchwork Artist Brings Needlecraft to Life
Jin Yuanshan welcomes a delegation from the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage in the United States to her studio in Beijing in August 2016. [For China Daily]

 

Getting up at 4 am to make patchwork handicrafts has been a regular part of Jin Yuanshan's daily routine for several decades.

Jin, a member of the Korean ethnic group, has maintained her family's tradition of preparing a handmade rainbow quilt for each and every one of her grandchildren before his or her birth.

"Just like sewing the quilt stitch by stitch, I hope my grandchildren will become sure-footed people and keep walking forward step by step," said Jin, 74.

Patchwork is a distinctive yet intricate needlecraft in which patches of regular or irregular shapes are sewn together.

"Patchwork has become the most important part of my daily life," she said. "The early morning is the quietest time for me to create without any interruption."

Jin, from Mudanjiang, northeastern China's Heilongjiang Province, is an expert in needlework, which she was taught by her mother and grandmother.

"I showed a great interest in handicrafts when I was a little girl, especially in needlecraft," Jin said. "My mother was a tailor and gave me lots of patches of cloth. I sewed many bags with those pieces and gave them to my classmates. They liked my gifts."

After her retirement as a statistician from a State-owned factory in Mudanjiang in 1991, Jin threw herself into her patchwork, making the handicraft an art.

Jin has created innumerable pieces of patchwork and in 2007, she won second prize at the Tokyo International Great Quilt Festival, which is the most important patchwork event in Asia.

"It was the first time that a Chinese participant won a prize at the event," she said. "After that, I was invited to different contests and exhibitions at home and abroad."

Her artworks have been displayed at patchwork exhibitions in Japan, South Korea and the United States.

In June 2014, a delegation of Chinese artists and artisans was invited to attend the 48th Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington DC, which was the first time China participated in the event.

"All the 108 members of the Chinese delegation, except me, had been conferred the titles of inheritor of intangible cultural heritage or artisan master," she said. "When my works were displayed, I saw their eyes widen in surprise."

Four of Jin's patchworks were exhibited at the festival.

"My work also attracted lots of US visitors," she said. "Despite the language barrier, I could understand their interest in my patchwork."

Since the 1990s, she has visited many people from other ethnic groups throughout China, in order to study their traditional needlecraft.

"Patchwork can be found in the ethnic costumes of the majority of China's 56 ethnic groups," Jin said.

In 2010, Jin was invited to be an expert adviser of the Beijing Institute of Fashion Technology.

The institute has established Jin Yuanshan Patchwork Studios in Beijing and Qingdao, Shandong Province.

She said that the studios give her "a platform to conduct research on patchwork and make better ones".

Jin gave lectures to pupils at four primary schools in Qingdao last year.

"The children showed a great interest in patchwork art as well as traditional Chinese culture during the lectures," she said. "They gave me great inspiration."

She has also helped to teach people with disabilities how to make patchwork in order to earn money.

In June, she held a one-month patchwork training course for 10 people with disabilities at her studio in Beijing.

"In spite of their disabilities, they made great efforts to learn and practice," she said. "They surprised me every time they returned to the classroom with their great progress."

She added that after finishing the course, these trainees would become teachers, bringing the skills to more people with disabilities.

"In my eyes, odd bits of cloth are priceless treasures," she said. "Wherever I go, I will bring a suitcase filled with odd bits and needles. Patchwork has become a part of my life."

 

(Source: China Daily)

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