Artwork: Shui Sandu Baby Carrier
Design No: CH1005
Embroidery Style: Ma Wei Xiu
Era: Late Qing Era (circa 1880)
Framed Dimensions:
760mm x 1360mm

The Story behind the Artwork

Shui ‘Horse-tail’ embroidery is known as a ‘living fossil’ and is arguably one of the most distinctive styles of ethnic minority embroidery seen in China. The style has been used predominantly in the making of baby carriers, shoes, wallets and knife bags. Classified by the Ministry of Culture in 2006 as a National Intangible Cultural Heritage it incorporates the use of horse tail hair wrapped in silk thread and used in textiles to give definition, dimension and relief to the work. ‘Shui Zu Xing Shen Hu’, an outstanding example of the style, was acknowledged in 2009 as an ‘Outstanding World Handcraft’ by UNESCO and has become part of the permanent collection in the China Embroidery Museum in Suzhou, the birth place of Chinese silk. Other museums including the Guizhou Provincial Museum also exhibit examples of this amazing craft.

The changing social structure in rural China is weakening many of cultural traditions as the older generations slowly pass away and the young move to the cities to seek employment in modern construction or industry. Younger generations struggle to see the relevance of ancient crafts in the contemporary world. Horsetail embroidery, while highly prized by collectors and connoisseurs, is so very complex and technically difficult that few examples are being made today.

This work is a baby carrier from Sandu County, Guizhou. A rare and unique example, it represents a cultural memory of the ancient past of the Shui people. The demanding nature of the style made the work so time consuming that a baby carrier would take upwards of one year to complete and was one of the most highly prized possessions of a young woman about to get married. The upper part of this work is made up of 20 separate pieces sewn in a framework of hand woven silk bands. The bottom part is a single panel of silk which has been embroidered richly. Dragons and phoenix, two key motifs, represent luck and a desire for success. The sun acknowledges the light and prosperity brought into the lives of the clan by our closest star. The motifs of nature identify the importance of the natural environment to their lives. The use of horse tail hair is perceived as providing protection, acting as a guardian against evil and ghosts.