Therapy Embroidery

by Teresa Lynch

In graduate school, you’ll often find your fellow students and faculty with an array of hobbies that help them relax and get away from the stress of academic life. Many people take up therapy baking or jogging.

Yanyan Zhou embroiders – and she’s been doing it for over ten years.

Embroidery by Yanyan.

Embroidery by Yanyan.

Embroidery was a craft passed down in her family. Yanyan’s grandfather was a talented embroiderer and taught Yanyan’s mother when she was young. At the time that Yanyan learned the craft, she was living in Beijing recovering from a surgical procedure that didn’t allow her to go into the sun. “I just sat [inside] and it was really, really boring. There was TV…but that was also very boring. So my mom thought I could try [embroidery] and since she was really bored too, we did it together,” said Yanyan with a laugh.

Xiangsiu embroiderers often depict lions and tigers in their work.

Xiangxiu embroiderers often depict lions and tigers in their work.

Although mostly considered a European tradition, cross-stitch and embroidery are found in Chinese tradition, as well. Yanyan says that in her region of China generations of people have done Hunan embroidery – otherwise known as Xiangxiu (湘绣) embroidery. It is primarily the style and the subjects of the work that distinguish Hunan embroidery. In particular, Yanyan says that the style is “famous for the embroidery of tigers and lions.”

She began to practice to pass the time initially and stave off boredom, but eventually Yanyan found that she really enjoyed the art. In her spare time, she creates pieces such as wallets, pillowcases, and wall art. Smaller pieces of embroidery are completed entirely in her hands, using only the cloth, thread, and needles. Larger pieces require an embroidery hoop. Some of the pieces of art Yanyan has created take only a few hours of work. Others may take up to a month of dedication.

She considers the type of cross-stitch that she does to be a much simpler technique than the type of elaborate and intricate Hunan embroidery her grandfather and other embroiderers from her hometown of Changsha create. Eventually Yanyan aspires to master the style herself, but admits that it takes a tremendous amount of time and practice to perfect the delicate and intricate stitches. Still, she enjoys embroidering and will certainly continue to do it because of how relaxing it is when she’s busy with classes and research. “It’s very repetitive and so you don’t have to use your brain. It’s still hard work…but, it’s distracting. You have no time to think about something else. If you do, you’ll do something wrong, so you have to just forget about everything else for a while.”

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1 Comment

  1. Yanyan’s Secret | gradspace@IUtel

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