Snapshots:  Textile Artists of Southwestern China and Their Costumes

HOME     Chinese Minority Textiles  

Here's a brief and random textile tour of some areas in southern China-- mainly in the southwest-- where minority ethnic groups have developed unique costume traditions. Embroidery, brocade weaving and batik predominate, along with figured ribbon weaving and silk braiding.  Costumery is the major artistic expression among most of these groups, and much of the best work is done by young women preparing dowries. Young women also tried their best to produce new outfits for each major festival where they might attract prospective husbands.  Even very young girls were eager to learn and perfect embroidery skills.  The stunning textiles have been a source of immense pride for both individuals and their ethnic groups. They provide endless pleasure for collectors.

Miao girls from the Anshun area of Guizhou Province.

Weaver with a  backstrap loom in Hainan Province. Jili Nationality. This young woman is doing an elaborate brocade, such as in her skirt, using a simple backstrap loom. By leaning forward or back, she controls the warp tension. 

A young Dong child in southeastern Guizhou Province wearing a spring and summer cap, with elaborate embroidery that matches that on the equally elaborate sash. Handwoven figured ribbons ornament the jacket.  The Dong Nationality people have produced astonishing embroideries with a wide range of anthropomorphic figures.

A Miao subgroup, the Ge, are superlative batik artisans.  Here, the young woman is drawing with hot wax on her fabric.  Once this is finished, the cloth will be dyed in indigo and then finally, the wax melted and washed out to leave the design in white on a dark blue background.  Batik and embroidery have often been combined in a single garment.  The Ge people live along the banks of the Chong-an-jiang River in Huangping County, Guizhou Province. 

Three women of Hani Nationality in Yunnan Province.

A young Miao girl in Yunnan Province.
Young Miao women in Hunan Province, where Han Chinese influences have been stronger than in adjoining provinces.  The women above are weaving figured bands for trimming garments.  For festive wear, as at the right, embroidered aprons are worn over the usual jacket. Pants complete the costume, while in other Miao areas elaborately pleated skirts are the fashion. 

Miao girls of Guizhou Province doing cross-stitch embroidery. Small embroidered panels were often worked separately, then attached to garments--to sleeves, shoulder areas and along the front closures. This of course allowed the work to be done conveniently outdoors.  Among this particular Miao group, elaborately decorated aprons have been an important costume item.

In the Chinese literature, counted thread or cross-stitch is often identified as "hand stitching" to differentiate it from more free-flowing embroidery techniques.

Baby in "winter" hat.  Dong Nationality, southeastern Guizhou Province.
Right:  Miao brocade weavers in Guang Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Young married women of the Buyi Nationality in Guizhou Province.

Miao children grow up surrounded by women who enjoy handwork.  This older woman is wearing an apron embroidered with cross stitch.  The little girl's distinctive skirt is typical of  counties in the Qingshu River valley of eastern Guizhou Province, such as Taigong.
Young children of Zhenfeng, Guizhou Province.  How this photo reminds me of my childhood, when my friends and I were so serious about sewing doll clothes!  In the Miao cultures, where elaborate costumery has been accorded such importance, children developed textile interests at especially early ages. That, unfortunately, is changing now, as the old traditions are fading.

The typical costume of this group is dark and elegant--for individuals of all ages.  Colorful embroidery decorates front jacket panels, while small aprons are an austere black and white-- either brocaded or worked in cross stitch. 

Weavers of Achang Nationality in Yunnan Province.

Right:  Girls of Yao Nationality in Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region.

Deang Weaver in Yunnan Province.  Among the advantages of a  backstrap loom:  it can be set up easily  anywhere, to take advantage of mild climates as in parts of Yunnan. 

Miao children on sub-tropical Hainan Island off the south China coast. Costumes for adults and children are the same, with decorative sashes,  small areas of embroidery, and sometimes batik. 

This young Miao girl of Guizhou is making silk braid to be used in embroidery. Her special stand works much like a bobbin lace pillow. Individual silk threads are wound on bobbins, then interlaced back and forth--crossed and twisted.  Any number of bobbins may be used, with twelve being the usual maximum. 

The finished braids are stitched flat to a fabric to form the desired decorative arrangements, or they are pleated and attached, making highly regarded three-dimensional effects. Dong embroiderers have used such braids for especially spectacular results.

Miao woman weaving waistband and kerchief fabric. Guizhou Province.
Qingshui River in southeastern Guizhou Province.
The photos on these pages are from Yang Yuan, Chinese National Costume Culture, 1999, Beijing; The Cultural Palace of Nationalities, ed., Clothings and Ornaments of China's Miao People, Beijing, 1985, and Huang Shoubao, Ethnic Costume from Guizhou, Beijing, 1987.


Chinese Minority Textiles
1690 Johnson Road NE
Atlanta, GA  30306   USA

Phone:  404-872-3356