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Culture of silk and embroidery in China

Silk was first invented in ancient China. But the culture of modern silk manufacturing and embroidery is under development. CCTV reporter meets with experts to learn what silk means to them, and how they are combining both tradition and modern technology to perfect the craft.

The magic of stitching — Jin Jiahong is keeping the ancient Chinese handicraft of silk embroidery, alive.

She learned how to embroider when she was a teenager, and has been using the same tools for the past thirty five years. She kept up with the practice even when the demand for embroidery work was low.

“I still remembered the good old days back in the 1980s when we had to work overtime to finish our clients orders. The traditional embroidery industry was hit hard when more modern designs became popular,” said Jin Jiahong, craftswoman.

“We lost our jobs when manual work was replaced by machines. I stayed home for three to four years. I didn’t stop making embroidery work at the time because I enjoy doing this. But many of my peers gave up and switched jobs.”

Jin said the hard years gave her the opportunity to switch her role from a manual worker to a designer. Today, most of her work requires at least six months to complete.

To pass on her skills, Jin Jiahong has taken on some new apprentices. She wants to help people find inner peace through handicraft work — like silk embroidery. She hopes there will always be someone like her who will preserve this traditional skill both in good times and bad.

Instead of exercising in a traditional manner, some are working today as engineers in order to refine and upgrade those time-honored skills and techniques.

Demand for handmade embroidery is on the rise because of the increased popularity of silk around the world. China was the first country to use silk, and it has never stopped promoting this ancient material.

Guess how light this silk is? Believe it or not, its thickness is only 0.052 millimeter. It is the lightest silk in the world. Xu Dinglong is the engineer who created it.

“The difficult part of making the thinnest silk is getting the right strain of thread. If you use high speed machines, it is easy to break the thread. It took me six months to perfect this. I started from the very beginning of the process, from the silkworm, and made changes all the way up to the speed of the machines,” said Xu Dinglong, engineer of Wensli Group.

Guo Wendeng and his team worked for two years to create a color transition system that creates near perfect prints.

Guo said, “Before I created this system, we could only rely on the experience of colorists. It usually takes a long time to find a good colorist. Over the past two years, we did a number of tests to try to increase the accuracy of the color on the fabric. We have a similar color system in the printing industry, which is very different from printing on fabric.”

With the help of Guo’s color transition system, fabric designers can now print their original designs onto silk fabric with much less color loss.

Chinese craftsmen and engineers are using both traditional skills and modern technology to develop the craft of silk manufacturing. Their hard work helps bring China’s culture of silk manufacturing to people around the globe.