Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute

After walking around Shuhe, we drove a few kilometers to the small town of Baisha. 
Our main destination was the Baisha Naxi Embroidery Institute, created to preserve and develop Naxi embroidery. Due to the Cultural Revolution (embroidery making was banned, and some practitioners were even imprisoned) and the rise of machine embroidery, this handicraft is endangered. At the Institute, local women can train at no cost. Students are exposed to consistently more difficult projects that are designed by their teachers. One of the students gave me a tour of the institute, including the gallery.
A Master embroider at work. 
My student guide eagerly pointed out her teacher, who was intensely focused on her own embroidery. The teacher obliged in briefly pulling up the cloth covering her embroidery, revealing a shimmering lotus pond design with subtle variations of tightly packed shorter stitches. After a moment or two, she silently covered it back up again and continued working. My guide explained that the silk thread was separated into further strands, the amount varying according to the embroiderer's skills and design. Whereas beginners might use 1/8 of the thread, master embroiderers might use only 1/32 of the strand seen on the blue cloth covering.
My student guide at the Institute
An embroidery piece of Koi made into a screen, displayed in the gallery
 A well-laid out gallery displayed pieces, most of which were for sale. Each piece had a label that included the creator's name, title, price (if applicable), and number of days it took. Simpler student ones sold at more affordable prices and may have taken as little as a week (working 8-hour days), all the way up to a year. Many pieces were way beyond the pricing on a teacher's salary, but would definitely make a great purchase for a collector. In a country where quality traditional handicrafts are becoming harder to find, this was a breath of fresh air.

Photography was not allowed in the gallery. You can see some examples here.

In 2006, Naxi embroidery was listed as an intangible heritage by UNESCO. It is the goal of the Institute that 30% of all Naxi women in the area would be knowledgeable on this embroidery style, 60% by 2030, and that by 2040, Naxi embroidery would once again become the Naxi national industry.

Old embroidery examples on display in the museum area
 Some other rooms held some nicely displayed embroidery pieces created in the past. One was the robe of the Mu family clan leader. Embroidered with blue dragons, the robe lacked the yellow color reserved for the emperor.
Robe of the Mu family clan leader

Appliqué work

Baisha is located about 8 km north of Lijiang. 

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