Hair embroidery, an embroidery product produced with hair, is one of special traditional crafts of the Han in the areas of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
Hair is firm and tough with durable colour and luster. As for hair embroidery, thread is replaced with hair, using the natural colour of hair (black, white, grey, yellow and brown) and its various properties like thinness, softness, brightness and smoothness. Different stitch patterns including split stitch, stem stitch, slanting stitch and roll stitch are used to embroider.
Hair embroidery paintings use diverse themes, including Chinese landscape paintings, Chinese calligraphy, portraits and freehand brushworks of animals and plants, and full of oriental art motifs.
After collection, washing, dyeing and chemical processing, hair is used by hair embroidery artist as thread to complete a piece of hair embroidery. The process can take several months and even sometimes a few years of hard work. In order to make hair embroidery work flat, bright, uniform and natural, there are nearly ten kinds of needles used by artists. As hair embroidery is on white background with black thread, it is suitable for figure portraits (line drawing), landscape and buildings. As for figure portrait, the background is relatively drab.
Now, hair embroideries in China mainly come from Suzhou and Dongtai in Jiangsu province, Jinan and Qingdao in Shandong province, and other places. As Suzhou hair embroidery stresses on the uniformity of poem, calligraphy, painting and printing, particular attention is paid to needlework. This involves the calligraphic style (lifting, pressing, pausing and transition) and the ink rhythm (degree of darkness or thickness of ink). Dongtai hair embroidery has been developed into two-sided silk embroidery and two-sided hair embroidery with varied colors.
Master Meng Yongguo from Zhejiang is a national master specialized in artistic research of colored hair embroidery.