Dongtai in Jiangsu Province is well-known both domestically and internationally for its unique hair embroidery. Hair embroidery is made with different stitch techniques (pinning, cutting, winding and rolling needle) by using human hair as the "thread" with silk or tough silk as the carrier while taking advantage of the natural color of hair: black, white, gray, yellow and brown, and the characteristics of hair: thin, soft, lustrous and smooth. Hair embroidery has soft colors and unique styles. It's superior to silk embroidery for its novelty, freshness and elegance. In addition, it is corrosion resisting and good for collection.
Hair embroidery can be traced back to the Tang and Song Dynasties. When Buddhism reached its peak in the Tang Dynasty, pious female believers cut off their long hair to embroider Avalokitesvara or Buddha on the silk to show their devotion to Buddhism, which is seen as the earliest hair embroidery. But ancient people regarded hair as life as "skin and hair come by the parents and they dare not to damage." Besides, hair embroidery calls for high techniques and is faced with many difficulties in production, so it was on the wane over time. After the new China was founded in 1949, the long-sleeping hair embroidery is revived in Dongtai, Jiangsu Province with a host of works being produced including "Qingming Festival by the Riverside", "Scene of Bustling Gusu", "The Diamond Sutra", "Panorama of the Three Gorges", "Eighty-seven Immortals", and portraits of great personages, including Chen Yi, Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping. The masterpieces have been collected by museums worldwide.
Roaming the streets of Dongtai, the "home of China's hair embroidery", we can see shops selling hair embroidery works. Domestic everywhere and overseas visitors come to buy hair embroidery commodities in an endless stream. At the moment, over 10,000 people in Dongtai are engaged in the design, color matching, sketching on the embroidery framework, embroidering and mounting of hair embroidery works. Dongtai has more than 30 companies and plants, 400 centers and outlets specializing in hair embroidery, with sales outlets set up in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tokyo and other places. For now, hair embroidery has hit the market in over 50 countries and territories, including the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, and is dubbed as "a precious collection" by foreigners.
"Qingming Festival by the Riverside ", award winner of the World’s Fair, is one of the representative masterpieces of Dongtai hair embroidery. It traces the artistic beauty and charm of Zhang Zeduan and represents every vivid detail of this classic painting of China with fine hairs, truly an amazing work.
Dongtai hair embroidery "Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains" won the highest prize at the Chinese Arts and Crafts Masters and Works of Fine Art Expo in Shanghai. The work is 14 meters in length, 0.5 meter in width and completed by more than 10 embroidery girls in 5 months. It is featured by changing embroidery techniques, exquisite embroidery skills and natural and smooth styles. Its appearance at the first Cross-Strait Innovation Exhibition caused a sensation in Taiwan.
Now artisans of hair embroidery in Dongtai have made innovations in techniques, such as turning double hook into demitint, and developing double-faced embroidery and double-faced embroidery of different colors, making the expressive force of hair embroidery much richer.