Sunday, April 8, 2012

Some Chinese or East Asian Medallions

Hello All,

I apologize that I have not been posting as regularly lately. I am currently researching the Costumes of Savoy, and it is more work than I had anticipated. 
For Easter, I thought I would share these examples of Asian Embroidery. I found these medallions in  a thrift store. I do not know where they are from. 
This style of embroidery originated in China, and spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam and other places, which of which elaborated on the style in their own way. 
I also have no idea what these are intended to be used for. If anyone out there knows, please inform me. I don't know what I will do with them. 
The majority of each of these designs is couching with a narrow metallic gold thread, done in runs of two. Each thread is half a millimeter wide. 
The majority of each motif consists of negative  space, of which the Chinese are masters. Then other  motifs are embroidered in non-twisted silk thread. 
The medallion above is 5 inches wide. Here are a couple more examples.This one seems to have pineapples.

 There are various background colors.

Some are square, others are round. This one incorporates butterflies? These are the same size, 5 inches.

 This one incorporates bats, a symbol of Happiness, as in Chinese, bats and happiness are both pronounced 'Fu'. 

This example has squared off designs, reminiscent of the designs on ancient Chinese bronze vessels.

 These next few are somewhat larger, 6.5 inches wide, so the designs are correspondingly more complex.  This one incorporates a Chinese character, I do not know which one.

 Each one is different.

This design is  one of my favorites. Again, reminiscent of ancient bronze vessels, there are three animal faces at the top. Each eye can be seen as being on the head of a phoenix, two of them, facing each other. The Phoenix is a symbol of femininity, Yin. Alternately, both eyes can be seen to belong to the face of a Tiger, the nose being near the center of the design. The tiger is a symbol of masculinity, Yang. Oddly enough, the tiger is also a symbol of the ancient Chinese Mother Goddess, Queen Mother Wang of the West. Controller of disease, a ruthless and powerful figure. 
[ Kuan Yin, who is sometimes called a Chinese Mother Goddess, is not Chinese, but from India, not a Goddess, but a Boddhisvata, the Buddhist version of a Saint, and not a woman, but a man, whose original name is Avalokitesvara, the Lord of Compassion. It is a surprising development that he became very popular in China as a figure of loving care and compassion, and became feminized. But if you look carefully at Chinese depictions of Kuan Yin, you will see no hint of breasts.]
So is this a depiction of the balance between Yin and Yang, or is it a depiction of the power of the female?

These next couple of medallions are 8 inches across, and  have more detail. Here is a bulbul? singing on a branch of a flowering cherry tree.

Here is a beautiful goldfish swimming in a pond.

A Chinese Swan Goose  swimming. Notice how the feathers on the wings were depicted. A beautiful effect.

A surprisingly subtle color scheme in this one. Note how the large petals consist of threads running at right angles and anchored by cross stitches.

One last one, showing a bird [a kingfisher, maybe] flying or diving between water lilies?. This one is 10.5 inches wide, and did not fit on my scanner. Note the fine shading of color in the silk embroidery.

 I hope you have enjoyed this post. I certainly enjoy looking at the beauty of this handiwork. If anyone knows what these are for, or has ideas of what to do with them, please let me know. Or perhaps you would like to acquire one.
 Let us surround ourselves with beauty, and let us be inspired to make beautiful things to use in our lives.


Feel free to contact me with requests for research. I hope to eventually cover all of Europe and the Former Russian Empire/Soviet Union. I also gratefully accept tips on source materials which i may not have. I also accept commissions to research/design, sew, and/or embroider costumes or other items for groups or individuals. I also choreograph and teach folk dance.
Roman K.


  1. Hi Roman, what a beautiful find! De-lurking to say that Mary Corbett of Needle'n'Thread posted about a similar piece earlier this year, although that one did not use negative space and was a lighter design with less goldwork. It was framed with glass both front and back, which I found odd as the back of the embroidery was lined with silk so not a double-sided piece.

    I've been reading your blog for quite a while and it's one of my favourites. I especially love seeing all the beautiful European embroidery.

    1. Thank you Nays,
      Yes that piece is similar.
      all of these medallions also have finished edges and are lined in silk. They would appear to be finished items in themselves.
      I am glad that you enjoy my blog

  2. These are probably gift covers--used to present gifts to a special recipient. The covers remain the property of the giver. Japan has similar objects, called fukasa. Hope this helps.

    1. Thank you, I have heard of the japanese custom, but my understanding was that they are relatively large pieces of cloth.
      These are quite small, only 5 to 8 inches, and are not foldable because of the work on them, they are too stiff,
      they might be able to serve as covers for a box of the correct size.

  3. Hi, Roman, I could not find an e-mail address for you so I'll make a comment here. Lovely blog, congratulation. I am very interested patterns for mittens. I've got a booklet for patterns from the Komi people but I wish to find out more about the patterns found in Estonia and Latvia. I find it to be a struggle to find actual patterns. I have the book made by Uptidis, but I want more. From the internet I found hints, and pictures from books dating from the 1950's, I think they are written by Ž.Ventaskrasts. Would you know if it is possible to get hold of such a book?
    ellen sundstrom

  4. Roman,
    The Japanese cloths that are "relatively large pieces of cloth" are furoshiki, used for wrapping gifts and carrying things around. These are rarely embroidered, from what I've seen (and none of the 30 or so that I own have embroidery). Instead they are printed, dyed, or painted. The fukusa are the small presentation pieces and are often, if not usually, embroidered. There is also a fukusa that is part of the tea ceremony; it is plain colored cloth. The pictures you show are probably not fukusa - I've seen plenty but never a round one.

    November 15, 2012 1:55 PM


    Marie in Seattle