|Sui women gather to make horsetail embroidery. [Photo/gog.cn]|
Sandu Sui autonomous county in Guizhou province is most well-known for its unique traditional craft – horsetail embroidery.
As the name suggests, the embroidery is actually made from horsetail hair among other materials. Evidence of the practice dates back thousands of years but no clear date has been established for when it first came into existence. The skill was listed as a national intangible cultural heritage item in 2006.
Horses play an important part in Sui ethnic culture, with horse racing horsetail embroidery featuring heavily in festivals and celebrations.
The process of making a horsetail embroidery work is complicated, requiring a month to finish several dozens of steps. Firstly, the horsehair needs to be wrapped with thread before being embroidered on the cloth. Colorful silk thread is then added to fill out the patterns and images of fish, flowers and dragons. Finally, bronze is often added as a feature in the designs, promoting the Sui belief that bronze and copper ward off evil spirits and bring fortune.
According to the Sui, there are two advantages to using horsetail hair for embroidery. As the hair is tougher than normal thread, it can better maintain the shape of the embroidered designs. Horse hair is also very robust and doesn’t rot as quickly as other thread.