Knitting the cosmos

NANJING (XINHUA) – Chen Yinghua, an embroidery artist, has brought her own “universe” created with needles and silk threads, to the opening ceremony of the Space Day of China held on Saturday.

Based in Suzhou, a city with time-honoured embroidery arts in east China’s Jiangsu Province, Chen’s studio outshines its peers with a series of cosmos-themed artworks.

The dreamy celestial bodies in her studio are skillfully knitted with the help of multiple silk threads and a needle, just like pictures captured by satellites in the outer space.

Chen has created 26 pieces of universe embroideries since 2006, including the Milky Way galaxy, sunspot, Neptune and the Leonid meteor shower.

“The Crab Nebula is the most difficult one. It took me six months to knit the nebula with over 4,000 kinds of silk colours,” Chen said.

It is no easy task for Chen to use traditional stitches to bring out those heavenly bodies in the art featuring hazy sketches and irregular lines. She has to keep looking for new stitching skills.

Chen Yinghua works on a piece
Chen Yinghua embroiders at her Suzhou Embroidery studio in Suzhou, east China’s Jiangsu Province. PHOTOS: XINHUA

“I embroidered and took out stitches again and again. I even lost my appetite in the beginning,” she said.

After several months of painstaking trials, Chen gradually developed her own approach to creating a miniature universe. She even split a normal thread into 64th of its width to accurately present colour gradations of heavenly bodies.

“Science and art are as inseparable as two sides of the same coin. In Chen’s work, we can see how the interaction of the two helps catalyse interest in each other,” said Secretary General of Suzhou Association for Science and Technology Pang Zhen.

The artist fell in love with mysterious stars and space since she was young, sitting in the yard and listening to fairy tales about the faraway Milky Way galaxy during starry summer nights.

In 2006, Chen happened to meet astronomer Mei Bao from the Purple Mountain Observatory under the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The researcher showed her pictures of various galaxies and asked her if she could depict the images in real artworks. And that was when Chen’s childhood dream began to turn into reality.

Suzhou Embroidery, one of China’s four famous embroidery varieties, has always focussed on themes of figures, animals and landscapes, while Chen opened up a whole new world for the old craftsmanship.

“The universe-themed embroidery employs innovative stitches and patterns and is a modern interpretation of the intangible cultural heritage,” Chen said.

Recently, Chen completed her latest work based on a star chart carved in stone from the Song Dynasty (960-1279). The circular inscription from 1247 displays about 1,440 stars in nearly 300 constellations as well as the Milky Way.

“I plan to bring this embroidery work to various international exhibitions in the future, so that I can show the world the past achievements and ingenuity of ancient Chinese people in exploring the cosmos,” Chen said