Embroidery is an integral and significant part of the social and cultural life of the Miao people of South and Southwest China, that includes several different ethnic groups. Among the Miao, embroidery is used to document and transmit their history and culture, and the wide range of motifs are passed down from generation to generation. Girls begin to learn this exclusively female art form around the age of six or seven and they are expected to be sufficiently proficient by their mid-teens to begin to undertake the elaborate, demanding embroidery of their wedding gown and dowry, that might require four or five year to complete.
The stylized motifs found in Miao embroidery—human figures, dragons and other animals, birds, butterflies, trees, flowers, fish, and cresting waves as well as numerous geometric shapes—symbolize the animating spirit, abundance, and vitality of nature, illustrate folkloric beliefs, and convey auspicious wishes. Miao embroidery exhibits a variety of stitches and techniques including satin and other stitches, couching, applique, and braid work. In this small finished panel, a white honey-comb-like framework contains a dense pattern of triangular- and parallelogram-shaped components executed in rigorously even “straight line” stitch with bronze silk that completely covers the indigo-dyed cotton ground. The panel was likely intended for use on a garment; traditional Miao clothing is characterized by its incorporation and juxtaposition of graphic embroideries in bold as well as subtle colors.