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Endangered Traditional Embroidery Sees Revival

Sales of horsetail embroidery articles are currently low, but 40-year-old Song Shuixian still believes the traditional handicraft has great market potential for the future.

With the support of local government, Song opened a shop half a year ago in Sandu, China's only Sui autonomous county in the southwestern province of Guizhou.

A special traditional handicraft among women of the Chinese Sui minority, horsetail embroidery is usually used as decorations for clothes, shoes, small wallets and T-shaped bags for carrying babies on the back.

However, the handicraft has been facing extinction in the past few decades, as young women of the Sui minority prefer to move to big cities to make money or study rather than engage in the time-consuming craft.

"It is a complicated procedure," Song said. A thread for embroidering has to be spun into three thin threads, which can then entwine three to four pieces of horsetail hair. The horsetail hair is used to create different patterns. Finally general embroidering skills like cross-stitching are needed to complete a horsetail piece.

"Only women in their 50s or 60s have this embroidery skill," said Song. "It is vital that we protect this important traditional folk handicraft. Otherwise, it may become extinct."

The handicraft has just been listed in China's first group of intangible cultural heritages by the Ministry of Culture.

Born in Bangao village, a centre of horsetail embroidery, Song learned the craft from her mother when she was very young. In 1995, she began to collect all sorts of articles and tried to expand the use of horsetail embroidery.

"A dress decorated with horsetail embroidery can be sold at 10,000 yuan (1,200 U.S. dollars)," Song said, adding that it may take dozens of days for a woman to finish such an article.

In recent years, local government has allocated special funds for training some 600 women to preserve and develop this handicraft with a history of more than 1,000 years.

"Our purpose is to make this endangered craft become a fast-growing industry in the county," said Liu Changjiang, a top official of Sandu County.

A special team has also been set up to salvage the traditional culture of the Sui minority, with horsetail embroidery as its main work, according to Liu.

"The market for horsetail embroidery products is quite encouraging," said a tourism official of Sandu.

A series of horsetail embroidery works developed in the county earned acclaim when exhibited in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenzhen, said the official, adding that mass production is quite possible in the future.

In Libo County, another Sui-populated place in the province, many local women make money by selling their horsetail embroidery work to a shopping center.

"Our customers include both local people and tourists," said Yao Bingtai, owner of the shop. "With the development of tourism, our business will be better and better."

"I am also trying to set up a Web site for horsetail embroidery to tell the world this craft, and preserve and develop our national culture," said Song.

Song has two sons and a daughter. "I want my daughter to undertake this craft when she grows up," she said.

(Xinhua News Agency February 8, 2006)

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