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College of Arts & Sciences

College of Arts & Sciences
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Cory Willmott

Chinese Cross Stitch Textiles


"White Snake; Black Snake: Folk Narrative Meets Master Narrative in Chinese Cross-stitch Textiles"

In contrast to the imperial silk embroideries of the Qing Dynasty, the "blue and white" cotton cross-stitch embroideries of rural communities throughout West China have remained relatively obscure. Passed from generation to generation of women as bed valances in the wedding procession, the embroidered 'medallions' of this cross-stitch tradition enacted the social relations of patrilineal kinship reckoning and patrilocal residency that determined the parameters of women's lives.

Frequently occurring motifs include both the emblems of fertility and conjugal happiness expected in such a context, and also representations of the wedding procession itself and the procession attending the triumphant return of a successful son who gained scholarly, military or civil service honors. As stories that embody the defining moments of women's status, these episodes may be considered the master narratives that encapsulate the ideal roles for women's lives. But what happened when these honors were not achieved? What effect did these pressures to attain prestige have on women's everyday lives?

Two cotton cross-stitch wedding bed valance medallions depicting the folk narrative of "White Snake; Black Snake" express the anxieties produced by the constraints of the patriarchal social structure on rural women's lives. This research examines the relationship between, on the one hand, the motifs of this folk narrative in oral tradition and cross-stitch embroidery and, on the other hand, the role of the embroideries in real life social action and their reflection of the ideals portrayed in the master narratives.

"Qing Dynasty cross-stitch medallion depicting 'White Snake/Black Snake' story (Cory Willmott collection)"

"Cory Willmott purchasing cross stitch shoe insoles in an outdoor market, Jenshow, Sichuan, September 2005."

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