An Embroidery Master Who Works Methodically and Meticulously

Li Wen-he / Owner of Yuan Cheng Xiu Zhuang

Complete Focus on the Needle and Thread

Taiwanese people hang Eight Immortals embroidered banners on their doors during festive occasions such as the Lunar New Year or a wedding reception. The Eight Immortals are a group of legendary immortals in Chinese mythology, while the banner is a colorful silk fabric that is often used to seek luck and avoid calamity. The Eight Immortals embroidered banner is a bright red banner with the Eight Immortals carefully composed and realistically embroidered on it. It not only symbolizes auspiciousness, but also transmits the beauty of traditional craftsmanship. “Yuan Cheng Xiu Zhuang” is located in Yilan County’s Zhuangwei Township, and is the refuge of an eminent master. We heard that his order book is filled for the next eight years...

Complete Focus from Start to Finish

Master Li Wen-he entered this industry nearly half a century ago. He became an apprentice to a master at the age of 13 in order to support his family. During his apprenticeship, he got up every morning at 6 a.m. to clean, prepare meals, and do manual labor. He says, “The master never called you over to learn. You had to observe and practice on your own.” Over the years, stitch by stitch, he developed the basic skills required of masters.

The art of embroidery not only required basic embroidery skills, but also patience and focus. Master Li started working at a very young age, and it was inevitable that thoughts of giving up would enter his mind when he saw friends of the same age playing and going to school. However, his family told him, “When it comes to your work, you must finish what you start, or else you won’t become capable.” This advice motivated the master to devote his whole life to doing this work.

The Extraordinary Beauty in the Minor Details

What’s even more admirable is that the master designed all the lifelike buddhas, dragons, phoenixes, magpies, and other auspicious symbols on the embroidery. Before he starts drawing, he will first create a draft on tracing paper. His movements are precise and without hesitation. Normally, the drafting step can be omitted, but Master Li says, “If you directly draw on cloth using a pen, you’ll still be able to see faint black lines even after the embroidery. This will destroy the aesthetic perception.” The master’s meticulousness is revealed through the tiny details.

Withstanding the Test of Time

The next step after completing the base map is to use the sewing machine to stitch the flat embroidery threads while the left foot steps on the pedal, the right foot controls the distance between needles, and the two hands adjust the direction of the cloth. The master’s movements are as nimble as ever, even though he’s approaching 70. The last step is to embroider the metallic threads by hand. At times, cotton is sewn on to create a more three-dimensional effect, and that requires continuously checking the thickness while piling on the cotton. The cotton must be piled on until a certain hardness is achieved to ensure rigidity. Styrofoam is often used instead of cotton nowadays. This makes the process easier, but Styrofoam will start to flake off after a couple of years. Master Li insists on using cotton so that the embroidered products he labors over will last for decades.

A single work of embroidery usually takes a while to complete. Every stitch must be meticulously executed. The time cost is high, so not many people are willing to learn. Luckily, the master’s descendants are carrying on the tradition, with the whole family running the business together. This keeps the traditional skill alive.

Life becomes imprinted on

During our visit, the master showed us that he understands that the fineness of a handmade product determines its lifespan. That’s why he insists that his embroidered handicrafts are exquisite and of high quality, the same standards he sets for clothing or accessories. As soon as Master Li touches the “Vehicle Large Tote,” he says bluntly, “The leather is top-notch, and the material is real.” He also examined the stitching, which wasn’t surprising given that he is an embroidery master. After careful scrutiny, he praised the skills of Tsuchiya Kaban’s craftspeople. He said there naturally wouldn’t be any issues with durability when high-quality leather is paired with sturdy craftsmanship.

We also brought along a “Tone Oilnume Roll Pen Case” to share with the master. The soft leather case can be used to hold painting brushes and other tools, and will become more lustrous over time. The master loved the wrap-around design.

Epilogue: We asked Master Li to show to us which work he is proudest of, and he indicated an embroidered piece hanging among many others on a wall. It depicts the moment a fisherman catches a fish. The fishing rod is bent by the fish’s thrashing, and the fish looks like it’s about to leap out of the work to escape. A closer look reveals the fisherman’s delicate facial features and wrinkles, which were rendered very realistically by the master’s meticulous embroidery skills.

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