Injury inspires artisan to be a cut above the rest

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Injury inspires artisan to be a cut above the rest
Leaf-vein embroidery and batik cloth show the exquisite skills of Yang Li and her team. [Photo by Deng Yuzhi/China Daily]

A small accident led to profound changes in the life of Yang Li, who is from the Miao ethnic group.

In 2011, Yang, from Tongren city in Guizhou province, created leaf-vein embroidery three months after a leaf cut her hand.

Through continuous learning and practice, she incorporated traditional embroidery of the Miao, Tujia and Dong ethnic groups into the leaves, creating unique art that blends the artificial with the natural.

A single piece of the leaf-vein embroidery sells for from 1,000 yuan ($143) to 10,000 yuan. Behind the basic financial facts is the more important story of the shared prosperity of embroiderers across the city and the export of culture far beyond the country’s borders.

The embroidery is made from the leaves of rare plants from the Fanjing Mountain scenic area in Tongren city.

The veins are extracted by a process involving more than 30 steps, and then meticulously embroidered by skilled artisans.

The work is a perfect combination of traditional embroidery patterns and the natural textures of the leaves. It has a unique aesthetic appeal of traditional embroidery matched with the characteristics of contemporary craftsmanship.

In 2000, Yang enrolled in a human resources management program at Chongqing University and stayed in the city to work after graduation. In 2004, she got married and two years later her son was born. In 2008, her son fell seriously ill, and Yang quit her job in Chongqing and returned to Tongren to take care of the child.

As a native Miao woman with an innate love of embroidery, Yang opened a folk culture products shop with her sister in 2011, when her son’s condition improved. The shop specialized in Miao embroidery, batik coarse cloth and silver jewelry. “People are becoming less familiar with traditional handicrafts, and I want to contribute all I can to change this situation,” Yang says.

At first, the small shop did not earn a significant income as there were many similar products on the market. She gradually realized that it was important to establish her own brand and launch products with distinct features.

That’s when she was inspired by the cut. In July 2011, Yang accidentally cut her hand on a thorny leaf when she was hiking in Fanjing Mountain.

A bold idea came into her head: “There are leaf-vein bookmarks and leaf-vein paintings. Why has nobody created leaf-vein embroidery yet?”

Obviously, the reason behind this is that embroidering on leaves requires delicate skills that few possess.

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Injury inspires artisan to be a cut above the rest
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