Longguo Embroidery Workshop
【◎Written by David Huang, Chen Ting-fang ◎English translation by Hou Ya-ting ◎Photos by Huang Jing-wen】
Longguo Embroidery Workshop is the only embroidery business in Kaohsiung that specializes in traditional handmade religious items. Mr. Chen Hai-cing established the shop 55 years ago, and he has passed the torch to his son, Mr. Chen Zong-sheng. Mr. Chen Hai-cing's embroidery skills belong to the Min school of Chinese embroidery, which was brought to Taiwan by early migrants from China's Fujian Province. Min-style embroidery is noted for its extravagance.
Longguo's main products include finery and robes for statuettes and effigies of deities, and Ba Sian Cai (embroidered banners which depict the Eight Immortals of Chinese mythology). When celebrating a wedding or moving into a new house, it is customary to hang up a Ba Sian Cai, because the eight immortals represent good fortune.
Mr. Chen Zong-sheng recalls that, during the Lunar New Year period, his parents always toiled hard as orders for deities' finery piled up. During his childhood, he sat beside his parents and handed them items they needed while doing embroidery work. After Mr. Chen Zong-sheng graduated from college, he apprenticed with his father. Mr. Chen Hai-cing meticulously taught his son every aspect of embroidery, from techniques to minor details. However, working as an embroidery artisan eventually damaged Mr. Chen Hai-cing's eyesight. When he could no longer embroider, he retired, and transferred the family business to his son.
Having accumulated 15 years of embroidery experience, Mr. Chen Zong-sheng is especially knowledgeable about etiquette relating to deities. He explains that, when tailoring for a deity, rather than use a ruler, an artisan uses a red rope to measure dimensions, in order to show his sincere reverence. The artisan then compares the rope to a ruler to calculate the size.
Garments vary according to a deity's gender and ranks. For the most senior gods and goddesses, such as the Jade Emperor and the Lady Queen Mother, they should be yellow. Mazu's finery is orange. Wang Ye deities wear black.
When making garments for an effigy, Mr. Chen Zong-sheng begins by sketching on fabric, then applying flat embroidery stitches, before adding running stitches and 3D (relief) embroidery. The 3D effect is achieved by molding cotton for features like a dragon's head or body. On the cotton, Mr. Chen Zong-sheng sews patterns using hollow golden and silver metallic threads, creating flamboyant results. When asked about the sense of satisfaction he derives from his work, Mr. Chen Zong-sheng replies that he feels great accomplishment when he hands finished pieces to his customers, and they beam with gratitude.
The next time you visit a temple, be sure to scrutinize the garments of the deities enshrined there, and appreciate the sophisticated embroidery. It may well be the work of Mr. Chen Zong-sheng or his father.
Longguo Embroidery Workshop
No. 102-1, Sanmin St., Sanmin Dist., Kaohsiung City