Thread travels through cloth, mapping its journey in patterns and colours, charting spiritual beliefs in symbols and life experiences in motifs. Embroidery marks new influences, registers migration, documents upheaval in the shift to new stitches and different materials: cultural diversion fixed in cloth. And the divergent paths that communities take are traced in the stitching hands of each generation. But each sewn cloth holds the land and people of its origin close to its heart, keeping faith with traditional designs and echoing the stitched voices of ancestors.
In 1995, I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Scholarship to travel through the remote hills of South West China in search of the embroideries of the Miao, one of China's most ancient minority groups. With no written language the Miao use their embroideries like libraries to house their myths, their memories, their spiritual beliefs and their history. As animists, they believe that everything has a spirit which is waiting to be transported from the spiritual to the temporal world by human hands. The Miao sew to nurture a benign force, to harness positive energy and bring it into their own lives. Miao embroideries are gifts - of skill, patience, artistry and time - made as offerings to the gods to win protection for family and blessings for communities.