Bohai Mohe Embroidery

Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang
Editing: Jackson Harvey
Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage
[Catalog No. CFV11253; © 2019 Smithsonian Institution]

At the 2014 Smithsonian Folklife Festival program, China: Tradition and the Art of Living, Sun Yanling from Mudanjiang in Heilongjiang Province demonstrated the art of Bohai Mohe embroidery, which she learned from her maternal grandmother at the age of six. As a child, she watched her grandmother sew small designs on hats and insoles. Her ancestors produced handicrafts for the Bohai imperial court, and her family has continued this craft for more than one thousand years. Mohe people traditionally lived in very cold regions where it may snow seven months out of the year. According to Sun, this explains why they developed a distinctive embroidering technique based on their need to stitch animal furs together for clothing: “If you make stitches that are parallel to each other, they will be like sharp knives and just cut through the skins. However, locals invented a type of stitching called the ‘chicken claw’ stitch that hooked the skins together very well.”

Questions for Discussion

  • What embroidery tools and materials do you see in the video?
  • Read more about Bohai Mohe embroidery and view images of the chicken claw stitch here.
  • Why do you think this stitch holds thick fabric or fur together better than a parallel stitch?
  • Have you ever tried sewing or embroidery? Look up some simple embroidery stitches online and try them out. What is it like? Was it easier or more difficult than you thought?