Tucked in a quiet backstreet amid the hustle and bustle of Causeway Bay, embroidery shop La Broderie is a hidden gem, offering a space filled with calmness and elegance.
Upon a venture inside, founders Diana Wong and Anthea Lo introduced us to the art of embroidery at the boutique’s opening, which invited master Cheung to embroider on the spot. Working her magic on every stitch, the craftsman completed an exquisite decorative piece within moments in an eye-opening performance.
Cheung, who would give only her last name, told us that she was intrigued by sewing from a young age, as her mother was a tailor.
Having learned basic needlework as a child, Cheung looked up to her aunt as her first teacher, then studied traditional Chinese embroidery styles, such as Shu and Su embroidery, under a Hong Kong craftsman. She later studied in Paris, where she became an expert in both Chinese and Western embroidery techniques.
Strand separating was also part of Cheung’s demonstration that day. She told us that one silk thread is usually made up of 16 strands, which can be split into different thicknesses to achieve a three-dimensional effect.
Generally divided into two categories according to usage, threads for commercial purposes, such as clothing, are usually separated into two or four strands so it’s not too fine to damage when cleaning and wearing.
“Some masters can divide the thread into 128 strands which are barely visible to the naked eye,” said Cheung, noting that pieces that use threads separated into 16 strands are already collectible works.
Cheung’s displayed work, Ru Ying Zhanchi Shang Teng – like an eagle soaring – depicts an eagle with bright sheens that is vivid and lifelike. The eagle’s shaggy hair, created with threads separated into 32 strands, is meticulously crafted and full of life.
Compared to artificial threads, real silk threads are more cohesive and shiny, have a smoother texture and give of various colors depending on the angle, Cheung explained, adding that the different shades are also subdivided into eight to 10 tones. The dyeing of threads, which can be either natural or artificial, is another complex study.
Lo, who has helped the artisan hold exhibitions at Hong Kong Cultural Centre and organize workshops, said: “I didn’t realize that embroidery is an acme of beauty until I met master Cheung about five or six years ago.”
Lo’s first came into contact with haute couture embroidery 20 years ago, when she got married and hoped to find a master to embroider her wedding cheongsam.
After meeting Cheung, Lo introduced her to Wong.
Wong, who also oil painting, greatly appreciated Cheung’s exquisite embroidery skills and found the master’s works to be like lifelike paintings and infused with extraordinary workmanship.
“Exhibitions are only available for a specified time, but these works can be appreciated and enjoyed all year round if we open a shop for them,” Wong said.
It is not easy to open a business amid a pandemic, especially when embroidery culture is not popular locally. But they remain optimistic about promoting this intangible cultural heritage.
“In the past, it was not easy to set up shops in tourist areas such as Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, but now, because of the pandemic, we got a good deal with flexible rent after negotiating with the landlord,” said Lo. “So we decided to give it a try.”
The two founders named the shop La Broderie, the French term for embroidery, and Xiushi Duren in Chinese, which means to combine embroidery techniques from China and France. The term is also derived from the Chinese phrase jinzhen duren, which implies inheritance and education.
In addition to embroidered items and decorative paintings, La Broderie offers haute couture, such as embroidering the guests’ initials on scarves.
The services also encompass marriage letters, fans and so on, as the shop owners believe there is market demand for them and that they have become a trend in the industry. “In ancient times, when a couple got married, they would have a marriage letter made,” Wong said. “This service met the needs of some traditional-minded parents who like to keep the wedding letter as a souvenir for their married children.”
They are also launching two brooch series, the butterfly and the bauhinia, which they consider them the best symbols in combining the East and the West.
One of these items is the diamond butterfly brooch in 18 karat gold. “The handmade brooch can be bent, giving a more three-dimensional effect,” Lo said.
They also offer a service to replace the butterfly’s wings.
“If they want to wear something different, they can keep the butterfly’s body and replace it with other wings,” Lo said, adding that guests can let their imagination run wild in terms of color and style to make their brooches truly one of a kind.
(This article was published at The Standard on December 11, 2020: Weekend Glitz: A stitch in troubled times )