Read our COVID-19 safety guidelines.

Embroidery Glossary

A guide to the hand embroidery (shou xiu 手绣) stitches used in Guo Pei’s designs.

By Rachel Silberstein, DPhil

Stitch category

Satin stitchesSatin stitch平针Ping zhenAlso known as qi zhen 齊针, this is the most painterly of stitches; it permits subtleties of light and luster, which are further exploited through stitch direction and thread twisting. Satin stitches are subcategorized according to the direction, closeness, length, and layers of the stitches (for example, straight satin stitch [zhi zhen 直针]).
 Encroaching satin stitch戗针Qiang zhenStitches are laid down in even color blocks to create a consistent and regular effect. It is further subcategorized according to the direction of the color transitions.
 Shaded satin stitch套针Tao zhenInstead of the even color blocks, the stitches are integrated using stitches of different lengths. Also known as shaded long and short satin stitch, close-knit stitch, or mixed straight stitch; these stitches played a key role in pictorial embroidery because of their ability to shade and blend colors, further exploited through the use of finely split threads. This stitch is divided into three kinds, according to the number of layers and length of the stitches.
 Slanted satin stitch缠针Chan zhenShort 45 degree slanting stitches are laid down in the same direction, often used to work small areas of leaves or branches.
Outline stitchesStem stitch游针 (滾针)You zhen (Gun zhen)An outlining stitch used to edge the patterns, or form linear elements. Similar to split stitch (jie zhen 接针; each stitch overlaps with the last one, avoiding the break in the stitched line that can arise with back stitch and creating a very fine line with minimal display of needlework.
 Split Stitch接针Jie zhenEach stitch is worked through the middle of the last stitch to create a fine line. Often used to embroider leaves, feathers and Chinese characters.
Couching stitchesCouched thread stitch钉线绣Ding xian xiuAlso known as ding jin xiu 钉金绣; an important technique in Chinese embroidery that enables curved pattern elements and metallic accents. Colored or metallic thread is laid down to form the pattern and tacked down with tiny fastening stitches. The color of both the metallic thread and tacking stitch can be varied to create subtle tints.
 Gold thread couching盘金绣Panjin xiu Filling in or overlaying the pattern element completely with gold thread.
Gauze embroidery stitchesGauze embroidering纳纱绣Nasha xiuDesigns are made by passing colored threads through the meshes of a ground fabric, either vertically, horizontally, or diagonally, until the embroidery covers the entire surface. When partially covered, this is known as gauze jabbing (chuo sha xiu  戳纱绣).
Knot and loop stitchesChain stitch锁绣Suo xiuOne of the oldest techniques in Chinese embroidery. Also known as silk-locking or coiling stitch (la suo xiu 拉锁绣); forms a row of interlocking loops like a chain.
 Seed Stitch打子Dazi xiuAlso known as fine Chinese knot stitch or Peking knot; the thread is twisted once (or twice for a heavier effect) around the needle, and then the needle is pushed through the fabric and pulled tight.
MiscellaneousBeadwork钉珠绣Ding zhu xiuBeads are attached to the cloth surface in decorative designs using a needle and thread.
 Sequin embroidery珠片绣Zhu pian xiuFlat disc-like beads are attached to the cloth surface in decorative designs using a needle and thread.
 Appliqué embroidery贴花绣Tie hua xiuCutout designs made of fabric or other materials are affixed to the ground material using an edging stitch or other stitches. Also known as patch pattern (buhua 补花).
 Feather embroidery羽毛绣Yu mao xiuEmbroidery using silk threads wrapped with bird feathers. This has a long history in Chinese imperial dress, particularly with the use of peacock feathers.
 Weaving stitch编织针Bian zhi zhenHorizontal stitches are threaded through long vertical stitches as if weaving, in order to create a sturdy and decorative pattern.
 High-rising embroidery粘钻绣Nian zuan xiuAlso known as padded embroidery; part of the design is raised higher than the rest.
 Padded satin stitch垫高绣Dian gao xiuSatin stitch is worked onto a surface which has been padded to create a contoured, dimensional effect.
 Net stitch网针Wang zhenA technique using stitches as lines that produce geometric patterns.
 Tent stitch点针绣Dian zhen xiuA small, diagonal needlepoint stitch that crosses over the intersection of one horizontal and one vertical thread of needlepoint or gauze canvas to form a 45-degree angle slanted stitch.


  • Josiane Bertin-Guest, Chinese Embroidery: Traditional Techniques (Krause Pubns Inc, 2003).
  • Dieter Kuhn and James C. Y. Watt, eds., Chinese Silks (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2012).
  • Shao Xiaocheng, Chinese Embroidery: An Illustrated Stitch Guide (Betterlink Press Incorporated, 2014).
  • Wang Yarong 王亚蓉, Zhongguo minjian cixiu 中国民间刺绣 (Chinese Folk Embroidery) (Taibei: Diqiu Chubanshe, 1986).
  • Zhao Feng 赵丰, Sichou yishu shi 丝绸艺术史 (Chinese Silk Art) Hangzhou: Zhejiang Meishuyuan Chubanshe, 1992).

Image: Guo Pei, Legend of the Dragon, Ensemble (detail), 2012. Copyright ©️ Guo Pei, Asian Couture Federation. All rights reserved. Photograph by Randy Dodson, courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.