Before 1949, the rich coastal provinces of China had a huge embroidery industry that catered to temples and religious objects for private homes, but also to the theatre and the puppet theatre. Beautiful costumes were created for the puppets and Southern Fujian had a huge embroidery industry. Costumes and embroidered cloth were exported to Taiwan and all over Southeast Asia. The costume makers and embroiderers were mostly women, while the carving of puppets was done by men. When China became the People’s Republic of China in 1949, a local and innovative puppet making industry developed in Taiwan. In Fujian and Taiwan the embroidery industry is now almost completely replaced by machine made costumes and only a handful of embroiderers doing handwork remain. These remaining artisans make beautiful costumes for collectors and puppet theatre companies that can still afford this quality artistry.
Early 20th century Taiwanese opera costume
Different steps in making puppet hats by Master Chen Xihuang and traditional glove puppet costumes
Huang A-zhao explaining the making of puppet costumes for the Xiao Xiyuan company in Taipei
Chen Meiying from Quanzhou, one of the few remaining embroiderers by hand.
Daoist robes for a character with magical powers (first half 20th century)
Young lady’s costume (first half 20th century)