Inmate embroiderers sew replica of famous scroll

By Stacy Hsu  /  Staff writer, with CNA

Thu, Sep 19, 2013 - Page 5

A cross-stitch replica of a portion of the renowned Song Dynasty painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河圖) has dazzled many in Taitung County, not because of the delicacy of its embroidery patterns, but because it is the brainchild of three women who are inmates at a county prison.

The replica, measuring 2m by 1m, took the three inmates of Taitung Prison, identified only as Hsiao Chi (小琪), Hsiao Chuan (小娟) and Hsiao Min (小閔), about six months and 640,000 stitches to make.

The portion the trio duplicated is called the Rainbow Bridge (Hong Qiao, 虹橋), the highlight of the original version of the masterpiece by artist Zhang Zeduan (張擇端), which measures 5.28m by 24.8cm.

The scroll depicts life in Bianjing (汴京) — now called Kaifeng — the capital of the Northern Song Dynasty. It features more than 550 people, 60 animals, 30 houses and 20 wooden boats or palanquins.

“This is so beautiful,” Hsiao Chi’s two children said when they visited the prison on Monday.

Taitung Prison warden Yeh Han-tung (葉漢潼) said cross-stitch embroidery was one of the crafts that the prison was endeavoring to promote and that the three women had decided to take on the toughest challenge by recreating the painting.

“I never thought I could actually finish this work,” Hsiao Chi said, as she stared at her callused fingers. “I had never sewn anything before I was sentenced to prison, or used a needle.”

“I still cannot believe that I had managed to replicate the painting stitch by stitch,” she said. “Now I know the secret to learning new skills is to learn them by heart.”

During the first four months of working on the piece, the trio frequently quarreled over the design, Hsiao Min and Hsiao Chuan said, adding that the bickering sometimes became so intense that they talked about giving up altogether.

“Then one day, one of us suddenly said: ‘Let’s do at least one thing right in our lives.’ And just like that, we picked up our needles and started sewing again,” they said.

Hsiao Chi, 41, is serving a 20-year term for drug trafficking. She lost her husband to cancer several years ago and her mother-in-law is taking care of her children.

Hsiao Chuan is serving an eight-year sentence for the same offense, while Hsiao Min is due to be released next year.