Pair of embroidered sleeve bands with butterflies and peonies
Sleeve bands were decorative cuffs and would have decorated the bottom edges of the sleeves on a traditional robe. They often featured designs that were a near perfect mirror image of one another so that when the hands were clasped in front of the body and tucked slightly into the opposite sleeve, the designs would line up perfectly. Highly decorative sleeve bands were popular with European collectors and tourists; their size and dimensions made them easy to transport home and the rectangular panels lent themselves to being framed or mounted for display.
This pair are decorated with embroidery in silk floss thread on a silk damask fabric. The majority of the design is worked in a mixture of satin stitch and long and short stitch with butterfly and floral motifs but the large peony flowers in the centre are worked in ‘forbidden stitch’. This distinctive stitch creates concentric rows of tiny coiled stitches similar to French knots. There are two theories behind the name of forbidden stitch; one being that the stitch was so taxing on the eyes that extensive use of the stitch risked the embroiderer go blind and that as a result the daughters of wealthy families were forbidden from using it. An alternative theory is that the stitch was associated with embroideries created around the Forbidden City, a palace complex in the Dongcheng District of Beijing.