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The myth and mystery of the Forbidden Stitch

Now called the Peking stitch, the Forbidden Stitch is an intricate knotted stitch commonly found on textiles from the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Though its exact origin is unknown, it is thought that the stitch evolved from the western French stitch, which may have been introduced in China during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when China greatly expanded its trade routes and began establishing ties with the western world.

Legend is that embroiderers with mastery of the stitch went blind from the strain of repeatedly tying such small knots, so the stitch was forbidden by the government. More likely, the name of the stitch derives from the “Forbidden City,” the imperial palace where the emperors female servants were highly skilled stitchers.

The Forbidden City served as the center of Chinese government for 500 years until the formation of the Republic of China in 1912 having as many as 3,000 concubines of the emperor during the mid 19th-century. Among other duties, these women were tasked with making lavishly intricate garments for the imperial court, often employing this stitch.

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