The Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum, South Korea

The Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum at Sookmyung Women’s University is an exhibition, educational, and research facility dedicated to advancing the knowledge and appreciation of embroidery and textile arts. Inaugurated in May 2004, the museum houses an extensive collection of embroidered and woven textiles representing various periods and regions.

The museum’s permanent collection, primarily focused on East Asian costume and decorative arts, is among the most comprehensive of its kind in Asia. Its wide scope illuminates the cross-cultural dialogues in technique and style that have enriched textile arts. Through exhibition and education efforts, the museum seeks to highlight the technical and artistic achievement of embroiderers across time and place; expand understanding of the social and cultural roles that textiles have fulfilled globally; and establish the art of embroidery as a significant contribution to world culture. Housed in a new building that includes exhibition galleries, an information center, a library, conservation studios, classrooms, and a 300-seat auditorium equipped with earphones for simultaneous translation, the museum aims to become a leading center for scholarship in embroidery and other textile arts.

The collection
The permanent collection of the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum includes votive textiles, ecclesiastical robes, military uniforms, folding screens, wedding garments, chair and table coverings, rank insignia, and various types of clothing, costume accessories, and household furnishings used by all social classes. The collection encompasses a broad range of examples from around the world as well as replicas of extant ancient artifacts. The museum seeks to encourage the examination of embroidered textiles as primary documents of the technological, social, and cultural environments that produced them as well as to emphasize embroidery’s position as an important cultural inheritance and an expressive, dynamic, and continually evolving art form.

Dr. Young Yang Chung
Young Yang Chung is a textile historian and embroiderer. She earned a Ph.D. at New York University in 1976, with a doctoral dissertation on the origins of embroidery and its historical development of China, Japan, and Korea, and has lectured worldwide on the topic of East Asian embroidery. Through lectures, demonstrations, writings, teaching, workshops, and exhibitions of her work, she has endeavored to foster appreciation of an art form often stigmatized as “women’s work” and to challenge the notion of textiles as “minor arts”.

Chung received an honorary doctorate degree from Sookmyung University, Seoul, South Korea in 2001 and she was awarded a Distinguished Alumna Achievement Award by New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development at the 2013 Doctoral Convocation.

Chung has dedicated her life to the textile arts, not only as an embroiderer and teacher of this art form but also as a historian of traditional East Asian textiles and a collector of outstanding examples. Her embroideries are included in the collections of numerous museums in the world including the Smithsonian Institution and the presidential palaces.

Her legacy includes a body of groundbreaking publications such as The Art of Oriental Embroidery (1979) and Silken Threads: A History of Embroidery in China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam (2005), as well as the Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum (C.E.M.), an exhibition, educational, and research facility she inaugurated in May 2004 at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, South Korea.

Chung was the curator of The Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum’s inaugural exhibition, which traces the origins of silk embroidery in China and its dissemination throughout East Asia, and she will remain at the Museum as a director and curator, in addition to being a professor of graduate school of arts and designs.

Sookmyung Women’s University
Sookmyung Women’s University (Korean: 숙명여자대학교 (淑明女子大學校)) is a private university in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, South Korea. Founded in 1906, Sookmyung is Korea’s first royal private educational institution for women. Sookmyung’s name comes from ancient characters with meaning “elegant” and “bright”.

Sookmyung Women’s University has a highly acclaimed ROTC program. In 2009, The Republic of Korea’s Defense Ministry chose Sookmyung Women’s University as South Korea’s first university to operate a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program for women. In addition, Sookmyung’s ROTC program has been evaluated as the highest ranking ROTC program for women in the 2012 national military training exercises.

Sookmyung Hospitality Business School has been recognized for its excellence by the Ministry of Education Science and Technology since 2007. Le Cordon Bleu Hospitality MBA course, which has a partnership with Le Cordon Bleu, specializes in educating women for future roles in hospitality industries such as Hotel/Restaurant (H1), Travel/ Transportation (H2), Culture/Entertainment/Sports/Hospital (H3), and Service Management (H4).

Threads of Splendor

The Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum(C.E.M.) at Sookmyung Women’s University in Seoul, Korea, was inaugurated in 2004 with the goal of advancing public knowledge and appreciation of embroidery and the textile arts. The museum’s director, Dr. Young Yang Chung, is a master embroiderer, textile historian, writer, curator, and teacher. It is a museum specializing in embroidery, a significant cultural heritage, housing a broad collection of embroidery work and textiles.

The Chung Young Yang Embroidery Museum are numerous activities in collecting, exhibiting and conducting surveys and research related to embroidery and textile relics of East Asia.

Threads of Splendor
The CEM collection outlines the development of embroidery techniques, costume forms, and decorative motifs in China, as well as the adoption and transformation of these cultural patterns by peoples across East Asia. The study of these embroideries deepens understanding of East Asian history, art, and culture, and viewed comparatively they illustrate great cohesion throughout East Asia while also highlighting the distinctiveness of local expressions in regional styles and aesthetic preferences.

Masterpieces from various cultures and time periods tell us the millennia-long story of East Asian embroidery and its ongoing relevance in today’s world.

Collection highlights

Dragon Robe
The dragon represented the foremost symbol of temporal power throughout East Asia. Probably used originally as a totemic symbol, the dragon came to be viewed as a bringer of rain, a highly favorable association among agricultural peoples. In the late dynastic period, the highest-ranking members of society wore dragon-patterned robes as symbols of their social status, so the creation of these garments required the highest quality of materials and workmanship.

Robe of dragon patterned silk woven with gold a… (1600 – 1700)
The ethnically Chinese Ming rejected the tight-fitting clothing preferred by their horse-riding Mongol predecessors, and returned to the flowing, wide-sleeved Chinese style robes of the Han, Tang, and Song dynasties.

Twelve-symbol semiformal robe worn during a rit… (China Qing dynasty(1644-1911))
The dragon robe’s narrow sleeves with horsehoof cuffs reflect nomadic, non-Chinese traditions.

Crimson dragon robe woven from gold thread (1644 – 1911)
The rising water on the bottom portion of the robe was woven with gold thread, making fine creases. Among the waves is a vase holding a trident, a pattern signifying the wish for a three-rank promotion in the government.

Court costume thus was divided into winter and summer wear. Summer dragon robes were made of transparent gauze, allowing sufficient ventilation.

As a practical measure, areas that received the greatest wear were reinforced: silk patches were attached to the cuffs of the sleeves, and the collar was made of two-ply silk.

Among the ‘precious jewels’ depicted between the ‘standing water(入水)’ at the hem of the robe are a rhinoceros horn, symbolizing victory; a diamond shape, representing endurance; and the ‘wheel of law’, and emblem of life and death, expressing wishes for immortality.

In the East Asian tradition, dragons are viewed as divine mythical creatures that bring abundance, prosperity and good fortune. Dragon were thought to create clouds, govern rain, and to be able to transform their own size and length at will.

East Asian and Manchu Robes
By the Ming and Qing dynasties, the forms, patterns, and colors of garments allowed the various social classes to be strictly delineated by imperial statutes. During this period, the art of silk embroidery achieved its pinnacle of technical refinement after many thousands of years of development, and China’s most accomplished embroiderers expended their greatest effort on the creation of robes and furnishings for the aristocracy. Chinese ideas regarding the social function of costume decoration as well as the forms, motifs, and techniques utilized in Chinese court costume spread to the neighboring regions receptive to the influence of Chinese civilization, such as Korea and Vietnam, and became firmly established among these non-Chinese peoples.

Chinese and Manchu women’s informal robes were often lavishly ornamented with auspicious and symbolic imagery, and among the most popular motifs were naturalistic depictions of seasonal flowers.

Mongolian woman’s robe
The basic garment for Mongolian men and women was the del, a long robe with an over flap in the front. This del provides an example of a formal robe worn by married woman of the Khalkha tribe. The distinctively sculpted shoulders are created by inserting a bamboo or willow twig into the top of the pleated sleeve.

Ottoman Turkish Robe
When the Ottoman Turks conquered the Byzantine empire in the 14th and 15th centuries, they inherited a sericulture and silkweaving industry that had been producing luxury silks for over a thousand years. Under the Ottoman patronage, textile artists developed a distinctive style that combined elements of Turkish ornaments with influences from Persia, Italy, China, and other sources.

Kimono rank among the most beautiful and expressive manifestations of Japanese textile art.

East Asian Costume Accessories
During the Qing dynasty, fashionable men wore belts from which they suspended numerous small decorative bags holding fans, eyeglasses, chopsticks, incense, knives, watches, money, and other small personal objects. Although the Chinese had carried small purses and scent bags for millennia, the wearing of belts fitted with practical utensils stemmed from nomadic traditions initially introduced by the Liao, Mongols, and Uighurs and then popularized by the Manchus. These costume accessories became prominent status symbols, and by the late Qing period, they were created in matched sets, typically embroidered with auspicious imagery.

The tasseled pendant densely embroidered on both sides with over 100 seed stitches per square centimeter, depicts a white elephant carrying the almsboul of the Buddha on its back.