A silk figurine is a kind of folk cloth toy developed from handicrafts like "pin cushions" and "color embroidery works" etc.
In ancient China, it was fairly common for people to make various handicrafts with bamboo and paper. In the Tang Dynasty, color embroidery works were popular. Originally, people used paper to create all kinds of animal images. Later, they began to make decorative lanterns featuring stories in operas and mythology. The techniques of lantern making gradually developed into color embroidery handicrafts making. In the Northern Song Dynasty, silk figurines were used in large scale folk activities and silk handicraft was taking shape.
In the Ming Dynasty, it was a folk tradition to make plane silk figurines to give the younger generations as a gift during the Dragon Boat Festival in south China. And in the north, color silk and satin were used to make the god of longevity and goddess Magu ideal birthday presents at that time. In the early years of the Republic of China, silk handicrafts like silk flowers and silk palace lanterns were very popular, but few people made silk figurines due to the complicated techniques. At one stage, the silk figurine making techniques suffered decline and the booming development didn't return till the 1950s.
The main materials for silk figurine making are silk, gauze and thin, tough silk. The figurines put emphasis on the capturing of someone's bearing and expression at a particular moment. The making of a figurine involves a dozen or so processes, including carving, color painting, sewing, dress and prop making and headwear arrangement etc. Every single work needs the craftsman's clever design.
The making of a silk figurine normally begins with the head. From the unpainted clay idol to the figurine head, multiple procedures are needed. The eyes alone have various types, such as laughing eyes and weeping eyes etc. When the head is finished, tiny silk threads are used to cover the head and to make a bun. After that, iron wire, cotton and gauze etc are used to make the figurine's bone frames, muscles and skin. After all parts are assembled, the figurine takes shape. The final step is to make dress with thin silk and satin. The finished work is gorgeously dressed, lifelike and lovely.
China's famous silk figurines are those made in Beijing and Yungang etc.