Rachel Silberstein

Fellowship Year: 


Project Title: 

The Dramatic Cast of Nineteenth-Century Chinese Women’s Vernacular Embroidery

Silberstein’s fellowship was focused on vernacular embroidery of mid-late Qing dynasty in China, specifically pieces that displayed “dramatic narrative motifs” rather than the more widely studied “auspicious motifs.” Her research was concerned with cataloging and researching the “materiality, style, and content” of these embroidered objects in order to place the choice to depict these narrative motifs in the context of “contemporary, vernacular representations of narrative,” to demonstrate that these folk textiles were part of a dynamic and changing culture that responded to and interacted with the “external influences of commercialization, urbanization...social mobility and that it was not an ossified and unchanging repetition of traditional motifs.” Her work underlined the fact that the women who created these items engaged creatively with the popular and dramatic culture of their time.

About the Fellow: 

Rachel Silberstein is a cultural historian of visual and material culture in early modern China, specializing in fashion and textile handicrafts. She earned a DPhil in Oriental Studies from the University of Oxford (2014) . Her thesis is entitled “Embroidered figures : commerce and culture in the late Qing fashion system” uses vernacular texts and material culture to explore the importance of handicraft commercialization and fashionable dress for Chinese women during the mid-late Qing period. Her  MA is in Chinese Linguistics and Language from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. She is currently a lecturer in the Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington, where she teaches classes on fashion history, and Chinese material culture. Rachel is the Book Reviews editor for Textile History.

Related Publications: 

Embroidered Ladies: Fashion and Commerce in Nineteenth-Century China (forthcoming).

Fashionable Figures: Narrative Roundels and Narrative Borders in Nineteenth-Century Han Chinese Women's Dress. Costume: The Journal of the Costume Society. Volume 50, Issue 1, pp. 63 - 89. 01/2016

Silberstein, R. "Eight Scenes of Suzhou: Landscape Embroidery, Urban Courtesans, and Nineteenth-Century Chinese Women’s Fashions." Late Imperial China, vol. 36 no. 1, 2015, pp. 1-52. Project MUSE, doi:10.1353/late.2015.0001

Cloud Collars and Sleeve Bands: Commercial Embroidery and the Fashionable Accessory in Mid-to-Late Qing China. Fashion Theory Volume 21, 2017 - Issue 3. 24 Mar 2016. 245-277. DOI: 10.1080/1362704X.2016.1150670

Authored by: Kait Sykes

Authored by: Kait Sykes