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Project gives Uygur embroidery new life, customers

Embroiderers in Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region are learning to turn their traditional handiwork into a modern, thriving business. More than 300 products, from pillows, bags and gloves to car accessories and even embroidery-covered headphones and books, were on display at an exhibition that began recently in the city of Hami.

"I never thought embroidery could be used in so many ways," said Kateerh Rahman, a local farmer who manages an embroidery team of more than 100 people in Hami.

The market has responded well to their products. "We simply can't meet the demand," he said.

Embroiderer Kateerh Rahman teaches two women the traditional craft in Hami, the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. Zhang Hongchi / Xinhua

The most popular of his designs is the headphone cover, which he said makes customers feel "soft and warm" while wearing the ordinarily cold electronic devices.

His designs were inspired by the "Xinjiang Hami Traditional Craft Workshop", a project supported by the Ministry of Culture.

Launched in March, the project was jointly established by the government of Hami prefecture, the Academy of Art and Design at Tsinghua University and the Shenzhenbased Artron Art Group.

Hami Uygur embroidery was listed as an intangible cultural heritage of China in 2008. Featuring colorful patterns, it is mainly seen in traditional Uygur clothing. While China is working to preserve this tradition, local embroiderers are trying to revive ethnic craftsmanship by improving their skills and expanding the market.

Xiang Zhaolun, China's deputy minister of culture, said the workshop has promoted cooperation in embroidery training, improved the skills of local craftsmen and presented them with business opportunities.

"The workshop can turn traditional textiles into a fashion trend and open the doors to the world for embroidery craftsmen living in remote farming and herding regions," he said.

Rahman is among 50 local embroiderers organized by the workshop to attend intangible cultural heritage training in Guangzhou, South China's Guangdong province. He was also invited to Shanxi province to learn to integrate modern fashion and traditional embroidery as well as modern design techniques.

Artron Art Group, one of the organizers, sent three teams to help local craftsmen expand markets for embroidery.

"They help us gain customers and bring us orders," Rahman said.

Guldas Tursun, who started learning embroidery at age 10, said embroidery products used to be sold only in and near Hami, but now, thanks to the Artron teams, sales channels have expanded.

She recently secured an order for 830 products with a total value of more than 36,000 yuan ($5,400) from a Shanxi-based company through the recommendation of the workshop.

"Now I need to recruit more people," she said with a smile. She already employs 130 workers.

Liu Kuili, an expert on cultural heritage protection, said: "The training, product design and marketing channels offered by the workshop have promoted the revitalization of the craft."