Kai Lung of the Golden Hours

Kai Lung

Kai Lung

This wonderfully contorted Imperial Dragon was another Needlewoman Magazine design (March 1934),  and he got his name from the Golden Hours of Kai Lung, by Ernest Bramah, which I was reading at the time, because it had been mentioned in one of Dorothy L Sayer’s books (“Strong Poison”).

The pearl cotton I used was really too heavy for the base fabric – another old piece of linen – but it gave a fantastic lustre to his scales, which were worked using nested fly stitches (not my idea – I followed instructions on this piece!).

The tongue is closely-set stem stitch, the claws are fly stitch (so are the teeth – I think the designer liked fly stitch!) and the mane is made of interlocking blanket stitch. I worked very hard on this piece, to keep the stitches neat and even, and I used to take it with me to visit Grandmama when she was in hospital. There’d probably be a riot now if I sat at a hospital bedside, embroidery in hand, but Grandmama enjoyed watching me work and made a lot of useful and encouraging comments as well.

The magazine no longer had its transfer of the Dragon, which was intended as a Firescreen (other suggestions included the back of a bridge coat, a footstool, a cocktail tray,  a cushion…), so I worked it at the size of the diagram in the magazine, on the back of a dress. Had I worked him full size, he’d have been too big for the dress.

I was thrilled when the wife of one of my father’s friends recognised it, told me that she had worked it herself when the magazine came out, and fished out the firescreen she had made using the design the next time we went to see them. She was the person who told me that you can tell he’s an Imperial Dragon, because he has five claws. She’d worked it in pastel shades to go with their drawing room of the time, and it was absolutely stunning. She and her husband are both dead now. I do hope that that screen found a happy home!


  1. Lady Fi says:

    Wow – what a magnificent piece!

  2. Janice says:

    Certainly a stunning piece. What was the shape of the dress? I can imagine a straight design – of course it would look beautiful with a mandarin collar!
    Did you see Antique’s Roadshow last week? The great granddaughter of Lady Leverhulme had recognised her ancestor in a photo from that previous show. She had contacted the person the photo belonged to (and who had a piece of jewelery worn in the photo) and now she brought it in, along with several other pieces of jewelery from the same photo. …It just occurs to me that someone, someday reading this might be the owner of the Pastel Imperial Dragon!

  3. Sue Jones says:

    Kai Lung – my father has two or three of the books and I was reading them from when I was very little: far too young to make much sense of them, far less prise apart the traditional Chinese components from the engaging whimsy added by the author.

    Your dragon is very handsome, and must have looked stunning on a dress.

    I did a good deal of embroidery while visiting my mother in hospital during her final weeks last year. It was very soothing to me to stitch and gave us something extra to talk about when she was awake. The nursing staff raised no objection – in fact they enjoyed watching the embroidery progress. (Of course, these were just small pieces worked in the hand.) I would have found things a lot harder without my stitchery to keep my hands busy and calm my mind.


  4. Penny says:

    Magnificent!! I know it gave your mother great joy to have you sitting by her side, embroidering this fantastic design.

  5. Jules says:

    Kai Lung is fabulous! And I enjoyed reading your ‘back story’.

  6. coral-seas says:

    Very handsome. I really like the rich colours you have used. It must have been very eye catching on the back of your dress.

  7. Carolyn says:

    Dragons seem to have special personalities of there own once you stitch them, either by hand or machine. I love this one.

  8. cathy daniel says:

    This is a bit bolder than your usual pieces – but great colours for a dragon. Very eye catching and lovely memories associated with it too. xCathy

  9. Thhe dragon is stunning! I do hope the firescreen survived, but a lot of peope aren’t aware of the work that goes into needlework, and don’t appreciate its beauty.

  10. Megan Hodges says:

    Nested fly stitches for scales! What a great idea!
    I see you do the same thing as me – end up reading books which are mentioned in other books 🙂

  11. Sue Jones says:

    Several, if not all, the Kai Lung books are now on Gutenberg, by the way.

  12. karen says:

    oh yes….I hope the screen went to a very good home too. I wonder what happened to it? The curiosity would test me….

  13. Terrie says:

    Chinese embroidery is very famous and dragon implies emperor and power. Stunning piece.

  14. susan says:

    What an important memory…you sitting by your grandmama’s bedside to keep her company. I’m sure you brought her great joy. And that dragon is pretty cool…I can just imagine showing up to play bridge in your dress. The opponents would drop like flies! Can’t you inquire about the screen???