The detail above is from EGA Collection Item #00146, a Chinese court robe. It was given to EGA by Edith John and is believed to be from the early 19th century. This style of robe was worn at court during the Ch’ing Dynasty (1644-1912) and is known as a dragon robe, or Ch’i-fu.
The robe is made of silk and is almost entirely stitched with gold couching. The only areas that aren’t are the dragon’s eyes, which are done in silk satin stitches. The design is divided into three areas – the sea is represented at the bottom by the diagonal lines, then a small area of earth just above that, and the rest is sky, where the dragons writhe amongst the clouds and a plethora of good luck symbols. There are a total of nine dragons on the robe and you can learn the wearer’s station by the number of toes the dragons have. This one is a four-toed dragon, which indicates a member of the imperial family below the third rank.
Two more details from the robe are below. For further reading, see Katherine Westphal’s wonderfully informative Dragons and Other Creatures: Chinese Embroidery (1979; Lancaster-Miller Publishers). A photo of this robe was also featured in the 2008 book A-Z of Goldwork with Silk Embroidery from Country Bumpkin Publications.