I've collected hundreds of pieces of gorgeous Hmong embroidery from all across Indochina and from just about every Hmong clan. According to history, the Hmong in China were forbidden to use their ancient Hmong script made up of picture symbols (paj ntaub). So in order to communicate women started sewing the symbols of the script into their skirts, disguising them as patterns in the garments. This practice over time created the distinct and colourful Hmong embroidery style. Appliqué, reverse appliqué (Pan dau) and batik are used in combination with cross stitch, chain stitch, running stitch, and a form of satin stitch used to create the symbols and shapes of Hmong designs. Many of the symbols have been stylised and modified into new designs and overtime been interpreted differently by each clan, however the basic shapes of the symbols remain unchanged and are easily identified in the embroidery of all the Hmong clans throughout the region of IndoChina. READ MORE ON HMONG EMBROIDERY
From clan to clan and village to village the style and colour of Vietnams ethnic minority groups showcase a vibrant and fascinating culture of textile traditions. One of the largest and most diverse of these groups is that of the Hmong. From the sedate indigo garb of the Black Hmong of Sapa to the explosive colour of the Flower Hmong around Lao Cai each has adopted a unique costume and identity.
I've collected literally hundreds of pieces in my travels and have enough skirts to outfit a small village. During the last Textile Trails & Ethnic Villages tour through North West Vietnam In March 15 (which took us from Mai Chau to Son La and onto Dien Ben Phu, Sinho and Sapa ) there was a growing trend for the synthetic which is a real shame...but when you think of the time and effort that goes into handmaking and embellishing every article of clothing you own (and in most cases growing the hemp, making the fibres, weaving the fabric and dyeing it by hand - you really can understand why women are opting for easy to launder, synthetics and ready made clothes.
Traditional clothing styles continue to be worn by women throughout the region and in some areas it seems to have grown more elaborate over time. I guess access to ready made synthetic embellishments bought cheaply at the market are in some respects aiding this as a change in the village dress style can now be quickly and easily integrated into every woman's dress style. In the past where clothing was exclusively made and embellished by hand meant that styles were not a varied as they are today.
Whilst hemp fabric is still used today in some villages there is unfortunately an increased use of synthetic fabrics and electro pleated ready made skirts and western t-shirts being worn for day to day use. The elaborate hand decoration on skirts and jackets is slowly being replaced by mass produced machine embroidered pieces. The use of traditional hemp outfits is increasingly only being seen worn by the older women of the village or for special occasions...... READ MORE ON THE TEXTILES OF THE HMONG..
I started running my textile focussed tours back in 2007. Over the years I've seen some of the most gorgeous textiles made by the most gorgeous women. This blog is a reflection on some of these