Embroidery skills – including Hmong embroidery designs and Hmong embroidery patterns – are passed down from generation to generation. Each motif has meaning and all the patterns tell a story. Girls first learn to embroider, followed by appliqué and finally batik.
Motifs and Methods in Hmong Embroidery
Source: “Legends in the Weaving” by Dara Kanlaya
A girl starts to learn embroidery at an early age with her mother. To decorate her own skirts but also other accessories such as waistbands, aprons, baby carriers, collars and purses.
The Hmong embroider their fabric with motifs inspired from the nature which surrounds them, including flowers, maize flowers, snails, fish scales, climbing plants, stones, elephant feet, radish flowers, cucumber seeds, fruit seeds, stars, roads, grass tips, peacock eyes, chicken eyes, scorpions, and centipedes, to name a few.
In the past, Hmong women embroidered and decorated big pieces of indigo blue cloth to make pleated skirts and blouses. They also embroidered small pieces of cloth to exchange with other Lao people, but they later favored the use of those small pieces to add a pop of color to their clothing. In one piece of cloth, one can see many embroidering methods.
Different types of embroidery
Method 1. Cross-stitch using different colors of threads to create motifs made up of crossed lines, spots and chains.
Method 2. Reverse Appliqué. Using two pieces of cloth by putting one on top of the other and cutting the piece above following a chosen pattern. Then sewing them together so that the color of the underneath cloth is visible.
Method 3. Appliqué. Cutting a piece of colored cloth into strips, sewing the strips on to a bigger piece of cloth and then embroidering them with various selected motifs.
Method 4. A new method of embroidery in which simple motifs generally describe daily life. It is understood that this is a new method designed by overseas Hmongs who resided in refugee camps in Thailand while waiting to travel to third countries because this method does not exist in traditional clothing. Visit this website dedicated to Hmong Embroidery for pictures of this specific method.
The Hmong in Laos
The Hmong are thought to originate from the plains of Tibet and Mongolia, moving southwards through China. According to Lao records, they started arriving in Laos in the early 19th century. It is estimated that Hmong people make up 6.9% of the Lao population (1995 census).
The Hmong language is classified as a Miao-Yien language in the Sino-Tibetan family of languages, and until recently had no written text. Villages are situated high in the mountains. Their one story houses have low sloping grass roofs, usually housing more than one generation. Well known for their farming and livestock skills, they practice swidden agriculture, a system that rests the land with a fallow period.
Hmong culture is strong; even when they move down to the lowlands their village systems remain intact. There are many Hmong communities around Luang Prabang, Xieng Khouang, Xam Nua and Oudomxai. There are three subgroups: the Hmong Dao ‘White,’ Hmong Du ‘Blue’ and Hmong Djua ‘Striped’ distinguishable by their clothing.
Unlike many languages, Hmong doesn’t have a written form, thus textiles have become a form of visual expression. The inspiration for motifs is derived from the natural environment, such as snail shells, animal teeth, ferns, cucumber, rice seeds and pumpkin seeds.
We work with Hmong artisans through our Village Weavers Project.
Our Hmong Embroidery DIY Kit
What better way to appreciate a craft than to give it a try? With years of experience in teaching the crafts of Laos to tourists visiting Luang Prabang, we’ve decided to bring our expertise online and reach out to you in the comfort of your home. Wanna give our very first DIY kit/online class a try?
We are offering a workshop that requires very little equipment and is accessible to beginners. Each kit includes all the material you need to complete your project, an e-booklet and an online self-paced class. We designed this DIY Kit with lots of options for you to choose from. Not only do you have four different styles and sizes of bags but you also have different traditional Hmong patterns with different colors.
Coin purse, pouch, folding clutch or tote bag, which one do you fancy? Natural hemp or indigo dyed lanten cotton, you have the choice… How about the Hmong embroidery pattern? Would you like a more pink, blue or orange one? Watch a preview and order yours NOW! 15% discount until October 31st, 2021 (prices already discounted).