“Blue Hmong” – inspiration through the fog

Through the fog, one sees women wearing their beautiful clothes and carrying loads of firewood and corn in a basket called a Kia. Often they are embroidering as they walk, using what moments their hands are free to create decorations for clothes. This is the Hmong women. The Hmong are labeled “Blue Hmong” sometimes because women wear an indigo-dyed head cloth and they use fabric in shades of blue.

The Hmong commune is nestled in high hills and deep valleys often blanked by dense fog. No longer permitted to grow opium, the Hmong subsist by cultivating fruit trees, growing corn and collecting firewood. Also they make the paper with bamboo pulp, which is dried on a cloth made of old clothes that is stretched on a wooden frame.

Houses traditional have low thatched roofs and no windows. Interiors are dark and filled with smoke from an open fire. Sheets of paper cut with intricate patterns are attached to the interior of house walls in worship of the ancestors. Also they often perform rituals for the ancestors and to placate bad spirits.

In the fog one can also see clothes to dry on woodpiles or laundry poles, or on the rough wood plank fences, which surround Hmong houses. Traditional clothes are part of the landscape of a Hmong environment.

The making clothes is a process, which is part of nearly each day of a woman’s life. Hemp collected in the spring and dried. The fiber is then split into narrower pieces, a process which may be done in moments of free time: woman walk to and from the field splitting fibers which are around one hand. Next the fiber is spun into thread to be woven over the summer months. Dyeing takes place in August and September, a process, which can take between ten days and one month, depends on the quality of the indigo. Today fewer women are making hemp because of the time involved and because they find hemp too heavy and hot. Hemp cloth is still given, however as a gift at weddings.

For the central portion of the skirt, Hmong purchase white cotton cloth woven by Thai people. First a woman washes 3 arms-lengths of cloth and melts 200 grams of beeswax. Next the fabric is stretched on a flat piece of wood. Using a tool called a da Trang ta, she makes intricate patterns. The completed waxed cloth is then put in an indigo dye bath once a day for about 25 days. When the dying process is completed, the cloth is submerged in a container of hot water to release the wax. The dried cloth is appliqued and embroidered. Also women make embroidered aprons and shirt with decorative sleeves and collars.

While the Hmong skirt distinctly expresses the identity of a Hmong community more than any other article of clothing, it is subject to regular changes in fashion. Even so, this year’s skirt, which all young girls will reproduce, using the same patterns of appliqued cloth, will perpetuate a single community identity.

Now assisted by several projects of Oxfam Quebec and Craft Link, Hmong women have the opportunity to use their traditional handicraft skills to earn additional income.

First time I saw Hmong women in Sapa during my trip to the north of Vietnam. First thing that attracted my attention was their hands – blue-black color. When I found out more about Hmong and their traditional fabrics I wanted to get at least a small piece of those fabrics. When I came back to Hanoi, I found only very expensive ones for tourists, but not the traditional one. That’s why in my next trip to Sapa I visited a local market and bought a traditional patchwork cover and  few fabrics made from hemp ,from an old woman, who was 90 years old I think. I wanted to use these fabrics in my new collection, following my principle “Art should be wearable”,so at first I should handle the fabrics – warm water rinse to avoid cloth contraction in future. Unbelievable, but in  few seconds the water colored in a deep blue color! I washed the fabrics around 5 times but the result was the same. Therefore, I decided to take the cover to piece in hopes that I can use anything. In this way, I got a few pieces of silk with an interesting traditional ornament.  I used that silk in my collection. What about hemp’s fabrics, after washing it became very rough so now it’s waiting for new projects …  

Look book of our new collection “On the Top”, inspired by Hmong women, you can see in the •Collection• page on our website www.herbariumdesign.com . In the •Store• page you can find a description of each look and you can make an order there!

The source of information – www.craftlink.com.vn / hauteculturefashion.blog.com

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