Common designs and technique

Textile ArtEdit

Hmong textile art (RPA:Paj ntau or Paj ntaub, or "flower cloth" in the Hmong language; sometimes transliterated as pa ntau) consists of textile arts traditionally practiced by Hmong people. Closely related to practices of other ethnic minorities in China, the embroidery consists of bold geometric designs often realized in bright, contrasting colors. Different patterns and techniques of production are associated with geographical regions and cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community.[1] For example, White Hmong are typically associated with reverse appliqué while Green Mong are more associated with batik. Since the mass exodus of Hmong refugees from Laos following the end of the Secret War, major stylistic changes occurred, strongly influenced by the tastes of the Western marketplace. Changes included more subdued colors and the invention of a new form of paj ndau often referred to as "story cloths." These cloths, ranging in size up to several square feet, use figures to represent stories from Hmong history and folklore in a narrative form. Today, the practice of embroidery continues to be passed down through generations of Hmong people and paj ndau remain important markers of Hmong ethnicity.

Traditionally, paj ndau were applied to skirts worn for courtship during New Year festivals, as well as baby-carriers, and mens' collars. The core visual elements of "layered bands of appliqué, triangles, squares tilted and superimposed on contrasting, squares, lines and dots, spirals, and crosses."[2] The use of border patterns may show the influence of Chinese embroidery techniques.

Story ClothEdit

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A story cloth about the war

When communist forces took control of Laos in 1975, Hmong people who supported the Royal Lao Government and fought for the American CIA during the Secret War were singled out for retribution. Tens of thousands of Hmong people escaped into Thailand as part of a mass exodus of 300,000 refugees.[3] Once in Thailand, most spent several years in overcrowded refugee camps awaiting resettlement. Dependent on relief agencies for subsistence, many Hmong people began selling handicrafts to improve their standard of living. As early as 1976, NGOs, like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, coordinated with Hmong women to sell their needlework abroad. [4] In Laos, only rare moments of free time were spent on embroidery to adorn pieces of clothing for important rituals. Now with time to spare in the camps, women produced purses, bed spreads, and toaster covers which were shipped to relatives abroad who could sell them and send money back.

Men also contributed to the endeavor by creating drawings that could be transferred to cloths. In the 1960s, missionaries had taught men to draw illustrations for the folktales used in literacy primers. Cloths featuring elaborate and fantastic narratives sold well overseas and production grew. Eventually, themes from recent Hmong history, including the flight from Laos, were incorporated in the "story cloths," providing a historical record that did not require literacy for interpretation.


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A woman displays her art

Miao embroidery is peculiar to the Miao ethnic group inhabiting Southwest China's Guizhou Province. Leishan County, Guiyang City, and Jianhe County are the three regions known for their extraordinary Miao embroidery. But the design and craftwork of embroidery in these regions are different.

Leishan Miao embroideryEdit

With 83.6 percent of its total population being comprised of the Miao ethnic group, Leishan County in southeast Guizhou Province is one of the major Miao-inhabited areas. The traditional Miao attire, featuring fine embroidery and silver adornments has been passed down well into today in Leishan.

There are different ways of embroidering in Leishan. Two-needle embroidery is the one most commonly used. It is to embroider using two needles together. Another one commonly used is 'plaited' embroidery, which is to plait 8-12 colorful silk threads into a "braid", and sew it through the cloth. Leishan people make bold and expressive embroidered motifs through symbolism, metaphor, and exaggeration.

Huaxi TiaohuaEdit

Tiaohua is based on cross-stitching. Huaxi Tiaohua was developed by Huaxi Miao, one of the four branches of the Miao ethnic group. The remaining three branches are the Yisha Miao, Qiaogang Miao and Shidong Miao. The Huaxi Miao-inhabiting Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou Province, is known for cross-stitch work.

Originally Huaxi cross-stitch work featured single texture and silver color. But in the late 1960s, it became rich in texture and bright in color, and a variety of patterns were gradually developed. The frequently used patterns of Huaxi cross-stitch work are animals, plants, snowflakes, copper drums, lanterns, the sun, rivers, pavilions, and bridges. Being without written languages, the Huaxi Miao people found embroidered motifs a convenient vehicle to carry their folktales, store their history and honor their ancestors. Huaxi cross-stitch work has also become a unique embroidered ornament for these Miao.

Jianhe tin embroideryEdit

The tin embroidery in Jianhe County has a history of over five hundred years. This technique is very time consuming and hard to master. Silver-colored tin threads are embroidered onto navy blue cloth, and black, red, blue, and green silk threads are embroidered into colorful flowers. The bright tin embroidery matches well with the silver ornaments of Miao girls.

Miao embroidery is artistically pleasing but the number of Miao embroidery masters has been decreasing as less young people wear their traditional costumes. Faced with the dilemma of dying out, Miao embroidery can be secured and passed down to successive generations only when more measures are taken to protect this technique.