We've always valued and connected with open landscapes, dirt roads, raw culture, traditional techniques, handmade processes, and vibrant color. A couple places that capture it all and is one of our favorite areas, is Sapa and Lai Chau, in the northern highlands of Vietnam.
Nestled high up in the Hoàng Liên Son mountains of northwest Vietnam, overlooking the terraced rice fields and stretching between Dien Bien province in the east all the way to Cao Bang province in the North is the Hmong community.
The Hmong ethnic group originally migrated southward from China in the 18th century due to political unrest and to find more arable land in northern Vietnam, Laos and Thailand. Hmong are the largest of Vietnam's 54 ethnic groups, which has numerous subgroups such as the Black, Red, Green, White and Flower Hmong communities, each with their own dialect, belief system, cultural customs, dress & handmade textiles.
For centuries, Hmong women have been making clothes for their families by hand, often learning by the time they are six or seven years old. A Hmong woman will continue to weave and embroider her entire life, and a woman’s beauty and intelligence is gauged by her textile making skills.
With only one rice harvest a year, the women of Sapa and the surrounding villages spend their days immersed in crafts - chatting over tea while embroidering, dividing a roll of linen fiber at the market, or sitting with friends preparing their threads. If there is a fiber that runs through a Hmong woman’s identity, it is quite literally her textile craft.
The Hmong believe others of their same tribe can recognize them based on the fiber and embroidery style they are wearing. Their strong attachment to their craft even transcends into their spiritual beliefs. They believe that when they pass away, their children will dress them in their tribe’s corresponding fiber so their ancestors can recognize them in the afterlife.
In terms of expression, embroidery is revered as one of the highest forms of creativity in the region. There are countless stitches in use by embroiders all over the world, though they are all variations of three basic kinds - flat, knotted, linked and looped. Some flat stitches, such as running, satin, and cross-stitch lie on the surface of the fabric. Knotted stitches have a raised or studded pattern on the surface. The classic example of a linked or looped stitch is a chain stitch where the first stitch is held in place by the subsequent stitch.
The bright colors of the embroidery thread, cross to create a complex array of symbols on a ‘story cloth’, called pajntaub, which often features a variety of themes based on mythology or nature. The most common motifs used are those found in everyday life including stylized representations of snails, mountains, chicken feet, ram’s horns, cucumber seeds, leaves, stars, rain and the sun. These are intricately threaded by hand to tell the maker’s personal story.
So when you receive your Vietnam 5 or 6 bag, think about the storybook land of Sapa & Lai Chau, where every part of the fabric was cultivated, woven, dyed, sewn, batiked and embroidered completely by hand.