Since ancient times Hmong people have used motifs and patterns to represent their daily life and culture on the designs of their textiles. No two jackets or skirts are the same as every garment is hand crafted to communicate a stage in the owner’s life.
Black Hmong is the largest ethnicity of Sapa. Their Vietnamese traditional costumes are in black colors with decor on either the sleeves, colorful in Brown suits. The Black H’mong women are famous for making cloth from hemp and dying it a deep indigo blue. They wear long blouses decorated with batik flowers over short trousers, and wrap long scarves around their legs. They wrap their long hair around their head and wear a blue turban. The men wear long jackets with shirts and a long waist coat embroidered at the collar, and a small hat.
Hmong Motifs & Meanings
Traditional Hmong clothes are made every year in time for the lunar new year in February. For this event a mother or young woman will design a combination of symbols in embroidery and batik that they want to attract into their life in the year ahead. So if a young woman is looking for a husband and wants to marry that year, you will see the Fish Hook pattern on her jacket sleeves or skirt. If a new husband and wife want to start a family, you might see the symbol of a house representing unity combined with the Leaf Frond used to signify growth. If an elderly person is sick it is likely they will be wearing patterns relating to the spirit world.
Once you have a symbolic dictionary you can mix your own patterns to represent your life and intentions for the future. Have a look at the Ethos Spirit of Community dictionary of Hmong Symbology and combine your own symbols in a design to represent your hopes the next year of your life.
Batik is a textile technique using hot liquid wax to draw patterns on a fabrics surface before dying. In Hmong culture traditionally hemp fabric is used along with natural indigo leaves to make the fabric a dark navy blue color. When applied to the surface of the fabric the wax cools, and dry to act as a resistant against the indigo dye, keeping that part the fabric with the patterns on in the original color. When the dyeing process is complete the wax is removed with heat and the pattern is revealed.