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How to tell a story through embroidery

How do you preserve all of the tragedies, heroic deeds and love stories that a people go through? For the Hmong people, embroidery has been a very impoirtant way to keep their history for hundreds of years.

The Hmong is an ethnic group who never had a country of their own. For thousands of years, Hmong lived in the south west of China. During the Qing-dynasty (1600s) the Hmong where subjects of persecution and even genocide which forced them to emigrate to bordering countries such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. 

So through different symbols, technics and materials the Hmong tell their story trhough embroidery.

Picture from Mrskue 

It's believed that these symbols appeared because the Hmong were not allowed to speak their own language and were forced to adjust to the Chinese society and their traditions. So the embroidery became a way to continue to communicate, preserve their history and keep their language alive. 

The Paj Ntaub (flower cloth) is an essential part of in Hmong culture. This traditional hand work goes back several centuries and is an incredibly detailed form of art, mainly performed by the women of the clan. A Paj Ntaub usually contains symbols that show which clan you belong to, nature or folklore. The motives appear on almost anything from clothing, bags and other textiles. This way they tell their story and keep it for younger generations. 

Picture from Pinterest
Picture from Pinterest

The Paj Ntaub is traditionally made with cross stitch but other technics are also common within Hmong. For example, these embroided pictures who very obvious tells a story without any writing, is made with surface stitching.

Picture from Hmongembroidery


Usually it was young girls who embroided these flower wines as a token of love to give to their boyfriends. A spring  of water, elders believe, has mineral and healing proprieties. At the center right is a wild boar whose tusks Hmong believe have magical powers. They are used as charms to protect against illness and from potentially dangerous situations including combat or long trips.


Picture from Hmongembroidery

The rooster is a very important animal to the Hmong. According to Hmong folklore, once upon a time there was 30 suns that caused the earth to dry up and the people couldn't grow crops. The hero Yaj Yuam grabbed his bow and shot down all of the suns except for one, the last sun was able to sneak away and hide. Now instead it was no sun light, which still caused problems for the people and their crops. Instead Wawm Saub was called upon and he gathered all the animals of the world to draw out the sun. The animals tried their best but failed. Then the rooster came. He crowed loudly and the last sun came out of it's hiding. So from this day forward the rooster always crows right before sunrise to let the Hmong know that it's time to wake up and get to work.

Picture from The Art of Hmong embroidery

Even traditional Hmong clothing are decorated with this beautiful embroidery. In order to get the colorful details to pop it's common to embroider on black textiles. Strong, popping colors such as pink, red, yellow and green is often seen on clothing and head pieces.

Picture from The Art of Hmong embroidery