A remote village on the mountain ridge 30 kilometers north of Hoa Binh, Pa Co is home to a blue Hmong community who have been carrying on a distinctive tradition of textile making. Their name originated from the color of their clothes. Blue Hmong women dress in indigo pleated skirts adorn with sophisticated batik, appliqué, and baby blue cross-stitch patterns. This decorative concept is adapted to the sleeves of both men and women’s clothes. Married women wear a headpiece made of a long, deep-dyed indigo scarf and carry their babies using slings with dexterous hand-made patchworks and embroidery applied on top of indigo batik.
In the crisp early morning fog and amid the faint echoes from the surrounding mountain, a Hmong batik maker takes out small pieces of burning coals from her open-fire stove and buries in it a rustic tin can of beeswax. On top of the rattan basket that she uses to carry corn from the field, she places a scarred wooden panel and lays on top of it a piece of hand-woven hemp. With a canting dipped in melted beeswax, she traces the lines of the Fern pattern, the curves of the Earing pattern, and the dots of the Millstone pattern. Elsewhere in the village, another early riser is immersing her beeswax fabric into a big indigo vat. She has learned from her mother that it takes about one hundred dips to reach the deep, mesmerizing shade of indigo that’s characteristic of their ethnic group.
Every Sunday, Hmong people of Pa Co come downhill to trade local specialties – hand-made paper, corn bread and, most importantly, textiles. Indigo batik on hemp are sold by 4-5 meter piece, just the right size for a pleated skirt. Carefully adorn cotton pieces are sold to make baby sling, and intricately embroidered and patched pieces to make sleeves. The market ends at noon time and, in the silver sunbeam filtering through the leaves of the hillside trees, flocks of Hmong girls march home; their enchanting skirt sways with every step they take. Their chatter and laughter blends into the cacophony of the jungle they live on and live with. With those girls, the hundred-year tradition of textile making lives on.
Excerpt from The Book of Patterns – Hmong in Pa Co, Mai Chau. Written by Hang Pham, published by Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association, in the scope of Dream Weavers Project funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC).