Thailand (Blue Hmong)
Ceremonial Skirt, 20th century
cotton and synthetic materials
H. 25 x W. 35 in.
Can what we wear be art? Clothing covers and protects our bodies
from harsh elements such as wind, rain, sun, and cold weather. It
can also serve as decoration for the body. This brightly colored
and carefully sewn skirt is an example of Hmong (pronounced MUNG)
textile tradition involving great skill and complex design.
The Hmong, whose name means "free people," once lived
in central and southern China. During the 19th century, many Hmong
families migrated into the mountains of Southeast Asia. There they
lived scattered in small village groups in northern Vietnam, Laos,
and Thailand. The Hmong people are generaly divided into two subgroups:
White Hmong and Blue (also called Green) Hmong. These names come
from the colors used in traditional clothing. The groups also have
some differences in customs and language.
This vividly colored knee-length skirt was made by a Blue Hmong
woman living in a refugee camp in Thailand. It was made to be worn
for the most important Hmong celebration--the New Year festival.
Traditionally, textiles have been a focal point of Hmong New Year
celebrations. To the Hmong people, new clothing celebrates the good
fortune of the past year and is a sign of future prosperity. Wearing
old clothing on the New Year is an omen of misfortune and poverty.
The New Year is a time of courtship and celebration. By wearing
elaborate clothing, young women show off their personal beauty as
well as their textile skills. Finely sewn attire is considered a
sign of a woman's hard work and increases her value as a wife. Wearing
one's finest dress to a New Year celebration helps attract a prospective
This skirt displays the high standards that the Hmong apply to
needlework. These standards can be seen in elements such as the
tiny stitches, complex designs, precise patterns, and straight borders.
The design of the skirt has a festive and spirited feeling. This
feeling is created in part by brilliant contrasting colors--bright
pinks, oranges, yellows and greens that sparkle and dazzle the eyes.
Complementary colors of hot
pink and lime green create a dynamic optical sensation and appear
especially vibrant when placed next to each another.
skirt in use
Characteristic of the Blue Hmong style, this skirt includes three
design sections. The top section is a band of white cotton material.
The middle panel is covered with a batik pattern,
created by a fabric-dyeing technique that uses wax to make a design.
Pieces of cloth are then sewn on the batiked material in a technique
called appliqué (applying a cutout
decoration to a larger piece of material). Finally, on the bottom
of the skirt is another band decorated with a design of cross-stitch
embroidery and appliqué. The variety of design motifs
on this skirt are created without stencils, patterns, or rulers;
rather, they are done simply by eye and memory, with a steady hand
guided by the grain of the fabric's woven threads. The entire skirt
is accordion-pleated and contains
as much as nine yards of fabric.
In Laos, skirts made for the annual New Year festival were worn
for daily wear during the following year, while new and more elaborate
costumes were created for the next year's celebration. In the United
States, Hmong girls have adopted Western-style clothing for everyday
wear and dress in Hmong clothing only for ceremonial events. Today,
many skirts incorporate synthetic materials and dyes, resulting
in the fluorescent colors that we see here rather than the all-natural
fabrics and primary colors of earlier traditional dress.
view of weaving
series of accordian-like folds, often found in clothing.
sewing technique in which a cutout decoration is attached to a larger
piece of material.
fabric dyeing technique in which the pattern is first drawn with
beeswax onto the cloth with a metal tool, and then the cloth is
immersed in dye. The areas covered by the wax are not affected by
the dye, creating a pattern that can be seen when the wax is removed
by boiling the cloth. Wax and dye applications may be repeated for
which appear opposite one another on a color wheel. When placed
next to one another, complimentary colors are intensified and often
appear to vibrate.
stitch which forms an "x."
dominant theme, idea, or pattern in a work of art. Motifs are often
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