Skirt section, unfinished, indigo-dyed batik/ applique/ hemp/ cotton, made by Mrs Nang May Chang, Blue Hmong people, Bahn Phan Sawan village, Hua Phan province, Northern Laos, 1980-2000
Approximately seven million Miao/Hmong people live in southwest China, in Hunan, Guizhou, Yunnan, Sichuan and Guangxi provinces. They are divided into several main sub-groups, eg. the Kotchiong (Red Miao), the Hmu (Black Miao) and the Hmong (White Miao, Green Miao or Flowery Miao), and each sub-group consists of many smaller groups. From the 1500s to the 1800s, many of the Hmong sub-groups migrated across the mountains to Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
The principal materials used in Miao/Hmong traditional costume-making are hemp, cotton, silk and natural dyestuffs, including indigo. Sophisticated weaving, dyeing, batik, pleating, embroidery, appliqui, interlacing, looping and quilting techniques are used to produce the costumes and have evolved to levels of exceptional artistry. Traditionally, these skills are transmitted from mother to daughter.
The patterns, colours, designs and motifs of the costumes reflect the cultural values and ideals of the people, and embody a range of historical and symbolic references. These costumes are characterised by originality and by the exceptional skill of the makers in their use of colour, materials and techniques. Each sub-group has developed its own costume-making techniques depending on their particular way of life and the local environment. Different sub-groups can be distinguished one from another through the composition of decorative patterns and the accompanying accessories and hair styles.
This length of hemp cloth for a woman's skirt was woven and batik patterned with indigo by Mrs Nang My Chang, a woman of the Blue Hmong people who live in northern Laos; it reflects the long migratory history and superb costume-making traditions of the Miao/Hmong people. In particular, this skirt section exemplifies the traditional techniques of batik patterning and indigo dyeing, and is indicative of the variety of traditional pattern motifs and symbols used by the Miao/Hmong costume makers.
Pleated and often elaborately ornamented hemp skirts are an integral part of the traditional costume designed, made and worn by women of the Miao communities of southwest China and of the related Hmong communities of northern Laos, Thailand and Vietnam.
The colouring and patterning of these skirts varies between the different subgroups of Miao/Hmong people and is strongly indicative of their identity and group membership. The use of indigo in skirt-making is not unique to the Blue Hmong people, but is what gives this group their name. The patterns and motifs used to ornament Miao/Hmong costume mostly relate to the natural world and to farming and the seasonal agricultural cycles. They are handed down from mother to daughter.
The skirt section was woven, batik patterned with indigo, and appliqueed by Mrs Nang May Chang, a Blue Hmong woman from Bahn Phan Sawan, Somten community, Hua Phan province in Northern Laos.
The material of the skirt section is hemp, which is grown traditionally by the Hmong people for costume-making. This strip, when finished, would form the main section of a woman's pleated skirt.
Information about dates of making was unclear, but within the last twenty years.
This indigo batik and partially applique'd hemp skirt strip would have formed the main section of a woman's pleated skirt. Skirts of this type are typical of those worn traditionally on special occasions, such as weddings, funerals, New Year festivals and going to market, by the Blue Hmong women of northern Laos. Pleated skirts like this are traditionally worn with an embroidered jacket, apron and leg bindings, and with an elaborate headdress whose design is also determined by the ethnic subgroup.
The skirt was owned by the maker and brought with her to the UNESCO training 'Workshop on transmission of the traditional costume-making techniques of the Miao/Hmong people living in China, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam', in Kunming, China in June/July 2000. The skirt was used in a demonstration of the maker's skills and offered for sale.
The maker used the skirt strip in a demonstration of her costume-making skills at the workshop, and subsequently offered it for sale together with a finished skirt and other skirt strips at different stages of ornamentation.