The craft of linen weaving of the H’mong people in Lung Tam

Monday, 2020-07-20 17:18:32
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In the H’mong community, weaving is set as a criterion to measure a woman’s dexterity, industriousness, and dignity
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NDO – Located in Quan Ba district, Ha Giang province, Lung Tam is a small valley surrounded by rocky mountains, with the Mien river flowing through. This is a land where the H'mong people have lived for generations and established their fame with the craft of line weaving, indigo dye, and beeswax drawing, creating many unique brocade products.

Every young H’mong woman has her own farmland to plant flaxseeds when she reaches adulthood. The plants are harvested after two months and dried to make threads.

Making linen fabric from flax requires a lot of work with all of the stages being done manually.

First, the H’mong woman has to split the threads extremely carefully to get the sheaths. The flax sheaths, bound in sheaves, are then crushed in stone mortars to soften them until only the tough threads remain.

After being boiled several times in water mixed with ash and beeswax, the linen threads become softer and whiter. This is when the H’mong women work with their looms. The woven pieces of cloth will be washed many times to whiten them as much as possible.

The woven linen sheets will then enter the dying stage with black as the major colour. The cloth is dyed with natural colours extracted from local plants without any chemical used.

In order to get the correct shade of indigo black, the weavers have to dye the cloth several times over several days. The cloth is submerged in the dye for about an hour, drained and submerged again. The process is repeated five to six times before the cloth is dried.

The final colours of the cloth depend quite a lot on weather conditions. If it is sunny, it takes from three to four days to finish the dying process but it can take several months when it rains consistently.

In the H’mong community, weaving is set as a criterion to measure a woman’s dexterity, industriousness, and dignity.

Young H’mong women must be skilful in linen weaving before getting married. Upon leaving for the groom’s house, the bride is presented with a linen dress by her mother. She must also gift her mother-in-law with a linen dress made by herself.

Linen fabric has also strong attachment to the spiritual life of the H’mong people. Vang Thi Mai, Head of the Brocade Weaving Cooperative of Hop Tien village, said that in H’mon people’s belief, linen fabric connects people to their ancestors.

Accordingly, linen threads are believed to lead the way for the dead to be reincarnated. Dead H’mong people are buried with their linen costumes so that they will be recognised by their ancestors in the afterlife.

What makes the H’mong -made flax cloths distinguishable from others is the sophisticated brocade patterns and the technique of beeswax drawing the cloth. The craftswomen use heated beeswax to paint the traditional decorative patterns of H’mong people on the sheets.

Made-in-Lung Tam flax fabrics are not only transformed into colourful dresses, scarves, and handbags but are also used as decorative products at hotels and restaurants as well as souvenirs and paintings for visitors.

The products have been sold across the country and have been exported to more than 20 countries worldwide, contributing to improving locals’ income and promoting the traditional cultural value of the H’mong ethnic group.

Linen threads being dried

After being boiled several times in water mixed with ash and beeswax, the linen threads become softer and whiter

Traditional decorative patterns of H’mong people seen on linen sheets

Colourful products made from Lung Tam flax fabric

Photo credit: Ngu Thien