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“I will keep that tradition and I will continue to make a piece of Hmong.” — Mai Xee Xiong, 2014

Traditional Arts

Traditional Clothing | khaub Ncaws Hmoob

A Piece of Hmong featuring Mai Xee Xiong, 2014. Learn more about textile artist Mai Xee Xiong’s migration story and her process for creating a traditional Hmong New Years hat.

Throughout the year, Hmong women in Laos work on elaborately embroidered costumes for themselves and their families. At New Year they adorn elaborate clothing with heavy silver necklaces, an indication of a family’s wealth. In Laos, clothing styles provided a visual indication of Hmong subgroups, White and Blue (also known as Green). Blue/Green Hmong women wore elaborately decorated skirts in contrast to the plain white pleated skirts of the White Hmong. Today, the New Year celebration is still an occasion to get dressed up, though the outfits might mix elements of Blue/Green and White Hmong along with details influenced by other Southeast Asian cultures.

Cov poj niam Hmoob nyob Nplog teb ces tsuas yog niaj hnub xaws ris xaws tsho (xaws zam) rau lawv thiab lawv tsev neeg thawm niaj thawm xyoo xwb. Thaum lub xyoo tshiab los yog noj peb caug mas lawv hnav zam dai npib dai hob thiab coj xauv nyiaj xauv ncais puv ntia tej caj dab qhia tau tias lawv yog ib tsev neeg muaj nyiaj muaj txiaj. Nyob Nplog teb mas cev zam koj hnav ntawv yeej qhia tau hais tias koj yog Hmoob dawb los Hmoob Ntsuab lawm. Cov poj niam Hmoob Ntsuab mas hnav daim tiab muaj paj ntaub txaij txaij hos cov poj niam Hmoob dawb mas hnav daim tiab dawb xwb tsis xaws dab tsi rau li. Niaj hnub nim no los kev noj peb caug yeej tseem yog lub sij hawm sawv daws hnav zam Hmoob thiab tab sis nim no lawv muaj ntau yam khaub ncaws Hmoob los mus sib txuam lawm.

“So back in Laos when I was a little girl, my mom always prepared a costume for us for the New Years…. Sometimes she would just ask the children to sleep and she would light a little lamp and then she was just sitting all night to sew the costumes to get ready for the New Year’s in December…. Traditionally, everybody had to have a new costume during the New Year’s to bring good luck to the new year.”
Jennifer Vue, 2018

“When we come to the New Year, we wear what we are really proud of and we put so much work into it. Some moms spend a whole year working on it, that by the time the New Year comes around, it’s really a proud moment for them.”PaSia Lor Moua, 2011

“Part of the role, women’s role, is to be able to sew. So you would have to be able to do this kind of stuff, like make new outfits for the family, for the husband and the kids. [I made this men’s jacket] when I didn’t have children, so I had a lot of spare time.”Sia Yang, 2018

“I could only sew when I did not start working yet [in the U.S.]. After I started working, I only tried to do bits here and there when the kids are asleep, or when the kids are watching television, or when they are at school. I’m a very hard worker.… Because I was working, I didn’t do much. I just did cross-stitching and cut Hmong clothes. I did not do storycloths anymore.”Mai Xee Xiong, 2014

  • Flower Cloth | Paj Ntaub
    Applique and reverse applique tapestry made by Shoua Moua Chang in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Thailand, 1984

    Applique and reverse applique tapestry made by Shoua Moua Chang in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, Thailand, 1984. The piece combines western colors with Hmong designs and techniques. Borders of triangular mountain motifs surround geometric leaf frond and landscape patterns commonly made by Green Hmong.

    In Laos, Hmong girls learned to sew at a young age and took years to master numerous techniques referred to as paj ntaub, or flower cloth. Traditionally, mothers disguised babies as flowers with colorful hats and baby carriers to protect them from unfriendly spirits. In the refugee camps, Hmong women worked with relief agencies to create items to sell in Western markets. Embroidered storycloths depicting folk tales, village life, or the exodus from Laos generated income for Hmong families in refugee camps. After several years, Hmong women began sewing everything from bedspreads and coin purses to table cloths and Christmas tree ornaments.

    Nyob rau Nplog teb mas cov me nyuam ntxhais xyaum xaws paj ntaub puag thaum lawv tseem yau yau lawm.  Thaum ub mas tej laus yuav tsum muab nyias ev cov me nyuam mos ab thiab muab cov me nyuam mos ab ntoo kaus mom tej dab qus thiaj tsis pom ces lawv thiaj tsis muaj txiab.  Nyob rau hauv tej Yeej Thoj Nam tawg rog Thaib teb mas pojniam Hmoob xaws paj ntaub tuaj muag lwm lub teb chaws.  Lawv xaws paj ntaub qhia txog Hmoob tej dab neeg, Hmoob lub neej, thiab kev khiav tsov khiav rog tuaj Nplog teb tuaj ces coj mus muag kom tau nyiaj los siv rau lawv tsev neeg thaum nyob rau hauv Yeej Thoj Nam.  Thaum lawv tuaj nyob rau Asmeskas teb no tau ntau xyoo lawm ces lawv ho xaws ntaub pua txaj, hnab ntim nyiaj, ntaub pua rooj, thiab khoom dai rau ntoo Christmas.

    Jan Folsom discusses storytelling needlework patterns with Hmong women in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, 1984 Textile designer Jan Folsom discusses storytelling needlework patterns with Hmong women in the Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, 1984.
    Photographer: Wayne Persons
    Woman stitching paj ntaub purse in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp with small child standing by, 1982 Woman stitching paj ntaub purse in Ban Vinai Refugee Camp with small child standing by, 1982.
    Photographer: Jan Folsom

    “I lived in the camp for about eight years and would spend about 30 days to make four purses…. Back in our country, we only spent time sewing when we didn’t have anything else to do, so we made paj ntaub for the New Year only. But at the camp in Thailand we didn’t have anything to work on, so we spent more time working on paj ntaub and sent it all to my sister, cousin, aunt, and niece to sell [in the United States]. They sent the money back to us.” — Bao Vang, 1993

    “We [made paj ntaub] in the camp. When I came to the United States I did not make anything. But when we lived in the camp, we had to do it for a living.”  — Jennifer Vue, 2018

    Toddler in baby carrier wearing hat with silver coins at Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, 1970s Toddler in baby carrier wearing hat with silver coins at Ban Vinai Refugee Camp, 1970s.
    Photographer: Wayne Persons
    Red cotton baby carrier decorated with to protect the baby from unfriendly spirits, 1999.
    Reverse applique flower cloth used as a table covering, 1980s.

    Reverse applique flower cloth used as a table covering, 1980s. An elephant footprint motif surrounds mirrored step motifs symbolizing a house. Alternating borders of herringbone fence stitches and snail motifs include satin stitches representing seeds.

    Turtle ornament made by Made by Lee Vang, 1993 Turtle ornament made by Lee Vang, 1993. The reverse applique work on the turtle shell includes swirling snail motifs and satin stitches representing flowers and seeds.

    Storycloth made by Bee Sao Xiong, 1992

    Storycloth made by Bee Sao Xiong, 1992. This piece illustrates many aspects of agricultural village life in Laos. Reading from the top, embroidered figures depict a New Year’s celebration, pounding and planting rice, harvesting and grinding corn, and planting and harvesting fruits and vegetables.

  • Foodways | Kev Khwv Noj Khwv Haus

    In Laos, Hmong farmers practice slash-and-burn agriculture to produce rice, and also raise chickens, pigs, and cattle. Farming methods require many hands, and every member of the family helps plant crops before the summer rains. Today, some families keep extensive gardens and also sell produce at the Eau Claire Farmers Market. Although rice remains a staple food for many Hmong Americans, easy access to more diverse foods has caused significant dietary changes.

    Nyob rau Nplog teb mas Hmoob luaj teb ntov ntoo, ua qoob, ua loo, cog nplej, cog pob kws thiab tu tsiaj txhu (tu qaib npua, tu nyuj twm) los yug yus tsev neeg xwb. Kev ua liaj ua teb mas yuav tau muaj coob leej sib pab thiaj ua tau. Txhua leej txhua tus hauv tsev neeg yuav tau sib pab mus luaj teb ntov ntoo thiab cog qoob, cog loo ua ntej lub caij ntuj nag yuav los. Niaj hnub nim no tseem muaj ntau tsev neeg Hmoob ua liaj ua teb kom tau qoob loo, txhiam laj txhiam xws los mus muag tom cov khw nyob rau hauv lub zos Dej Ntshiab no. Txawm hais tias Hmoob yeej ib txwm noj mov los vim nim no kuj muaj lwm yam khoom noj khoom haus ntau yam uas lawv nrhiav tau yooj yim ces lawv kuj pauv zaub mov ntau yam lawm thiab.

    “We used to grow our own food, like rice, corn, all kinds of vegetables, and raise our own animals. Here everything you buy. We can grow corn and vegetables only in the summer.”Houa Vue Moua, 2011

    “Daily food is more of a broth meal where you just boil chicken and then throw in some herbs and have that with rice, or we’re adapting to stir frying and eating that with rice. But big holiday foods, you really work on those egg rolls because those are not traditional things that you can just whip up in ten minutes. Egg rolls and heavy laab which is a meal that usually men only make around the holidays.” PaSia Lor Moua, 2011

    “If I feel like eating Hmong food, I will eat Hmong food. I don’t purposely say all this week we are going to have three Hmong meals and three American meals…. You just go for balance.”Blia Vang Schwahn, 2008

    “Ever since I was a child, we had this small plot of land that we just used to plant and harvest crops for us to eat, so that we could save some money. When I was eight years old, my mom and dad decided to try out the farmers market, and ever since then our land gradually increased…. Basically as a child, I had no summer. I couldn’t go out and play, all I had to do is go to my parents’ garden, even if I didn’t want to, and just help them out…. Today, I actually kind of like it. It’s back breaking and everything, but it’s worth the money.” — Vajfue Lee, 2013

  • References

    Craig, Geraldine. “Patterns of Change: Transitions in Hmong Textile Language,” Hmong Studies Journal, Volume 11: 1 - 48.

    Koltyk, Jo Ann. New Pioneers in the Heartland: Hmong Life in Wisconsin. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1998.

    McShannock, Linda. “Flowery Cloth: The Art and Artistry of Hmong Paj Ntaub, Minnesota History (Spring 2015), 180-193.

    Pfaff, Timothy. Hmong in America: Journey from a Secret War. Eau Claire: Chippewa Valley Museum Press, 1995.

    Vang, Chia Youyee. Hmong in Minnesota. St. Paul: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2008.