Hmong/American Friendship Storycloth Hmong Embroidery2 Xo Vang Demonstrates Cutting for Reverse Applique Hmong Embroidery Storycloth about Domestic Violence Maitn Xiong Works on Reverse Applique Panel from Domestic Violence Storycloth Traditional Hat Front Panel for Traditional Clothing

Location | Themes | Reflections | How We Did It

Needlework and Clothing at
Hmong/American Friendship

Izzy L | Jeremy | Dylan | Benjamin | Abigail | Erika | Thomas |
| Gabby | Nate

When we first got off the bus to go inside the Hmong American Friendship Association, all I saw was a small building with windows. I had no idea what a huge amount of Hmong culture would be inside...
–Izzy L.

The Hmong have a strong tradition in needlework. In fact, Hmong have been doing needlework for centuries! Different kinds of Hmong have different patterns. The most well known patterns are: elephant track, sea shell, and vegetable seed.

On our tour we went to a place where Hmong ladies do sewing and have a sewing store. They also have Hmong classes at the center. The place is called the Hmong American Friendship Association because they are helping Americans learn about Hmong culture.

They have a huge story cloth that shows the Hmong living in Laos, and soldiers coming into Laos to take control of it. It shows the American soldiers and the Hmong fighting the Vietnamese. It also shows China, Hmong people crossing the Mekong River and Hmong people in Thailand getting ready to leave for America. The cloth is five feet wide and eight feet long. A man did the outline for the cloth, and a woman did the needlework...

A lot of storycloths show soldiers fighting. But the storycloths made before the Vietnam War probably didn’t have soldiers fighting on them...

There is a needlework and sewing store in the Hmong American Friendship Association. They sell clothes, paj ntaub, etc. Different types of Hmong (green, blue, striped, white and black) have different styles in sewing and needlework. Boys and girls are supposed to wear different clothing.

They told us about some different kinds of stitches: the cross stitch, the seashell stitch, the elephant foot, vegetable seed, and the leaves design. There is a difference between American paj ntaub and Hmong paj ntaub. Hmong paj ntaub is more colorful and bright, and the stitches are closer and harder to do.

We had a needlework lesson at Hmong American Association. Sheng Lo explained that there are many different stitches. These are just a few: cross stitch, reverse applique, ribbon work, embroidery, and bead work. She also said that when you make paj ntaub there are a bunch of patterns: heart, snail, elephant foot, seashell, mountain, and seed.

Every Tuesday and Thursday, Sheng Lo directs a sewing class. Two women came in and, without speaking, showed us some patterns. (Well, it was really ONE woman. The other woman was sewing but she didn’t show [her work] to us. In fact, she didn’t even look at us!) I learned later that she made the snail pattern, the heart pattern, and both snail and heart pattern together. Wow!

A cross stitch is a stitch that crosses (as you might have guessed). If you look really close at story cloths you’ll notice a tiny cross in each of the intricate stitches. They often start out as one to two stitches but grow and grow and grow into a spectacular pattern with wondrous colors. The Hmong like using really bright colors, like almost neon green, pink, and yellow. Often there are beads and coins [stitched into the design]. The beads are NOT traditional but have usually been developed in the USA...

They make the seashell by taking a coin and curving it on a piece of paper. That is how they cut it. Then they open it up and it is a seashell.

Hmong needlework is different than the American way of sewing. The Hmong people do really small detailed needlework. The American people’s needlework doesn’t have that much details and small needleworking ...

They have a giftshop with lots of needlework at the Hmong American Friendship Association. Everybody who sews puts their stuff in the giftshop and the center gets 10 percent of the profit. They sell clothes, hats, dolls, and [handmade] toys like beanie babies and mermaids...

Boy and girls clothes are different. Boys hats are basically just round and kind of look like a Jewish yarmulke. The girls’ hats are oval and sometimes not as colorful. Some have coins hanging down from them. Some clothes aren’t so wild[ly colored]. They are black with colored embroidery and are made more for the American customers. But some Hmong wear them for everyday life.

[The Hmong say] that if girls don’t have a lot of nice clothes when they go to the Hmong festivals, it means that their mother is lazy...

Hmong women do so much needlework because it lets them pass some time, and so that they can remember things...

For more on Hmong Textile arts, please click here

To see more student photos, click here