green hmong pleated skirts
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Author:  vicomeus [ Wed Jan 21, 2004 8:38 am ]
Post subject:  green hmong pleated skirts

I have acquired two green Hmong Pleated skirts from the province of Sam Neau, Laos. To my own understanding the skirts have been worn during their time when they were made probably around the 1930's. being hemp they have stood the test of time. All the embroidery on the bottom is embroidered in raw silk floss of orange, red, and white with little strips of red cotton applique. The batik at the mid section is the finest I've ever seen before. Much finer then the ones I've examined on the local people and those in the markets.
I want to have the skirts repleated and mounted, Where would I have something like this cleaned. since the skirts are dusty and old.

Author:  Pamela [ Wed Jan 21, 2004 10:25 pm ]
Post subject:  a challenge!

Your question is indeed a challenge! Can I first ask something about your interest in textiles? I note that you list your interests as: 'hmong/miao textiles'. Do you have a collection of them and does it matter to you whether they are special examples of a particular group? Do you display them? Are you interested in using them in a design setting - hence the 'mounting'?

The answers to these and other questions - which are not popping into my mind at the moment - have influence on how you treat these skirts. If these skirts really are as old as 1930s and they are basically fine examples then cleaning them - and causing any resulting damage is quite worrying. If they are good ones then I suggest that you need specialised conservation cleaning.

You mention that the skirts are dusty. Some carefully vacuming with gentle suction can remove some of the dust and dirt. A gentle brush - but be careful not to damage the silk - can also help.

Re-pleating a Hmong skirt is quite a challenge but a Green Hmong one is, I think, easier than some others. The skirt needs to be laid out flat and the skirt carefully pleated and, at the same time, parallel threads put through at intervals which will be drawn up to hold the pleats in place and 'set' the pleats. The technique is rather like preparing smocking if you have ever done that? See a photo of a Green Hmong woman gathering a skirt in a village near Chiang Mai in Thailand ... /BHE15.htm When the skirt has been gathered it should then be rolled up carefully and tightly and tape tied around it - see this Flowery or Variegated Hmong woman in Vietnam just about to untie a skirt for me ... namE02.htm

If the skirt is damp when pleated then, if ever the skirt dries and hemp is the very devil to dry, then the pleats should stay in reasonably well.

It would be a big risk to actually wash the skirt because of the silks and the colours might run - especially the red and orange which can be very fugitive colours. If you see this photo of the same Flowery Hmong in Vietnam ... namE08.htm you will see a skirt hanging out to dry. You will see some of the white parallel threads which have been left in and which will be used to draw up the skirt to hold the pleats back in. I would say that this skirt is a cotton rather than hemp one so is a much easier washing proposition and also there are no silk embroidery threads.

You do not indicate where you live. I don't know if there might be any Hmong communities living near you who might have older members who could help. I also don't know if you have any careful conservation workshops or museums. Some museums have days when people can take textiles for advice.

I shall be interested if we get any other suggestions from forum members. If you had a photo of the skirts we would be very interested to see it.

Good luck!!

Author:  vicomeus [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 5:39 am ]
Post subject: 

Thank you Pamela on your insight. My interest in Hmong/Miao textiles go all the way back to my childhood in the 70's. My father was an American english teacher in Laos to the Hmong children in the 1960's. He acquired some Hmong textiles, and jewelry at the time, he was interested in the Hmong cosmology and was fascinated by their oral traditions and culture.

I grew up seeing these textiles in my house which also fascinated me to study the Hmong people of Laos and why they created items like these, such as the pleated skirts, the colors they use, and the numerous design elements that I was about to discover.
I collect mostly Hmong textiles of Vietnam and Laos, not so much Thailand because the Hmong textiles of Thailand have become too commercial.
I have learned to speak fluent white Hmong so they tell me that any textiles made of silk is probably before 1950 or earlier when the Chinese traders came for opium in exchange for silk. After 1950 the war began and all the textiles after that peroid changed to the use of Nylon, and rayon for silk substitution and then the Hmong of Laos didn't use silk anymore because the Chinese traders were gone, and synthetic materials were much more vibrant . The Hmong word for "new" and "vibrant" are the same. I ask all Hmong women I meet why they prefer synthetic and their reply is because it is "new" and you can wear it forever and the colors will not fade except for sun exposure.
An example of synthetic use to the best of it's ability would be the Green Hmong skirt style that emerged in Xieng khouang province, Laos in the 1950's.
I will put pictures up when I get them scaned.
---------thanks vicomeus

Author:  rusty [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 6:57 am ]
Post subject: 


The skirts you are talking about sound great. I can't wait to see a picture. How accurate would you suggest the aging of the textiles based on silk content is? Was there any silk floss used for embroidery after the 1950's by other hill tribres of the same area,region,country? I hope you will share any expertise, knowledge,or opinions with us. I have a couple orf hmong pleated hemp skirts also. I will try to attatch a photo.

Hope to hear more, Rusty

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Author:  rusty [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 7:04 am ]
Post subject: 

Another photo of hmong skirt.

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Author:  vicomeus [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 8:12 am ]
Post subject: 

Hello Rusty,
Nice example of a green hmong skirt or Hmong njua style skirt,
The skirt I assume is hemp by the indigo salvage on the bottom. which was left umembroidered. The skirt looks like it came from northeastern Laos by Vietnam, if not Vietnam. That region usually leaves raw salvages on the bottom.
If it were from Northwestern Laos, such as the provinces of Sayaboury, and Luang Prabang The green Hmong of that region like to applique a white borders to all their skirts and they only use white and magenta floss for their embroideries, they leave the whole mid-section indigo batik without any applique.
If we cross over into Thailand the skirts look similar to the one you have again, but it is highly decorated with a lot of applique, mainly eight point stars which according to Hmong embroiderers is an esthetic that the Hmong of Thailand like whether it be white or green, If it were from Thailand then it must be an older one probably the 50's and 60's I would say because the Hmong people dislike old things and they would have buried it with a deceased. Or sold it to merchants seeking textiles.
Have you checked to see if the embroidery is made of silk floss or yarn?
Is the waist section made of undyed hemp or cotton? and is there machine stitches on the red applique bands?

Author:  Pamela [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 7:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Green Hmong ..... or Red Hmong in Vietnam


Thank you very much indeed for sharing your expertise on the Hmong with us!

I would be grateful for your advice. On the main site I have a photogallery of what I am currently identifying as 'Red Hmong' ... ietnam.htm which I photographed in 1995 in north-west Vietnam. At that time there was very little material available on the tribal groups in Vietnam. I have acquired over the years several editions of the 'Ethnic minorities in Vietnam' with the latest published in 2000 by The Gioi Publishers. They refer to both Green Hmong - Hmong Xanh - and Red Hmong - Hmong Do. The photos, however, do not differentiate as to the type of Hmong. The book does say that skirts of the Variegated, Green and Black Hmong is dyed indigo. However, there is no detail for the Red.

My initial identification was that my photos were of 'Green Hmong' because the costume was so very similar to the Green (Blue) Hmong in Thailand. However, Michael Howard in his 'Textiles of the Highland Peoples of Northern Vietnam, Mon-Khmer, Hmong-Mien, and Tibeto-Burman' seems to identify Hmong wearing clothing similar to that in my photos as Red Hmong. Generally his identification of different Hmong groups in Veitnam is at odds with at least one other writer, Joachim Schliesinger in his 'Hill Tribes in Vietnam'. I refer to the literature ... ietnam.htm and the difference in naming. I know that the 'colours' in the names are given by others and not the Hmong themselves. What I would like to know is whether the Hmong in Vietnam in my photogallery are related to the Hmong in Thailand in my photogallery ... ailand.htm which would be similarly related to the 'Green Hmong' in Laos to which you and Rusty are refering.

I decided to go with the Howard definition since I know he (and his wife) have carried out considerable research in Vietnam and you will find him frequently quoted on the site and in this forum.

I would welcome your contribution as I still feel somewhat uneasy with the 'red' attribution!

Many thanks

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Author:  Sandra Shamis [ Thu Jan 22, 2004 11:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Red Hmong hair

Thanks Vicomeus, Rusty, and Pamela, for the fascinating discussion on Hmong skirts.

I checked all the photo sites that Pamela had posted about the Red Hmong, and now I have several questions about their hair.

Has anyone noted that the Red Hmong woman is wearing her hair in an unusual style mimicing a turban? Do the women have hair coverings, and/or do they wear hair ornaments? I have never seen any tribal group with hair like that.

Also, the sweet little girl in some of the photos has lighter hair. There is no way, of course, to know for sure, but lighter hair than normal in children can be the result of several vitamin deficiences. Has anyone noticed that in any other tribal children?

I don't know where Vicomeus lives, but we have some very old friends from the Hmong community in Clovis, CA who may be able to help in repleating or cleaning. Let me know.


Author:  vicomeus [ Fri Jan 23, 2004 5:24 am ]
Post subject: 

Hello everyone,
I myself have never been to Vietnam, but only to Laos, and Thailand.
In laos all Hmong who wear a Batiked skirt with embroidery calls themselves "Hmoob Njua" meaning Green Hmong or Hmong Leng.
The question is what does "leng" mean. According to many Hmong women and men I spoke with that were Green Hmong they usually don't like to call themselves green Hmong because in the Hmong language "green" is associated with the color black at times. A good example of this can be known that a Hmong person whether it be White or Green "leng" "njua" would always refer to a black pig as a green pig.
Elders of the Green Hmong say that the term "Green" or "Njua" was a word the White Hmong refered to them as "green" Hmong or "dark" Hmong, Due to the fact that in earlier times there was a sect of Hmong "leng" who were cannibals and in their tradition the maternal parents would "eat" or sacrifice the firstborn child to the ancestors. To the "white" Hmong this was horror so the "white" Hmong refered to this group as the "green" Hmong or the dark meaning to do with things that were evil. To my own understanding over time all Hmong that did not wear a white skirt became known as "Green" Hmong or what they prefer to call themselves is Hmong "leng".
In Laos the Hmong still say that there are sects of Hmong people who still practice the traditon of "cannibalism" but they no longer would sacrifice the firstborn child instead they would make a rice cake in the shape of a child to sacrifice to the ancestors, usually taking place around the New Years Holiday.
Back to the skirts, among the Hmong of Laos you either spoke the White Hmong dialect or the Hmong "leng" "green" dialect. The Green Hmong and the Hmong "leng" speak the same dialect.
Amongst the Hmong they determine each other not by what they wear but by which dialect they speak first, when talking to each other since the "white" Hmong dialect and the "green" "leng" dialect can be undestood like American English, and Brittish English. After that point the Hmongs themselves refer to the dress style. Dress Style for the Hmong determines what part of the country you are from. Note that there are over 6 costumes or more of the white Hmong in Laos alone. So that goes the same for the "Green" Hmong.
An example is that if I were a "white" Hmong from Xieng Khoung Province I would be wearing a black jacket with blue cuffs, blue kimomo style wrap lapel jacket, two black aprons, a turban with a checkered ribbon wrapped criss crosed across the turban. Now the Hmongs refer to me as the "Black" Hmong of Xieng Khoung in style of dress who speaks the "white" Hmong dialect. I feel that the dialect has been confused with the style of dress over time or vise versa, when ethnographers and anthropologists were questioning the Hmongs.

Pamela I wanted to ask you about the "black" Hmong of Vietnam from Sapa. Do you know if the women ever wear skirts on special occasions?

Author:  Pamela [ Fri Jan 23, 2004 5:10 pm ]
Post subject: 


'Red' Hmong. I did not find the hair particularly unusual as I thought it was rather like - but exagerated in a slightly different way - the Green Hmong near Chiang Mai where horse hair is used as a base to increase the size of the 'bun'. In Vietnam I think it is an even larger floppy 'bun' if you look at ... RHV03E.htm although in ... RHV08E.htm it could be a bun or an overall 'bouffant'. I assumed that horse hair was the foundation of the Vietnamese Hmong hairstyle. It could, of course be 'old' hair cut off and used as I have seen in Miao in China (a gallery still to be created.) I don't think that these Red Hmong wear hats but I have a photo taken just as we were leaving the village shown in the Red Hmong photogallery showing a woman with a hair covering. It is not a very good quality photo which is why I did not include it in the gallery - but it is interesting! See photo included below.

Children's hair. If you look at children in the Black Hmong photogallery - especially one of a very special little girl ... g/BH21.htm - we were both fascinated by each other - you will see that her hair seems quite light. I don't think that any of the Hmong families were very well to do and they seemed to have quite a few children. The Red Hmong group had well fed water buffalo and a pig but the latter would presumably only be eaten for weddings/funerals etc.


I did not see any Black Hmong in and around Sa Pa wearing skirts when I was there in 1995. I did not go right into a Black Hmong village. From photos I have seen Black Hmong skirts in books - the Howards in the book I cited in an earlier post show a Black Hmong skirt (Plate 45 page 167 'Hmong, Black Hmong sub-group, Sa Pa district, Lao Cai Province; pleated skirt, length 63 cm). Page 111 has a detailed description of the skirt.

The Red Hmong skirt at ... RHV11E.htm has the indigo selvedge which you refered to above in your response to Rusty.

Thanks very much indeed for your detailed information about 'green'/'black' in relation to Hmong. All very interesting. It is very possibly that the 'Red' is an 'external' name and not related to the colours which the Hmong are using to refer to themselves. There is no doubt that linguists and those studying dress often disagree.

Many thanks again for taking the time to share all these nuances and very interesting background with us.

Author:  rusty [ Fri Jan 23, 2004 10:00 pm ]
Post subject: 


Nice work on identifying the Hmong skirt I have included as an attatchment. It was purchased in Northwestern Laos. It was interesting to have you ask me a few questions about the piece because all the questions you asked, "Have you checked to see if the embroidery is made of silk floss or yarn? Is the waist section made of undyed hemp or cotton? and is there machine stitches on the red applique bands? ", were criteria for my selection of this specific piece and most other Hmong pieces. Answers to your questions are; the waist is made of undyed hemp, the red applique is hand stitched as well as the entire piece and the embroidery is made of silk floss. This specific piece took two trips to find. We specifically were looking for this piece. Many skirts on the market but very few with the silk floss. Glad to have you aboard the forum. Thanks for the info and please continue sharing your expertise with us.


Author:  vicomeus [ Fri Jan 23, 2004 11:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thank you so much everyone for your input.
I have contacted the Fashion Institute of Technology Textile Curator Lynn Felsher in NYC. and she and her associates will help me with the cleaning and archival preservation of the pieces.
I'm sorry I never said where I was located, but I reside in Yonkers, NY.
I am myself a tailor by trade, so I will try to repleat the skirts myself.

I am so grateful to have met enthusiasts like everyone here who share such great passion for tribal textiles and art. The Fine arts always look over the folk arts because they have criterias and a cannon where training and discipline have to be a certain way.
I myself have always enjoyed the folk arts, whether it be textiles or music, I truly believe that folk art expresses the true soul of a certain people through their vision and how they view the world. I have always said to people if you want to see abstract art you should look at the Ainu embroideries and paintings on Fish skins and leather. It really shows the simplicity of lines and movement.

----------------------Thanks everyone.

Author:  Pamela [ Sat Jan 24, 2004 7:51 pm ]
Post subject: 


I am so very pleased that you will be getting some help with cleaning the skirts!

I wanted to ask you a huge favour. Do you think that you could take a photo(s) of the skirts before the cleaning process and then again afterwards. What would be absolutely great would be if you could keep some notes of what you do (and don't do) as you clean them. If you could possibly share notes and photos with me I would love to turn photos and notes into a 'study' for the site - with, of course, your support and permission. How to clean and conserve is one of the questions that I most frequently receive and my heart sinks somewhat when I receive it! So difficult at a distance and it does so depend on the quality of the piece and what role it is going to play in the collector's life.

If you would be prepared to do this so that I can share the information with others I know that forum members and a wider audience would so appreciate it.

Oh, if you felt like editing your profile - first button, second line, top right of each screen, you could add in your location as New York.

I am going to look at my photos from my trip to China in 2001 because I have some photos of pleats being put into a Miao skirt. These skirts had much tighter pleats than the Hmong we have been discussing but you might find it interesting. Wish I was nearer as I would love to help with pleating your skirts! (Some photos of this process would also be great! Yes, call me greedy.....!)

Hope all the rejuvenation process goes well.

Author:  Pamela [ Sat Jan 24, 2004 11:02 pm ]
Post subject:  Miao pleating a skirt

These are a couple of photos that I mentioned above from an October 2001 trip to Guizhou in southwest China. At the end of the trip in the last village that we visited (Shi Qing village, Zhou Xi township near Kaili) we saw a plain indigo skirt being very finely pleated tied around a hollowed out tree trunk.

The costume itself is very ornate. There is an embroidered apron using silk satin and silk felt which has been appliqued and couched with an outline of horse-hair. The skirt is almost completely covered. Nevertheless a great deal of care is taken in the pleating.

1. A detail of a photo of the pleated skirt being worn. See to bottom left for a glimpse of the pleated skirt.

2. See a Zhou Xi Miao or sometimes 'small horn Miao' because of the silver festival head-dresses of the girls, pleating an indigo dyed skirt tied around a hollowed out tree-trunk.

File comment: See a Zhou Xi Miao or sometimes 'small horn Miao' because of the silver festival head-dresses of the girls, pleating an indigo dyed skirt tied around a hollowed out tree-trunk.
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File comment: A detail of a photo of the pleated skirt being worn. See to bottom left for a glimpse of the pleated skirt.
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Author:  vicomeus [ Mon Jan 26, 2004 5:01 am ]
Post subject: 

Yes, I will certainly document the process and photograph the skirts for the forum, concerning the preservation of items like these.

There are two forms of preservation according to Harumi who is the associate curator for the Textile museum in NYC FIT. Their is storage preservation of the piece and then their is the other in which you mount it.

They will let me know more about the process when they recieve the items for review, to see what kind of cleaning needs to be done before the pleating begins. Unfortunately I did not take before pictures of the skirts before I sent them, but I don't think there will be much difference due to the fact that the skirts were washed many times during their wear and most of the colors have faded from the red dyed cotton applique, and the indigo batik.

I will certainly post the process.

----------------------Thanks everyone Vicomeus

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