Front and back view modeled by my mother. Materials: polyester/satin, and a variety of polyester fabrics bought from Hmong Village.
A friend asked me to help make two Hmong inspired stoles for her graduation ceremony this coming Sunday. Again, I’m a painter/drawer before anything else, thus this was an extremely challenging project. I finished this project in about one week and most of the second stole was done at Mayo Clinic while waiting for my grandmother’s cancer checkup.
My grandma stared at how I was holding my needle and commented that all my stitch work looked like ant legs! Ant legs meant that the stitches were uneven and stretched too far from the edges and were not invisible like the stitch is supposed to be. As I continued to work away at the stole, she smiled and stated that ant legs were how the older generation could tell a beginner sewer from a skilled one. Her eyes glisten and gleamed as she recalled her experiences around paj ntaub.
Overall it was an interesting experience being able to hear the women in my family speak about their memories when they see paj ntaub. Paj ntaub in many ways is the landscape of Hmong history and culture. While the symbols are wearable, ornamental, and aesthetically pleasing, I believe that the process, memories and stories surrounding the creation of paj ntaub is why many Hmong people have come to accept it as a symbol of Hmong identity.
Through this project, I thought about what the needle, thread, and traditional Hmong colors meant to me. I thought about why people feel that emotional, hollow tug in which Hmong people calls “kho siab” when they see these items alongside the traditional garments, tapestry, and textiles. I thought about how my grandmother, mother, and father reacts to a story cloth and other Hmong textiles as though the objects were the land in which they've come from.
I think my friend made a wonderful choice in wearing a Hmong inspired stole to her graduation. She is wearing the visual culture and history of her identity.