Hmong women used the flowercloth as a way to preserve their language when the Chinese began a campaign to extinguish the Hmong tongue. It became a form of documentation and more importantly, a way to preserve Hmong cultural identity. Pa ndau combines geometric cutting, reverse appliqué, embroidered embellishment, and applied borders. Traditionally, pa ndau embellished everyday clothing, wedding dresses, baby carriers, and burial items. However, when Hmong women make pa ndau to sell, they fashion them into decorative items such as these wall hangings.
In the 1960s, the Thai government and aid organizations began to promote the traditional arts of the Hmong in refugee camps by encouraging the manufacture of ethnic crafts for the tourist trade. This provided Hmong workers with an opportunity to learn a marketable skill they could use after their impending emigration. Traditionally the textiles are for family use, but Hmong artists began to see the benefit of marketing their work. Commercialization led to changes in forms, functions, and colors. Today, Hmong textiles are available throughout Wisconsin at art fairs and festivals.
Hmong woman stitching a traditional textile
Photo by Nancy Donnelly
||Hmong needlework flowercloth (pa ndau) by Xia Lee, c. 1979
Xia Lee created this brightly colored needlework flowercloth before her emigration to the United States in 1981. Lee, who eventually settled in Madison , had learned needlework from her mother at the age of eight. At the center is an elephant's foot pattern, a traditional Hmong design motif, surrounded by a border of triangles. The triangles represent teeth, fish scales, or a fence and symbolize a protective barrier to retain good spirits and ward off evil forces. The cloth's bright colors are representative of traditional Hmong textiles.
||Hmong needlework flowercloth (pa ndau), 1980-1995
Brought from Thailand by an unknown refugee, this flowercloth features appliqué, reverse appliqué, counted cross-stitch, and embroidery. The soft, neutral colors, a departure from the bright palette traditionally used by Hmong, are intended to appeal commercially to Western tastes. The outer border is marked by a crosshatched motif called “mouse tracks.” Tracks are considered the spirit imprint of the person or animal that has passed by.