Printer Friendly Version

Miao Festival Outfit

It takes a skilled hand to embroider such beautiful designs.

Most of the cloth for jackets and skirts is woven on a loom.

Today, more women use sewing machines to make clothing.

key idea
A Valued Skill

In traditional Miao society, women make the clothing for their families. Besides everyday clothes, they must also create a complete outfit to wear at festivals and weddings. Miao women take great pride in their embroidery, weaving, and batik. The garments a woman makes reveal not only her family’s wealth and status, but also her own skill, discipline, and artistry.

When a Miao girl is only seven or eight years old, she learns to embroider from her mother, grandmother, or older sister. Using just a needle and thread, she works to master patterns, designs, and techniques unique to her village or clan. In time, she may also learn to weave on a loom. Some of the older girls are taught batik—a dyeing method in which wax is used to create patterns.

Making clothing by hand takes a long time. Sometimes women work together on their garments. Pleated skirts are often a group effort. Several women embroider or weave parts of the skirt, which are then joined together and pleated by another woman. Jackets may be made piecemeal over time. Women work on the embroidery as they walk out to the farm fields. When they return home, they sew the pieces onto larger panels of fabric.

Although young girls still learn to make clothing, modernization is changing Miao life. Today, some wealthier families own foot-operated sewing machines, so garments can be made faster. Others buy machine-made cloth and synthetic yarn. Machine-made shoes, plastic raincoats, and synthetic sweaters can now be found in most villages.

Photos by Dan Dennehy, Minneapolis Institute of Arts

Modern clothing is becoming more popular in Miao villages. This girl wears traditional dress, but she also has on tennis shoes and blue jeans.
November 2008