Did I mention not seeing Hmong batik in the indigo show in Seattle? Well, I'm getting my fix now in Luang Prabang. It was pure serendipity - making my jet lagged self take a walk down the peninsula, I decided to turn up from the Mekong at a certain spot amidst the monasteries. Not a road I knew, and not much on it, but suddenly I saw an abundance of truly fine Hmong pieces hanging outside a small shop. A young woman hurried from next door to greet me and invite me in, and I spent the next half hour (hour? time stopped for a while, I've no idea) surrounded by exquisite work and her stories.
Sho Ly has collected pieces and old fragments from her village near the border of Loas and Vietnam, and has on display traditional garments, blankets, and accessories like belts and "cravats": long, narrow, decorative pieces worn from the neck, like a tie but way more elaborate.
Many of the old batik and embroidery fragments have been bordered with linen fabric, to make wall hangings or table runners. These are nicely done and the linen adds strength and stability to the more delicate pieces. Sho Ly's sister designed and made these, as well as the various well-constructed bags in the shop.
I kept up a continuous stream of questions, about the batik technique, the intricacy, and whether people are still working in the same way. She had her own recently made jacket on display, which shows how the batik looks when it is new. Her aunt did the batik work, and it's as intricate as some of the older pieces.
However, no one in her generation of her family has learned to do batik. Some people her age in the village are keeping it up, but it's less popular now. She said younger people are more interested in a highly textured type of embroidery, which she knows how to do. She had many samples of this, including a jacket and belt which she was happy to model.
I saw an example of the same work on a belt in the collection at Ock Pop Tok, where I'm doing conservation work.
Sho Ly told me that for this embroidery thread, they buy undyed silk in the market and dye the colors they want. So even the thread is locally produced. There is endless beauty and fascination in this shop, and I plan to visit often. If you find yourself in Luang Prabang, you should check out Hilltribe Heritage, near Wat Xieng Thong. Sho Ly will be happy to see you and tell you about everything here.