The textiles of the Miao and Dong people in this southwestern province of China literally tell of their history and beliefs in pictorial illustrations and symbols. A woman’s marital status and home village can be identified by the color and pattern of the clothing she wears. The Miao are known among textile collectors for their fine embroidery skills, weaving and batik dying. Since this is the last region in China to open to Westerners, most of the traditional methods of its ethnic groups remain the same as they were centuries ago.
The Miao embroidery is so complex that it may take as long as seven years to make a wedding dress. For good reason, the traditional festival costumes worn by the young women are passed down from one generation to another… whole or in part as textile patches. In some of the more than 400 festivals that take place in different regions of Guizhou, the young women dance and show off their skirts of hundreds of pleats and heavily embroidered collars in hopes of catching the eye of a young man from a neighboring clan. A prized possession of every young family is an elaborately decorated baby carrier.
The different sub-groups of Miao are identified by the style of dress and the motifs. You can find the Long-Skirt Miao, Short-Skirt Miao, Big-Flower Miao, Small-Flower Miao. In Shiqing Miao village, the women use silk felt as a decorative medium for their jackets. The Peking knot and folded silk work are hallmarks of the Wangxiang Miao. And there are many more….
The Dong are famous for their indigo dyeing. It’s a laborious process of weaving, dyeing and pounding and possibly rubbing the fabric with hide dipped in pig blood and polishing it with egg white. To create a single bolt of indigo-dyed, shiny silk or cotton takes two weeks.
Where to see textiles: The Beijing National Costume Museum has an entire hall devoted to Miao clothing and jewelry, but to find the most authentic and beautiful pieces for sale, you must travel to the villages of the Miao and Dong people.
In Guizhou, be sure to visit the market in Kaili, where locals from different villages congregate to sell their work. Then, stop by the Kaili Ethnic Minorities Museum to see more samples of textiles and descriptions of some of the different minority groups.
Whether you buy a swatch for framing, a large piece for covering your table or an indigo shirt to wear, you’ll be taking home a cultural souvenir to remind you of your journey for many years.
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