To smooth the coarse cloth fibers, the women make a rolling press from a smoothed wooden log and a long, flat rock or piece of petrifled wood treated with beeswax. The cloth is laid across the log and the rock placed on top. Then a woman climbs up. feet apart. using her weight to move the rock from side to side in a seesaw motion. The material is gradually moved across the log. The H'mong superstition is that the log represents the woman and the rock represents the man. If either break during the process, this symbolizes the break up of the woman's marriage and her husband is free to choose a new wife.
Chau Tri entered the hut wearing a red shirt and plain black skirt, but when she emerged again from the make-shift bedroom she was dressed in a So (a long black jacket with brightly coloured embroidery), an intricately detailed "that lung" (belt), and "trau thi ko" tied in place with blue and green laces (the black velour which H'mong women wrap around their calves). H'mong women learn embroidery from a young age. They learn how to do basic cross and chain stitch, but then experiment to develop their own unique styles and designs as their skills improve. The women are very proud of the clothing they make - it is a part of who they are. As they can only practice their needlework after house and falm chores, each garment takes a very long time to complete. One girl told me that her jacket and skirt had taken over one year to make.
Like Chau Tri, most women wear everyday garments around the house, saving their best for going to the weekend markets. Men often opt for more typical Kinh people-style attire as they find the layers of hemp fabric cumbersome and uncomfortable, yet it's still fairly common to see men in Sapa wearing a polished black hemp jacket with a discreetly embroidered panel on the back of the collar.
The arrival or tourists in the region has meant that many women now buy commercially made garments, producing natural textiles to sell rather than to wear themselves. Some people think this is going against traditional values, but the money generated can help households survive when their only other source of income is rice production.
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