Thursday, August 6, 2009

Clothing of Mien (2)

Girls are taught to embroider from the age of five or six. They start with the five original patterns, and gradually add to their repertoire as they gain in skill. A mother may make pants and tunic for her daughter when the child is four or five. Girls wear caps until they are nine or ten, although on festive occasions even small girls may wear turbans. By the age of ten a girl should be able to embroider her own pants, and from then on she spends countless hours creating beauty with her embroidery needle.

Both the sash and turban have 20 cm or more of embroidery at each end, using mostly the weaving stitch and horizontal/vertical stitch. Mien in the Chiang Kham area use seven meters of cloth for both turbans and sashes, while the Lao-Mien use only half that length. In both cases the cloth is about 50 cm wide. The sash is folded in half lengthwise, wound around the waist over the tunic, and looped in the back so that the embroidered ends hang evenly.

Women's turbans are wrapped in different ways according to the area. Lao-Mien women, using the shorter length of cloth, wrap their turbans very neatly, criss-crossing them front and back, with embroidered patches showing around the rim or across the crown. The Chiang Kham-Mien cover the crown of the head with red cloth, then wind the turban around many times, leaving the embroidered ends to stick up inside the roll on either side. Others wrap it loosely into a massive headpiece, being careful, of course, that the embroidery shows. Women consider it untidy for hair to show under the turban, so they pluck out any hair that might be exposed.

The ankle-length tunic is made of one straight piece in the back and two in the front. It is split nearly to the waist on the sides. The front edges of the Lao-Mien tunics have a 3 cm wide embroidered border to the waist, while the Chiang Kham-Mien often sew on a strip of cotton print material. Along the inside edge of the border is a ruff of red wool yarn, short and thick on the Chiang Kham style. The two strips of cloth forming the front of the tunic from the waist down are folded together and tucked up into the sash on one side, exposing the embroidered pants. A fine tunic has silk and bead tassels hanging at the tops of the split sides, a row of rectangular-shaped engraved or repoussed silver buckles down the front to the waist, and burgundy-colored braid with fine silver wire twisted around it attached to the edges of the garment.

An ornate apron/cape is worn for weddings and other special occasions. The band at the top is decorated with red, white, and black strips of cloth edged with saw-toothed red applique. The body of the garment is adorned with patches of cross-stitched embroidery and bold applique patterns of symmetrical shapes with many lobes and curlicues. It can be worn either as a cape or an apron and is embellished with silver buttons, coins, dangles, and chains. The ends of the sashes have long tassels of beads and burgundy or red silk thread. A simpler version is used as a baby-carrying cloth.

A man's suit consists of a loose-fitting jacket that crosses over the chest and is closed by eight to ten silver ball-shaped buttons sown the right side, worn with Chinese-style pants. Both garments are made of black or indigo homespun cloth, although some older men wear satin jackets for festive occasions. The jackets of younger men are embellished with red, black, and white piping around the edges and have patches of embroidery, sometimes forming pockets. As men grow older, the decorative features are gradually reduced until they are devoid of color. The finer jackets are edged with silver-wound braid, as are women's tunics. Turbans are only occasionally worn for ceremonies.

Mothers make delightful caps for their babies and small children. Little girls wear close-fitting caps of black or indigo homespun cloth, covered with fine embroidery. A large red woolen pompon encircles the top, and ball-shaped ones may be added over the ears. Small boys' caps are made of red and black cloth, with bold appliqued patterns, edged with white braiding. A large red pompon is attached to the top, and others to the embroidered band around the edge.
Large shoulder bags made from black and white striped Tai cloth are embellished with bands of embroidery, thick tufts of red and white wool yarn down the front, and pompons across the bottom. Other bags are made of black cloth with applique. Square embroidered or appliqued bags without straps are used to store silver jewelry and money.

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