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Hmong Symbology: Textile Motifs & Meanings

Hmong Symbology Haute Culture

Since ancient times Hmong people have used motifs and patterns to represent their daily life and culture on the designs of their textiles. No two jackets or skirts are the same as every garment is hand crafted to communicate a stage in the owners life.

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meanings in Vietnam

Ms Sang drawing symmetrical repeat design onto cotton cloth

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meaning bees wax

Tjanting’s being dipped in hot liquid wax on a pile of burning charcoal

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meaning in Vietnam

Tjanting traditional batik drawing tool

Hmong Motifs & Meanings

Traditional Hmong clothes are made every year in time for the lunar new year in February. For this event a mother or young woman will design a combination of symbols in embroidery and batik, that they want to attract into their life in the year ahead. So if a young women is looking for a husband and wants to marry that year, you will see the Fish Hook pattern on her jacket sleeves or skirt. If a new husband and wife want to start a family, you might see the symbol of a house representing unity combined with the Leaf Frond used to signify growth. If a elderly person is sick it is likely they will be wearing patterns relating to the spirit world. 

Once you have a symbolic dictionary you can mix your own patterns to represent your life and intentions for the future. Have a look at the Ethos Spirit of Community dictionary of Hmong Symbology and combine your own symbols in a design to represent your hopes the next year of your life. 

Textile Tour of Vietnam

My Design

I thought long and hard about my intentions for 2016 and decided on the following symbols. Sun for life (I want this to represent travel). The Leaf frond for growth (Haute Culture blog), Landscape for nature (again travel), Chicken Eye for union (connecting with people around the world and building positive relationships) and finally Seeds for abundance (hello lottery??)

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meanings by Ethos

Hmong Motifs & Symbols provided by & Ethos Spirit of Community Travel in Sapa

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meaning Batik pattern

My Hmong batik sample before dyeing representing life, nature, growth, unity and abundance.

Hmong Batik

Batik is a textile technique using hot liquid wax to draw patterns on a fabrics suface before dyeing. In Hmong culture traditionally hemp fabric is used along with natural indigo leaves to make the fabric a dark navy blue color. When applied to the surface of the fabric the wax cools, and drys to act as a resistant against the indigo dye,  keeping that part the fabric with the patterns on in the original color. When the dyeing process is complete the wax is removed with heat and the pattern is revealed. 

To practice batik Hmong style you need the following equipment (as shown in the video)

  1. Tjanting of various shapes and sizes to apply the hot wax to the fabric 
  2. Bees wax
  3. Melting pot
  4. Charcoal fire
  5. Wooden board for leaning on
  6. Hemp or cotton fabric

Watch the video to see a interview with 2 Hmong Linh women, Sang and Gia from Mu Cang Chai village about the methods and meanings behind their Hmong batik. 

What you will learn from watching this video

  1. What tools are used to create different patterns
  2. How bees wax is made
  3. The meanings of the patterns on the ladies skirts
  4. How many years it takes to learn batik skill

Hmong Symbology Motifs and Meaning Batik Lesson in Sapa

Left to Right: Sang, Gai, Me and My in our batik lesson at Ethos

My Batik Class was hosted by Ethos Spirit of Community at Indigo Summer house in Sapa, North Vietnam

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Did you make you own Hmong inspired textile design? What motifs did you use? Are you a batik expert that can share any further knowledge? Please add you comments below we would love to hear from you.

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