Miao Embroidery Jewel-like Colours and Designs
Ying Ji
Jishou, Hunan
Fabric Decoration

Ru Ya Ma tells stories through Miao embroidery

For many people the first time they see Miao embroidery it is quite a shock, and I was no exception.  The tight arrangement of gorgeous abstracted geometric patterns and sharply contrasting colours, created with just needle and thread, convey the optimism and light of the Miao’s thousand-year history. The designs leap out at you, carrying their culture, their view of the natural world and their unique knowledge of things secret. It is a veritable banquet for the eyes.

I was quite surprised when I met Ru Ya Ma (meaning ‘good sister’ in Miao) or Ying Ji in Chinese. I found her in Jishou which is on the edge of the Yunnan-Guizhou plateau.  We met at one of the town’s universities, where she currently teaches Hmong embroidery. Her style is as ancient as the quiet, rugged mountain region she hails from.

I had heard that in different places and in different tribes the style and form of Miao embroidery slightly differed. However originally all Miao women would conduct the whole process, from growing the silk worms, through extracting the silk, dyeing it and finally weaving and embroidering. It is uncommon to see this today, but Ying Ji is adamant that she will only use the finest silk thread and she will not compromise by using synthetic materials. Her commitment to authentic quality is clearly evident. Her work is at once mysterious, modern and stylish. Every pattern locks in little-known secrets and Miao hidden wisdom.

When she was a young woman she sewed a dressing table with a mirror, reflecting her desire to live in today's world. She also created a new and improved style of wedding gown for her daughter, filled with a freshness and bubbly personality. She sealed her wishes and hopes for her girl into every stitch and it was delightful to see her charming daughter happily modelling the gown before her mother’s loving and hopeful eyes. I was absorbed by the intoxicating scene.

Another stunning work was her gold-award-winning neck piece, highlighting the Miao folk belief that only with time and commitment can you brew fine wine. When a daughter is born, a flask of wine is buried in the ground. As the butterflies smell it they will be attracted to the scent and will swarm around. So with the Miao embroidered collar when the girl comes of age she will also attract many suitors, like the butterflies to the wine. Miao people believe that if a Miao girl likes a suitor she will treat him to a bowl of beautiful home-brewed wine, and many old people say that a Miao woman can only keep a man’s heart forever through good wine and beautiful embroidery.

While I was examining her beguiling work, I was delighted to find that she had created a passion flower, entirely out of her imagination. As the design was drawn solely from her rich inventiveness, how did a flower that was unknown to her appear so clearly in the pattern? She explained that originally she graduated with a teaching degree, that she loves drawing and that she has an innate ability to bring her desires and wishes, emotions and broad vision into the patterns she creates.

Today she wants to be a cultural bridge, bringing a modern eye to the tradition of Miao embroidery and rewriting Miao stories in today’s blog so that more and more people can meet and treasure Miao beauty and cherish their traditions.

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