strange piece of embroidery

I couldn't just leave this at the jumble sale. Someone embroidered this and it's disturbing. It shows soldiers and a camp, people dressed in similar outfits on the go and villages being burned. It makes me feel sad.

Does anyone know what this means?

  • jenne p PRO 9y

    it looks like asia to me - china?

    and the angel in the bottom corner - ?
  • KissKus PRO 9y

    This is really strange...

    I don't think it's an angel, though. That yellow circle is what the other people use to swim.
    It looks like a historical scene, but who would want to embroider this?!
    But it does seem to be Asian.

    I'd be interested to know what you'll find out about this!
  • karibombari 9y

    thanks for thinking about this with me.

    I like the idea of an angel and the circel is slightly bigger than the circles they swim with. However I think in the scene where they are making things there's a man with the same size circle.

    The material is undamaged and newish. I don't know enough about materials to guess the age.
    The scene is asian and I think it's cultural to depict scene's. To tell a story or trauma?

    I fear the people are wearing prison camp clothes, as they all wear the same thing. The army clothes at the bottom look North Korean but maybe other countries have similar uniforms.

    see also comments at the other photos.
  • stine weirsøe PRO 9y

    Karin, I'm glad you didn't leave it though it must be hard to hold on to, too! It IS painful to look at. It is like a story and you are supposed to read it from right to left, don't you think? So that makes it a four line tale about a horrible incident that happens to a village. Their village is attacked and they escape. They cross the river and end up in another country - the soldiers' uniforms are different. One can only hope that it is better than what they run from.

    It must have been therapeutic to make this piece. I think this is a piece you can only make if you've been there.

    Thanks for holding on to it. It deserves to with someone.
  • ohbara PRO 9y

    These cloths are embroidered by the Hmong people. They tell the stories of leaving villages and running from the armies. The Hmong helped the United States during the US-Vietnam War and consequently were persecuted. Many wound up in refugee camps in Thailand. Many are now relocated to the States, including several hundred thousand Homng people in my city. Some later cloths include pictures of airplanes, people coming into America. The older, more traditional embroideries show folk tales. This is a way of preserving the stories of an oral culture.

    I can try to find more information on this if you would like.
  • feather PRO 9y

    lutterlagkage! wow, exactly! very well read. this owes not only to your clever-ness, but also the very effective narrative format of this work. well-put!

    it's amazing how much we can know about the story shown here by just looking.
  • ohbara PRO 9y

    Which makes sense (and it's good!) because these are basically books! It is amazing how clear the communication can be.
  • karibombari 9y

    thanks guys for the comments!!
    and thank you ohbara for solving the mystery and for the links.
    I'm happy to know who are the people who made the piece and why.
    This link also explains the facial expressions which was bothering me as they all smile, the colored inner tubes they float with (so it's not an angel) and the pattern of the river Mekong.
    So from knowing nothing I now know a people I never heard off before and their history.

    I'm glad the pieces are also made to be sold, I guess that's how it ended up here in Holland, either from Asia or from the US. Which gives me peace as I thought maybe the person who made it lost it.

    In the above link it's also discusses the art contra craft issue, stating that the women making the cloths are as highly trained as artists are and that in it's symbolic it's art.
    It'a discussion I've been reading about at Rosa Pomar and Redcurrent.

    So from a 50 eurocent jumblesale piece of art I learned the history of the Hmong people. However sad it is/has been I feel enriched in learning it and feel proud of the women being able to use their skill to survive.

    Thanks again for wanting to think about this!
  • Soozs PRO 9y

    These are made today and are available in Nth Thailand for very little. The stories are often set in Laos, rather than Vietnam. My mum bought one whilst visiting us in Chaing Mai late last year and it has Laos-US war embroidered on it. There are also less disturbing ones of villiage life in general. The Hmong are still persecuted in the region and like other hill tribes (such as the Karen) make much of their living from handicrafts and embroidery in particular. They also make a particular form of indigo batik fabric which is well known - will dig out some of mine and post it later this week.
  • ohbara PRO 9y

    Even before the war these cloths were made to preserve stories/myths/traditions (as far as I know). So it seems natural that when a huge disruption (war, refugeeism) happens, it's documented, too. It's hard to see this cloth alone! The Mpls. Institue of Arts ( has a really beautiful one in their collection. It's on the web, too, if you search for it on their site--it shows a bunch of different things.

    This is a cool discussion!!!!
  • karibombari 9y

    I think from searching the web there's different stories about the origin of these particular storycloths. the Hmong are embroidery people and refer to themselves with that term as well. They have mainly used the embroidery to decorate their clothes, with different meaning for different occassions (like weddings).
    it's suggested they started mjaking these storycloths as the men were encouraged to make drawings to learn the read and write and the women got bored in the refugee camps and started embroidering the drawings.
    also that they moved from embroidering clothes to also do wallhangings and other such things because the women had to make money and utilised their skill.
    another that in the US they were encouraged to make wallhangings and bags and other things to increase sales. That's also when they discovered synthetics and started using them.
  • katiejayinpa 9y

    I believe this is a Korean machine embroidery design..that has been digistiezed and sold on discs... My MIL once sent me a bag that she got at an arts and crafts show where she lived. The bag had a machine embroidered panel appliqued to the front and it used the same figures-doing differnt things though-as are in this embroidery.
    The woman who sold her the bag said it was a Korean design.

  • vibsawm PRO 8y

    I realize I'm really late to you solving this mystery, but being Hmong and knowing the significance of these story cloths, you're welcome to ask me any questions if you still have any.

    Just to clarify a few things from the thread:
    1) Yes, these are Hmong textiles called Paj Ntaub or Flower/ Story Cloths.
    2) Hmong people have a long culture of oral tradition and folk art, hence the use of imagery rather then text (although some do have text now)
    3) Many textiles today have come to depict our experiences from culture, the war in Laos, living as refugees in Thailand, immigrating the US, and lastly assimilating to the western culture.
    4) Needlework, appliques, and quilting are found everywhere from traditional crafts, native dress, ceremonial costumes, and so forth.

    Glad to see your interest!! :o)
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