Ms Nhat is an expert in the traditional brocade handicrafts of the Dao people in Sung village, Vietnam.
The Dao people are an ethnic minority originating from China. Together with seven other women in her brocade group, Ms Nhat keeps this traditional artform alive. She trains young women in how to dye and stitch brocade garments, sells to traders in Hanoi, and shares brocade with visitors as part of our Community-based Tourism (CBT) project in Sung.
How brocade is made
Creating the dye
The process begins with collecting locally-grown indigo plants to dye the garments deep blue. Ms Nhat soaks the leaves in buckets of water for three days to extract the colour.
Meanwhile, smashed charcoal is pressed into a cone made of bamboo and palm leaf, and water is poured over the top to produce a charcoal solution.
The indigo mixture is then combined with the charcoal solution. Ms Nhat also adds limestone to concentrate the colour. After several days, it will be ready for dyeing.
“The most important factor for the colour is how much limestone you mix into the indigo water,” said Ms Nhat. “If it’s too little, it won’t be concentrated enough, but if it’s too much, the colour will be too light.”
Dyeing the fabric
To create the intricate blue and white patterns on the garments, Ms Nhat applies beeswax using small bamboo tools. These parts of the garment will then remain undyed.
When the dye is ready, Ms Nhat soaks the cloth in hot water so the dye will spread evenly. Next, she soaks the cloth in the dye for one or two hours, and hangs it to dry in the sunlight.
Sometimes the fabric will be dyed up to 60 or even 70 times over a month to achieve the best colour. Dyeing is Ms Nhat’s favourite part of the process.
“It is the most exciting. I want to do it as many times per day as possible. I try to do three times soaking and drying per day. When the colour forms, I feel love for my work.”
Embellishing the design
Once the fabric has been dyed, Ms Nhat soaks the cloth in warm water to remove the beeswax. The fabric can then be hand-stitched with thread and beads.
The blue beads are a good indication of the quality of the product. The more expensive the beads, the higher the financial standing of the household.
Brocade and tourism
AOP supports brocade group training and learning trips to other CBT projects. We also provide recommendations on product design and marketing.
Ms Nhat makes 10 headpieces, three jackets, and 20 skirts every year. She also makes scarves, which are very popular with tourists, and is proud of her flourishing business.
“I have seen a lot of changes from CBT, aside from income growth. Young people like to follow their elders to dye fabrics and preserve the culture. They can see that outsiders also value it.”
See the traditional Dao art of brocade when you Trek Vietnam with Action on Poverty, 16 – 21 March 2019.
Sustainable Development Goals
The Community-based Tourism project is supported by the Australian Government through the Australian NGO Cooperation Program (ANCP).