Hmong Story Cloths
The Hmong people are originally from southern China, Burma, and Laos. Because they were nomadic and frequently on the move, their material culture was of necessity light and easily transportable. Traditional Hmong costumes called paj ntaub or "flower cloth" are incredibly complex and beautiful combinations of appliqué, reverse appliqué, embroidery, and batik. Traditionally, girls learned these techniques at an early age. Uses of contemporary Hmong flower cloth have expanded beyond the making of traditional costumes to encompass a variety of textile objects. Men now take an active part in the manufacture and sale of these textiles.
Hmong story cloths are banners that use some of the traditional techniques. They are like pictures or paintings made from different types of fabrics that are sewn together. The story cloths describe aspects of Hmong life, including a well-known legend about a woman who fends off the tiger that killed her husband and wants to take his place. Another shows a legendary giant flood that divided the Hmong into families or clans. Other story cloths portray life in a Hmong village, escaping war, entering internment camps or life in America. Many Hmong story cloths made in America today intentionally incorporate written English into their composition in order to teach English as a second language.
Click to enlarge image
Making a Story Cloth Objectives:
1. Students will understand how story cloths were used to define and narrate stories about Hmong culture (historical and cultural understanding).
2. Students will learn about the materials, methods and techniques used to create story cloths (perceiving, analyzing and responding).
3. Students will find their own solutions in the process of creating story cloths by exploring materials, design, line, shape, color and texture to describe a narrative (creating and performing).
New Mexico Content Standards
Arts 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8 Social Studies 1,4,5,6,7,10,11,14
Drawing paper or newsprint, 12" x 14"
fabric pieces approximately 12" x 14"
thread, embroidery thread (optional)
1. Look at images of Hmong story cloth either from The Whispering Cloth, A Refugee's Story or Dia's Story Cloth.
2. What do these images describe? Why do people make pictures that describe what has happened to them individually or as a society?
3. Explain that the Hmong people had a sophisticated textile tradition that transformed when the people were relocated as a result of war. How did the story cloths help them? (They were an expressive outlet, informed the world about their plight and provided some income as well as keeping their hands busy.)
4. What kind of pictures are important to you? What kind of story cloth would you like to make? It could be a personal story, a family story or history, a favorite story, or something that you make up.
1. Sketch ideas for the depiction of a personal story or image on the drawing paper.
2. Cut out the most important shapes from the sketch.
3. Tape the paper shapes onto fabric scraps and trace them with a marker.
4. Cut out the fabric shapes and arrange them on the big fabric piece.
5. Tape the shapes in place, then glue or sew them onto the panel.
6. Write words on the story cloth with pencil or marker.
7. Stitch over the letters with embroidery thread if you like.
1. Share by having each student hold up his or her story cloth and describe it to the class.
2. Have students (temporarily) trade story cloths with their classmates. Ask each student to look at his or her classmate's story cloth and use it as a springboard for a story. To get students in the frame of mind for writing, ask questions such as: "What do you think your classmate was trying to say in his or her cloth? What does that remind you of? Write a story about it."
3. Create a display by sewing or gluing all the story cloths together to make a story cloth quilt.
4. Invite other classes over to view your story cloth quilt. Encourage them to create their own story cloth quilts and invite you over!
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