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Fabric Shopping in Hoi An, Vietnam

The final stop in my attempt to fabric-shop my way across SE Asia – Hoi An, Vietnam. Hoi An is known as the tailoring capitol of Vietnam (more on that coming soon!) so one would think that I should have been able to go on one last fabric binge, right? The obvious place to look would be the building in town called the “cloth market”, right? The cloth market is a market in a building on the east side of the main part of Hoi An. It’s full of stalls of fabric, as one might expect from the name. Unfortunately, each stall had pretty much the same selection as the others around it and the touts were very, very aggressive. The fabric is really being sold as part of getting something custom tailored, and it usually took me a bit to get a price for a meter of fabric as …

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Packing for 4 Months in SE Asia

About 2 weeks before we left for 4 months in SE Asia, I started frantically googling “packing list 4 months SE Asia” or “packing list 3 months SE Asia” or “packing list 4 months around the world” or any other similar variation I could think of. Lots of people have written plenty of posts about their packing list, but I’ve been asked about mine, so I thought I would share. I didn’t find anyone else’s list that I followed exactly for various reasons – mostly because we brought really small bags and my minimalist husband harped on me to keep what I brought to a minimum (because he knew that I would be filling my bag with fabric to bring back!). What follows is what I brought and a few suggestions about what I would do differently next time. 3 tank tops 2 button down shirts skirt linen pants 2 dresses tee …

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Flower Hmong Blouse Decoration Close Up

I think all of us sewing bloggers can agree that we’re voyeurs at heart, that pretty pictures of finished garments are great, but what we really want to see is the insides so we can mentally sew the garment for ourselves. Right? I know that’s not just me because after I posted about Flower Hmong Fashion, I got questions about how the decoration on the blouses is constructed. So, for my fellow voyeurs, I’ve got a close-up look at 3 different Flower Hmong pieces to share. First is the yoke cut off of a worn blouse. This is the oldest and most handmade piece I have. You can see on the inside how much stitching goes into this decoration! Also notice a few different fabrics that have bits and pieces remaining – as I mentioned before, the blouses are often put together with several different fabrics in what we might …

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Current Flower Hmong Fashion in North Vietnam

The Flower Hmong are one of the most colorfully dressed ethnic minorities in Vietnam, making me ever so infatuated with their sartorial sensibilities. The Hmong are one of 54 ethnic minorities in Vietnam, making up 1% of the population, and further subdivide themselves into groups whose names often describe the traditional clothing of the group – such as Black Hmong, Blue Hmong, and Flower Hmong. One of the interesting and universal things about fashion is that it is alive and dynamic. Many Flower Hmong women continue to wear their traditional clothing, but the dynamic nature of fashion is clearly visible at the Bắc Hà weekly market in North Vietnam. Many Flower Hmong women carry embroidered purses. While embroidery is an important form of textile ornamentation for the Hmong, these purses break from tradition in that they are machine made in China. As tourism becomes a more important industry in formerly rural areas …

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Vietnamese Dress

Vietnam has 54 ethnic groups and a correspondingly rich assortment of traditional dress. I wanted to share a small selection of different traditional women’s dress from across Vietnam for I have found the amazing assortment of color, shape, and construction to be a true inspiration. I hope you find them inspiring as well! Cotton is historically the most popular fabric with silk being used on applique and for festive costumes although synthetic fibers and chemical dyes are becoming prevalent, even in traditional dress. There are a wide variety of techniques used across the ethnic groups that include embroidery, appliqué, batik, ikat, and woven patterns. The Yao (also known as Dao or Zao or Mien) are originally from southern and southwestern China. This Yao Do outfit is from Cao Bang and made in 1957. It’s hand-woven cotton dyed with indigo and decorated with embroidery and appliqué. It includes two turbans, a …

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The Last Wool Mill in New Zealand

In a nondescript town (called Milton) on a quiet highway, we found the last wool mill in the south island of New Zealand. The brick buildings line the road and, were it not for the modern cars, I could almost imagine I was in Dickensian London. The Bruce Woolen Mill was built in 1897 and at its peak, employed over 500 workers, although there aren’t nearly so many employees now. In fact, a fair portion of mill space is actually rented to a fiberglass company for storage. They no longer offer tours, but if you show up first thing in the morning and happen to tell a certain friendly employee that you actually spent 2 nights in the town of Milton (because you arrived on a Sunday and they were closed for a public holiday on the Monday) and you came all the way from the United States and you are …

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Sop Jam Weaving Village, Laos

Sop Jam is a small village in northern Laos. On the bank of the Nam Ou river and surrounded by limestone cliffs, the scenery couldn’t be more beautiful. Of course the only thing that could make such a setting even better in my eyes is textiles and that you will find aplenty in Sop Jam. Sop Jam is a weaving village with just about every home having a weaving loom in the front and a selection of hand woven textiles (mostly scarves) that the women of the household have woven for sale. To get to Sop Jam, we took a boat up the Nam Ou river from Nong Khiaw, a quiet town in northern Laos that we really liked that is a 3-4 hour bus ride north of Luang Prabang. The bus ride wasn’t very pleasant (though it certainly could have been worse) but it was certainly worth it to be …

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Hmong Hemp and Indigo Textile Art

The Hmong are an ethnic group from China, Vietnam, Thailand, and Laos. Before our travels to SE Asia, the Hmong were one of the few SE Asian ethnic groups with which I was already familiar as there are many Hmong refugees in the United States (and other western countries like France and Germany). The Hmong were recruited by the American government to fight during the Vietnam War and have faced much persecution in several SE Asian countries since. (You may have heard of the Hmong from a 1998 book called The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down which recounted the story of a young Hmong girl with epilepsy in California and the cultural gap between her family and her doctors, both of whom were doing their best to help the girl, often to counter purposes.) Traditionally, every Hmong household would produce its own textiles with girls learning to embroider, appliqué, indigo dye, and batik …

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Natural Dying and Weaving Silk in Luang Prabang, Laos

Laos is a country with a rich textile heritage. With almost 50 main ethnicities and over 150 ethnic groups, there are many different traditional styles of weaving and methods of textile production. Ock Pop Tok is an organization based in Luang Prabang, Laos, that is working to empower women through their traditional skills and to preserve and promote Laotian textiles. I had the immense pleasure of taking their day-long workshop on dying silk using natural traditional dyes and learning how to weave. While Ock Pop Tok trains women across Laos in their traditional weaving techniques and buys textiles from all around the country to sell in their store in Luang Prabang, they also hire a group of local women to weave at their weaving center in Luang Prabang. So, before I got started on my own project, I got to watch professional weavers in action. I was mesmerized. I could …

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Silk Weaving in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Although Siem Reap, Cambodia, is almost exclusively known for Angkor Wat temples, there is certainly plenty else worth exploring. Since I’m a textile junky, we toured a silk factory outside Siem Reap. The factory was built as a part of project aimed at “providing professional skills for communities with limited educational opportunities” as well as reviving Khmer cultural heritage. The women who work there make a good living wage and they don’t have to move away from their home towns to a city for a paying job, so the positions are sought after. The factory has a training program that every woman must go through for 6 months wherein they learn the entire silk making process, from worm to weaving. After completing their training, they can decide which job they prefer to be hired for. Silk worms only eat mulberry leaves so next to the factory there is a big …

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Fabric Shopping in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia

We only had a few days in Ubud, Bali, Indonesia, (our other time in Indonesia was spent sitting on a beach in the middle of nowhere on Lombok) but of course I had to buy some Indonesian fabric. We got dropped off in the heart of Ubud at the palace and ambled our way down Kajeng road (on the way to Threads of Life, more on that below) and one of the first stores I noticed was a little sarong store and sarongs = fabric! There was a beautiful assortment of different sarongs in a variety of quality of fabrics printed to look like batik, some real batiks, and some ikat. Since everything is sold as sarongs, it means that the fabric comes as ~2 yards. I talked to a driver that we had about traditional clothing in Bali and he told me that both men and women wear sarongs, although they are tied differently …

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Fabric Shopping in Chiang Mai: My Haul

Hopefully you enjoyed reading about my experience fabric shopping in Chiang Mai. I’m sure what you really care about is my spoils, so here they are! I started my Chiang Mai fabric shopping with something shiny and pink (not a big surprise to anyone, I’m sure). It was stacked outside the store with many other bolts of eye-catching fabric, much like the stores I used to frequent on my trips to the L.A. fashion district (I’m a sucker for shiny no matter where in the world I am, I guess). It’s synthetic, but decent quality, albeit a bit scratchy on the wrong side, so whatever it becomes will need to be lined/underlined. The other synthetic fabric that I bought (yes, it was labeled “Thai silk”. no, it is not actually silk. trust me) had a lustrous gold and silver peacock design woven into a border print. Like the pink fabric …

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Fabric Shopping in Chiang Mai: The Experience

I can’t actually describe my fabric shopping trip in Chiang Mai without first raving about my new friend Gaye of Notionally Better. She drove into Chiang Mai from nearby Lampang to spend the day taking me shopping. I guess it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that two sewists could instantly become friends, because sewing people are great people, but, after only one day of hanging out, I adore this woman! I had a brilliantly fun day fabric shopping and much of it was due to Gaye’s wit, friendliness, energy, and enthusiasm! So many thanks to Gaye for taking the day to play with me! All of the fabric stores that we went to were around the Warorot market, a daytime market that is centered around two multi-story buildings but extends out into the streets and lanes nearby. All of the fabric shops that we went to were on …

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Four Months in SE Asia

Coming up soon, Adam and I are taking a four month honeymoon. I am so excited (and a little bit terrified, not only because I will be 4 months without a sewing machine!). I’ve been dreaming about such a trip for a very long time, and as I struggled through the end of graduate school, Adam told me to start making plans for it to actually happen. And now it’s happening! From September through December we are going to be traveling around SE Asia (and Australia and New Zealand). We have a really rough outline of where we are going, but plan on filling in a lot of the details as we go. Can you help me? – Do you live anywhere we are going and want to meet up? – Do you have recommendations for things to do or places to go? – Do you have any awesome travel …