The villages in Vietnam’s northern hills are agrarian societies where people work together to farm the land. In the Lung Tam commune, Hmong women have come together in another pursuit that has significantly improved their lies. A hemp crop that was previously grown for farming uses, such as rope-making, was expanded more than a decade ago to supply textile crafts that now are exported through fair trade group Craft Link. A talented craftswoman can earn significantly more through her textile work than her family would make through farming alone. There are now more than 120 artisans working in several villages throughout the area.
The women weave and appliqué hemp fabric from fibers grown from seeds they plant. After harvesting the hemp plant, they peel the fiber from the stalk. They tie fibers together and spin them into threads that are then woven on a loom. The fabric is taken to a stream that runs through the village where it is washed and beaten with the stick. It is then placed between a cylindrical stone and a flat stone; a women stands and rocks atop the stones to press the cloth. Finally, embellishments, like appliqués of traditional motifs, are stitched by hand.
Sung Thi My is one of the masters of these crafts. She works both at the loom and the traditional Hmong appliqué. She and her husband, Giang My Trang have been married 28 years. Income from her textile work has enabled the family to purchase cows and chickens, which represent significant wealth in their community. Her work helped raise three sons—one attends university the other two are in secondary school—and an adopted daughter. Sung Thi My is proud to represent the Hmong people. She is grateful to those who buy her work because it improves the lives of the people in her village and has helped to revive traditional Hmong crafts.