Nung Handicraft

These relationships are purely sentimental and often after one simple exchange of gifts a women will begin to embroider a shirt for a different suitor. Says one young woman “the more shirts you can make the more boyfriends you can have”. After the birth of a woman’s first child, however, she stop embroidering (both for herself and her boyfriends), exchanging gifts and visiting the market for anything other than buying and selling goods. She is now expected to take up the responsibilities in her husband’s household, and is thought to be too busy with her child to have time for romance.
 
Though Nung marriage and subsequent “courtship” customs are part of the group’s traditions and go back many generations, Nung weaving and embroidery are creative arts that change continually as individual craftswomen modify old designs and add innovations. This is particularly true at the moment, as young Nung women are undergoing a remarkable period of creativity in their crafts making. Opening up to the outside world frequently poses a threat to minority cultures. Young Nung craftswomen though, have responded to the economic opening in the border area with China, by using the cheap and colorful threads and wool that have become available in the last three years to elaborately embroider their boyfriends’ shirts. They have also reworked other items in heavy embroidery, using intricate design, unlike those of the previous generation of craftswomen, and even very different from their own work of a few years ago.
 
Products by Nung women of this project use further variations on Nung motifs, and aim to encourage this spirit of creativity, while providing an extra source of income to these craftswomen and their families. 
 
Cham (indigo) dyeing
 
The black or deep navy-blue cotton that is used in many Nung products is dyed with indigo which is cultivated and prepared by Nung women: this process is extremely labor intensive. 
 
In the first stage of preparing the dye, the indigo stalks are soaked overnight in water. Young women wring out the stalks, elbows deep in sea green liquid. Once lime is added to this mixture, the water turns slowly from murky green to brown, and purple foam begins to form on the surface: the liquid soon turns a deep blue. The dye is tasted to test its quality: a good dye is a salty one, indicating the proper amount of lime has been added. Water is drawn off of this liquid for thirty days, until a muddy purple paste remains. 
 
The process of preparing dye for black cloth (the best quality) differs slightly from that for navy blue. The paste is diluted with water which purified by passing it through a filter: this helps to fix the dye. For navy blue dye, ash is put into a basket with pumpkin leaves laid on top. The basket is placed over the dye jar and water poured through to drip slowly into the jar.
 
A bowl of the indigo paste is added to the purified water, along with a leaf from the “sau sau” tree (indigenous to this area of Vietnam), which also acts as a mordant. One bowl of the concentrated dye is then added every day for thirty days, when the dye is ready to be used. For black dye the process is the same except that mud must be added to the ash in filter and a piece of bark from the “xanh si” tree is placed in the dye jar. The cloth is dipped twice a day in the dye and hung to dry: lengths of cotton must be dipped daily for two weeks for navy blue, and up to a month for black.
 
Nung women’s hands remain deep purple to the elbows throughout the dyeing season testifying to their skill and hard work.

For more information about this project, please contact:

CRAFT LINK
51 Van Mieu, Hanoi, Vietnam
Phone: (84-24) 37336101 - Fax: (84-24) 38437926
Email:craftlink@fpt.vn - Website: www.craftlink.com.vn