Sa Pa’s thriving brocade tradition

13:39 | 31/01/2017 Culture & Art

(VEN) - The northern mountain town of Sa Pa, once a French hilltop station and today a world renowned tourist magnet, appeals to visitors not only due to its picturesque landscapes, rugged treks and cool climate, but also thanks to its unique ethnic minority cultures, especially locally made brocades.  

sa pas thriving brocade tradition

Cat Cat Village

The Lao Cai Province hub, not far from the border with China, is surrounded by villages inhabited by various tribal groups. During our most recent journey there, we visited Cat Cat, the closest ethnic minority village to Sa Pa. Although Cat Cat is not the biggest brocade-making village in Sa Pa, it is home to one of the best and most unique brocades of the region.

Inhabited by Mong people, Cat Cat Village is located approximately 3km from the center of Sa Pa. Cat Cat is located in a valley and getting there entails walking down roads and steps. When we reached Cat Cat, we were impressed by the traditional houses of the Mong families. Many of the fences outside the homes were adorned with brocade products hung out for sale under the early blossoming peach flower trees. We could also see Mong women sitting and weaving brocades throughout the village, intent on their age-old task.

sa pas thriving brocade tradition
sa pas thriving brocade tradition

Multi-stage process

Brocade production is one of the oldest traditional crafts of the ethnic minority people in Sa Pa, with most being produced by women. Mong, Tay and Dao women are taught how to make brocades when they are still children. They make clothing, scarves, hats, and traditional ethnic costumes, among many other things, for themselves and for sale.

The hand-made brocades are diverse and rich in pattern. The multi-stage production process is long and intricate, involving preparation of the fabric, dying and weaving. The raw materials and dyes include cotton, linen, betel leaves, turmeric, brown tubers and indigo tubers.

The first step has villagers go to the surrounding forests to cut bark, which they then grind until it turns into fiber-like material that is rolled into big coils. After being boiled in ash water several times, and wax water once, the fibers become whiter and softer. They are then put onto looms for weaving.

sa pas thriving brocade tradition

After the weaving stage, the brocades are washed many times and are then placed on round logs, where the women use stones to rub wax on the fabric’s surface to make it smooth and flat.

Next comes the dying, which only highly skilled and experienced workers can do well. The patterns on the Sa Pa brocades feature local lives, customs and cultures.

People in Sa Pa initially made brocades for themselves, but since the town and surrounding villages became a tourist attraction, local residents are also making them for sale to visitors. The handmade products with their vibrant colors are a perennial favorite.

Apart from traditional dresses, brocades made by the Mong, the Dao and the Tay include hats, scarves, purses, handbags, and pillows, among other items. Locally made brocades are not only sold in the region but also exported to the US, France, Denmark and other foreign markets.

Except for days they work in the fields and rice paddies, ethnic minority women in Sa Pa and its environs stay home to

embroider brocade products. Brocade production has helped them escape poverty, improve the family income and preserve

the traditional craft.

Quynh Hoa