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Hmong needlework
Storycloth with traditional scene, Hmong needlework, 2011; Choua Yang (b. 1960); Orchard Hill; cotton, thread; Photography by Kate Kruckemeyer
Storycloth with traditional scene, Hmong needlework, 2011
Choua Yang (b. 1960)
Orchard Hill
cotton, thread
Photography by Kate Kruckemeyer
Detail of New Year celebration storycloth; Hmong needlework; 2011: Indian Orchard, Massachusetts
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Choua Yang
Indian Orchard, MA
Choua Yang was born in 1960 in Laos. Her family is Hmong Der (White Hmong), so named because of the white skirt traditionally worn by women. Her mother taught her needlework starting at about age 7 or 8, which Choua says was typical in Laos. By early adolescence, she was making her own traditional clothing. Choua and her husband came to the United States in 1989 and eventually settled in an established Hmong community just outside of Springfield.

Choua is skilled in creating traditional Hmong needlework including story cloths. These narrative textiles depicting Hmong village life can take three to four months to complete. She also is adept at traditional cross-stitch embroidery which is typically hung vertically from a belt as an "apron." Other styles of work involve cutwork, also known as reverse appliqué, these are commonly used in making pillowcases.

According to Choua, only Hmong women do needlework, although men can help with related tasks like the drawing. She says that that while almost all women sewed in Laos and in the refugee camps, it has almost disappeared now in the U.S. For her, the problem is time and the strain to her eyes. And the availability of ready-made clothing has weakened the cultural importance of having a new set of handmade clothing each year for New Year.

While numerous framed photographs around Choua's home demonstrate the continued relevance to the Hmong of wearing traditional clothing for New Year's celebrations, such clothing can now be purchased cheaply from needleworkers in Thailand and Laos, and readymade options are more popular for every day wear. Choua's daughters have learned the simpler needlework forms from her, but she is not optimistic that they will learn more.
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