Most Dzao women only wear their own embroidered clothes, particularly when they leave the house. They spend all year making embroidery for themselves and their families for Chinese New Year. The Chinese New Year is called Tet festival in Vietnam. It is a week long national holiday, filled with family, friends, food and festivities. It is the big national holiday of the year. When Tet comes the whole village prepares to put on their new clothes and the old clothes are cast aside. This tradition is a very physical way to celebrate the new, coming year and also the year that has past.
Every woman will spend months and months on each panel of embroidery that makes up the trousers, jackets and belts. Every panel of embroidery is intertwined with symbols and meaning that represent the stories of their ancient culture, where they came from and where and how they live now.
The embroideries are always very similar, it is the same set of symbols that are reproduced generation after generation. The threads and the colours will change with time but the symbols represent the elements of Dzao culture that never change. The nature, trees, bushes, palm trees, the layered nature of the rice paddies, the symbols of life force, the children, the parents and the ancestors.
What is so special about this embroidery is its repetitive nature of doing something really well, as it should be done. It is dense in silk, almost like an armour. The embroidery is, astonishingly, almost exactly the same on the back as the front making it extremely complicated and meticulous to make.
Memory of the previous year is held in every stitch of the clothes, a woman’s mood or character can be understood through the quality of her embroidery. The space in-between each stitch, the tension, the attention to perfection. Not only does the textile reflect what has happened in the previous year but it also sets intention for the year to come and for all the things that will happen in the new clothes.
When New Year’s Eve comes round all the women have their clothes ready, for themselves and for their families. Before they put on the new clothes, everyone has a bath. The Dzao are famous for their traditional herbal baths. In this case it is an opportunity to be able to wash away the physical and emotional grub of the year. The brand new entirely handmade clothes are charged with positive energy and pride of knowing what they are capable of.
In the end there are two beautiful things that emerge, the embroidery and the embroiderer.
The work, which can be seen by everyone in the village, is evidence of their patience and perseverance of the the year gone by and is the skill that they take with them into the coming year.
It is a moment for everyone to feel beautiful and proud, proud of what they have made as women both individually and collectively, and beautiful in the colours and the weight of silk that shows off dedicated hard work.
It is a phenomenal basic lesson.
When you slowly get on and work on something good, there are wonderful results.
... Thank you to Tamay and all the Dzao in Taphin once again for everything you have ever taught me :-) Happy New Year!