Wednesday, January 01, 2020

Hmong Batik Experience in Luang Prabang, Laos

During my Christmas vacation, I participated in a half-day workshop on Hmong batik. The instructor was Mae Thao Zu Zong. This petite 66-yr old from the Striped Hmong (Hmong Lai) group is the remaining Hmong batik artist in Luang Prabang.
Mae Thao, Hmong batik artist
With a photo of her in the background, Mae Thao demonstrated how to hold the tjanting tool and make straight lines with the hot beeswax first on a small piece of woven flax. The locally harvested wax was tinted slightly with indigo to make it easier to see on the cloth. While she confidently formed straight lines in rapid succession, I found holding and controlling the tool (the metal part is near the heel of your hand) with the correct amount of wax (and at the correct temperature) a bit awkward. The weave was rather coarse, which sometimes made my movements a bit jerky.
Backstrap loom with hemp fibers
Thankfully, the less-than-perfect grid lines were camouflaged when additional details and symbols were added. Symbols included natural items such as cucumber seeds, pumpkin seeds, animal teeth, and ferns. For the curves of the center design, the tjanting tool was held more like a traditional drawing tool. 

Mae Thao demonstrates how to do the spirals
Instructor and student
Once I was finished with the wax part, I asked Mae Thao to pose with me. I stepped down so there wouldn't be quite the height difference in the photo. Because I wanted my piece to be dyed indigo, I had to leave it at the center. The following morning it would be dunked in a vat of indigo dye and the wax removed. Because it was only dipped once, it didn't get the deep blue color seen on many Hmong works that may be dipped up to 20 times.
My completed batik

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