Tcheu Siong – the spirit of H’Mong Embroidery

Tcheu Siong “The Genie Behind the Scissors” Exhibition at Project Space, Luang Prabang, 2010

Tcheu Siong is a H’Mong woman who grew up two hours north of Luang Prabang in a traditional village. There she learned all the traditional cross stitch and applique techniques from her mother. In 1996 her family was removed from their country and brought to Luang Prabang as part of the government integration program. The following year in 1997 she began to sell her handmade textiles in the market and then from 2002 sold textiles to tourists with other H’Mong women in the night market.
Although she can embroider, she prefers applique as a way of working – cutting different colours of cloth and stitching onto a background. From 2007 she decided to work on large panels, leaving behind the traditional motifs and working from her imagination. Her husband, a shaman, identifies characters, their names and motifs and her daughter helps with cutting out the shapes.
Paper patterns are made for the figures and these are placed on folded fabric to cut multiples. These can be separated or used as mirror images in the work and they have smaller images and embroidered motifs added. The composition is worked out by arranging all the pieces on the base cloth. Small straight stitches, sometimes couching down a coloured yarn outline the cut-out shapes and attach them to the background fabric. From 2009 borders were added with repeat patterns of people/stars/triangles and backing fabric was sewn on.
Large textile pieces have been made as bedspreads and wall hangings by many H’Mong women to sell in the market. They usually follow traditional geometric patterns in applique or they are figurative embroidered narratives. Tcheu Siong’s work is distinctly different and she says that the characters come from dreams and visions. Working with her husband she describes a spirit world in fabric, now displayed as art on white gallery walls – a legacy of ancient culture and beliefs she hopes to pass on to her daughter.

Catalogue Text Michele-baj strobel

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