Miao embroidery – travelling beyond its borders

06/01/2020

Camille Bertrand is a young woman, who received her education both from The National School of Applied Arts in Paris and The National School of fine Arts in Lyon.
She is fascinated by embroidery, by fabric and by authentic materials. While working for the American designer Angel Chang, she traveled to China and encountered the team of Couleurs de Chine, (or Colours of China – an association dedicated to protect and help the minority peoples of the Guangxi and Guizhou region) and through them, the Miao embroiderers.
This became a turning point for Camille. She already knew about this minority group, and the beautiful embroidered clothes they wear. But now she was able to meet those women and to work with them. She created a scheme to provide them with regular revenues while finding a market for their work. Things moved slowly as Camille wished it to be based on solid ground. The Miao women needed to trust this venture and their work needed to be understood and respected.
In 2019, during the Colours of China exhibition at the DS World Paris, Camille was able to show her samples and meet business partners while creating a trusting network. The Miao embroiderers also felt like this exhibition was a great opportunity for them to show their work and move on with Camille’s project.

The Miao embroidery is several centuries old and – like in many places in the world – each village has its unique traditions. Here, symbols are important: a butterfly for the Creation, a bird to stand for the Protective Mother, Lovebirds for eternal love, flower for the beauty of nature, etc.
The Miao embroidery technique is quite original: the embroiderer cuts a pattern in a thick paper (like a cigarette pack) which she will then cover with embroidery stitches. This is a sort of flat padding.

In earlier times, the young woman wishing to marry needed to show her future mother-in-law that she had the qualities required to be a good bride (patience, kindness, application…) by sewing her trousseau, including a baby-carrier and decorating it with an abundance of embroidery motifs.

Today, most young people cannot find a job in their village and have to move to the big cities. The arrival of synthetic fabrics and sewing machines was a godsend for the few embroiderers who remained in the village. They could sew clothes faster and, for them, the sheen of these threads had the same value as the silk ones. They don’t even buy bobbins of threads, but pull them from long uncut length of fabric.

However, Camille wished to work with natural fibers, so she looked further and in the next village she found the solution. There, it is customary to dye cotton with a very unique, very strong indigo. To fix it on the fabric, the women have to beat the dyed textile for hours with a wooden mallet. “If you want to know where to find a weaver, just follow the sound of hammers!” says Camille. She loved the beautiful red sheen that this dye created and brought it back to the first village. It wasn’t accepted at first and it took some convincing. But Camille asked them to try it. To the surprise of the Miao women, the result was so lovely, that they have accepted to work with the cotton threads instead of the synthetic fabrics – at least for the work they sell. Miao women are very concerned about their appearance and Camille dreams that one day they will use this dyed fabric for their own clothes.

Their traditional outfit is covered with various motifs and this needed to be adapted to the European taste. Camille carefully chose a few designs, took them out from their background, gave threads and fabric to the Miao embroiderers and came back a few months later to check on the result. She was very happy and took back with her the small samples. She then showed them to textile designers or Haute Couture houses.

She wants the designers to know about the Miao embroiderers. She doesn’t wish to create a large quantity but to sell it exclusively to a few houses, to protect its quality.

To learn more:
Website : www.brodeuse-voyageuse.com
Contact : brodeusevoyageuse.c@gmail.com
www.facebook.com/camille.vlb.bertrand/
To buy from Camille Bertrand: https://brodeuse-voyageuse.directproducteur.com/

Photos: Camille Bertrand

Other photos on Miao embroidery on Jessica Grimm blog

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