Weaving is an age-old custom of the Muong. They perform every step manually - growing cotton, raising silkworms, weaving, dyeing, and making clothing items. The Muong produce brocade products that bear their cultural hallmark.
The Muong harvest and sun dry cotton to make yarn in May, the beginning of the summer. It is customary for Muong brides to make 6 to 12 blankets and mattresses as gifts for the husband’s family to prove her industriousness and skill. Every Muong family has looms. Muong girls are skilled weavers from the age of 13 or 14. Every day a weaver can make 7 to 10 m of white cloth, but only 2 to 3 m of patterned cloth. Nguyen Thi Sen lives in Dan Chu commune, Hoa Binh province: “After weaving we dye the cloth. We use natural colors from plants such as red from the Bang tree, yellow from saffron, and black from the indigo tree. To dye black cloth I compost indigo leaves for about 3 days. Then I decant the thick black water and keep it in a bamboo tube for one week before using it. We weave manually so we can adjust the yarns to make thick, thin, stiff or soft cloth. Our products are durable and don’t fade.”
Muong costumes are similar to the costumes of other ethnic groups in Southeast Asia. The products are handmade and have colors which show off the makers’ skill and creativity.
A set of clothes for a Muong man is plain, normally consisting of shirt, pants, belt, and headscarf. The shirt has a button line in the middle or on one side in the front. The pants have wide, ankle-length trouser legs. The upper hem is cinched by a cloth belt.
The costumes of the Muong women have sophisticated and graceful colors and embroidery patterns. Young girls fold the white headscarf to make a pyramid shape on their forehead while older women make the two ends of their scarf conical. Bui Huy Vong, a Muong culture researcher, said: “The costume of the Muong women is similar to the Thai but has some distinguishable features, particularly the headscarf. In the past upper class women tied the headscarf above the hair bun, while lower-class women tied it below the bun.”
Muong women’s shirts are in a variety of colors and fit close to the body. They are combined with a long black dress which has a wide upper hem. The Muong women spend a lot of time and effort embroidering beautiful images on the hem such as a dragon, a deer, or a tamarind. Vong again: “Embroidery patterns on the upper hem of the dress are also found on the surface of the Dong Son bronze drum. In the past the upper class prohibited ordinary women from embroidering the images of sacred animals such as a dragon on their clothing.”
Muong weaving techniques are handed down from mothers to daughters. In addition to traditional motifs, weavers often add personal marks to their costumes.