Though it’s been over a year since our trip to Vietnam, Ian and I look back fondly on our first overseas adventure together. We ended up with several unique souvenirs, none more so than our custom-embroidered pieces created by the Red Dao women we met in the hilly countryside near Sapa, Vietnam.
Meeting the Red Dao Women
After an “adventure bus-ride” to the Topas Ecolodge, where we stayed for 3 days of our trip, we were greeted by nearly 20 energetic women who were eager to show us their embroidery work. After meeting everyone and taking a brief look at the various bags, coin purses, and hats they were selling, we promised to shop later.
Above from left: meet and greet with the Red Dao women; shopping with the Red Dao; Red Dao embroidery in action; Ian tries on a hat
Embroidery Work of the Red Dao
Their work is, indeed, quite special. They take basic fabric clothing and add intricately hand-embroidered designs. Almost every bit of clothing they wear is hand-sewn and embroidered by them. Girls learn to sew at a young age in the Red Dao culture. By 7 or 8, they’re already making their own clothes!
Above from left: detailed embroidery of a Red Dao girl; Red Dao grandmother and grandchild at home; Morgan of the Red Dao leads us along Buffalo Way; Red Dao women embroidering
And they’re good at creating new designs, too. Since Ian and I had little extra room in our suitcase for souvenirs, when we returned later, we asked them to add embroidered designs to what we had with us — my jeans, his wallet, and my camera strap. We DID, however, end up with a few extra things…
Requesting Custom Embroidery
It was a fun challenge communicating our design ideas to the Red Dao ladies. Ian wanted to see how they’d do with a space invaders design he showed them. I simply wanted a traditional Red Dao design added to the things I brought.
They invited us to sit with them under their shaded work area along the road, so we joined them for several hours, chatting and watching them sew. We were really happy with the way the embroidery turned out. Not everything was perfect, but it was a fantastic experience spending time with the Red Dao women.
We agreed on a price of $5 for each custom embroidered item, which was more than worth it for the experience we got out of it.
Top from left: showing the Red Dao women our custom embroidery requests; one pocket of my jeans complete with a traditional Red Dao pattern (white stitching); Morgan studies the space invader design; Anna has completed a perfect repeated space invader design; Bottom from left: the other pocket of my jeans complete with a different Red Dao pattern (white stitching); two Red Dao women embroider my camera strap; an imperfect execution of the space invaders on our backpack strap – it’s got character; a collection of the custom embroidery work completed for us by the Red Dao
A Vietnamese Space Invader
Though we let go of most of our embroidered items from this experience, we still have Ian’s custom-embroidered wallet, which we call our “Vietnamese space invader.” I still remember the great laugh we all had over the lack of resemblance to the original.
If you ask me, hers is better. What do you think?
About the Author
- In March 2014, Diana called it quits on her traditional American working life and set out to explore the world with her partner in crime (and love of her life) Ian Norman. They now live a sustainable life of full time travel, working for themselves and seeking adventure at the same time. Here on North to South, Diana documents their journey in achieving and maintaining this "road less traveled" way of life.