Custom Embroidered Souvenirs Created by the Red Dao Women (Sapa Valley, Vietnam)

Custom Embroidered Souvenirs Created by the Red Dao Women of Sapa Valley, Vietnam

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. 

Red Dao women along Buffalo Way at Topas Ecolodge in Sapa, Vietnam
Somewhere along “Buffalo Way” with Anna and Morgan of the Red Dao minority


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.

meeting the Red Dao women at the Topas Ecolodge near Sapa, Vietnam Red Dao women selling embroidered pouches and purses in Sapa, Vietnam Red Dao womens embroidery closeup Ian wearing a Red Dao handmade embroidered hat

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!

Red Dao girls in Sapa valley, Vietnam
A young Red Dao girl who has recently begun making her own clothing (right)

embroidered clothing of a Red Dao girl Grandmother and grandchild of the Red Dao minority in northern Vietnam Red Dao woman with embroidered clothes Red Dao woman sewing with child on her back

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.

Red Dao custom embroidery space invader in Sapa, Vietnam
Morgan of the Red Dao begins working on a custom space invader design

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.

requesting custom embroidery from the Red Dao women in Sapa, Vietnam custom embroidered jeans by the Red Dao women of Sapa, Vietnam custom embroidered space invaders by the Red Dao women of Sapa, Vietnam custom embroidered space invaders bracelet by the Red Dao women of Sapa, Vietnam

custom embroidered jeans by the Red Dao women minority in Sapa, Vietnam Red Dao women embroidering camera strap Red Dao women embroidered backpack handle custom embroidered items by the Red Dao minority from Sapa, Vietnam

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.

Red Dao women custom embroidery Vietnamese space invader
This custom embroidered “Vietnamese space invader” wallet made for lots of laughs.

space invader Red Dao women embroidery space invader

If you ask me, hers is better. What do you think?

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