by Thanh Nga
|Needlework: It usually takes three months for an artisan to complete a portrait or landscape embroidery.
(VNS) If you are in Ha Noi and would like to find traditional hand-made embroidery souvenirs, Thuong Tin District's bustling Dung Tien Commune should be your first destination. The area has developed a reputation for producing sophisticated and graceful needlework available for sale at cheap prices.
According to the chairman of the communal People's Committee, Vu Van Cuong, the region's four villages are now home to nearly 2,000 households with 90 per cent of them working in the embroidery industry.
Legend has it that one of the King's envoys to China was a doctoral holder Le Cong Hanh (1606-61). He was a skilled embroiderer and taught the craft to the people of Dung Tien and its neighbours.
These days, the village offers a wide range of products including garments for tourists and export alongside traditional items such as pagoda curtains, ceremonial cloths and robes for folk musical.
The combination of colours is an important technique of Dung Tien embroiderers and requires a great deal of skill from local artisans.
|A touch of magic: A handmade embroidery on sale in Dung Tien Commune.
After arriving in the commune, visitors will see many handmade embroidery shops and be amazed at the intricate products on display within.
"I have worked in embroidery for 20 years. It requires skillfulness and endurance. Sometimes, this hard job strains my eyes and breaks my back but I still want to do this," says Nguyen Thi Len.
It usually takes up to five months for an artist to complete an embroidered portrait or a landscape scene. Some even require a year.
"I like decorating my house with pictures so I come here to choose some. With the abundant material and creativity on show, the embroidery shows the beauty of Viet Nam's culture and people," says customer Bui Thu Hang.
According to a shop attendant, the price of the art depends on many factors, such as material used and the level of detail on display. Normally, portraits are more expensive than still-life and nature pictures.
At most shops, visitors can buy good embroidery for a reasonable price.
A small-sized artwork (20cm x 25cm) costs VND200,000-500,000, while a 35cm x 50cm piece is priced at VND500,000-1 million. Really big tapestries are valued at tens of millions of dong.
Some craftsmen in the commune have devoted their time to restoring old embroidery designs which were feared lost, including traditional festive decorations and royal costumes. Standing out from the crowd is artisan Vu Van Gioi from the village of Dong Cuu.
Gioi said in 1995 he was commissioned by a Vietnamese-American named Trinh Bach to recreate some costumes worn by the kings and lords of the Nguyen dynasty.
|Cloaked in history: Artisan Vu Van Gioi shows a restored royal costume of the Nguyen dynasty. — VNP Photos
At first, he didn't want to accept the job because the art of royal embroidery has many rules, and requires highly professional skills and strict accuracy.
Eventually, though, his passion for embroidery and desire to preserve a dying traditional industry meant that he agreed and began to research.
Using existing gowns, old photos, and drawings from museums and private collections in Viet Nam and abroad, Gioi and Bach recovered information about the garments like material used, pattern designs and tailoring regulations.
After five years of collaboration, the first court gown of the Nguyen dynasty was completed in 2000. In total, 15 court gowns have been reproduced since 1995.
Gioi has produced 30 sets of robes, including clothes worn by the kings, queens, crown princes and princesses.
The royal costumes made by Gioi were honoured by UNESCO at a ceremony in 2003 when they recognised the Imperial City of Hue's fine court music as a piece of cultural and orally transmitted intangible heritage.
"Re-producing royal costumes is my destined career. Our ancestors were skilled embroiderers. Each pattern and piece of sewing was perfect. At present, not many people continue the tradition, so I worry that our descendants will forget the trade of their forefathers. That would be a sin," exclaims Gioi.
As well as practicing traditional embroidery, nowadays many households in the commune have bought machines to help them with their trade.
The craft has been developed to stabilise the economy. According to a recent survey released by the commune authorities, the average income per embroiderer in Dung Tien is around VND2 million per month. — VNS