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Renowned embroiderer inspires others

Update: March, 06/2016 - 14:21

Fabric fantasy: His skilled fingers, with the help of a tiny needle, have created many original embroidered pictures.

During his 80 years devoted to the art of embroidery, 94-year-old Phạm Văn Hiển has taught thousands the secrets of his trade. Xâm Phan reports.
 
Xuân Nẻo Village in Tứ Kỳ District in the northern province of Hải Dương is known for its traditional embroidery and for being the birthplace of many skilled creators of original embroidery.

Among them, 94-year-old Phạm Văn Hiển is the most experienced, endowed with the talent of creating embroidered portraits. He holds many secrets of Việt Nam's traditional trade and is considered to be the teacher of thousands of local embroiderers.

Hiển has dedicated more than 80 years of his life to embroidery. Despite his old age, he is full of life while talking about his passion.
Born into a poor family, Hiển suffered a lot of hardship and shortages during his childhood.

His father died young, and his mother had to struggle to make ends meet and raise her three children. Hiển, therefore, had to work hard as a buffalo herd boy and as a domestic help to assist his mother at a very young age.

When he was about 10, his family sent him to work at an embroidery workshop in the village, where he was taught the trade. The difficulties in life that he had experienced encouraged him to study hard to build a future career. Therefore, it took Hiển only two years to learn embroidery.

The trade was not popular in Xuân Nẻo Village at that time, so Hiển decided to go to Hải Phòng to work as an assistant and apprentice in embroidery workshops.

"I used to travel in the port city to work for many of its renowned embroidery workshops. I even travelled to Hà Nội to get experience from working for many renowned embroiderers such as Cả Nhu or Hai Cốc. Seeing my enthusiasm for the trade, they treated me like their relatives, and even offered me free lunch," Hiển said.

His keenness to learn gradually helped to perfect his skill. He also industriously learnt the best embroidery techniques for himself over time.

Later, when the embroidery business went through a low period, Hiển worked for many tailors, mending customers' clothes. His skilled fingers were able to mend the torn parts with just a humble tiny needle, leaving barely a trace.

In 1950, he returned to his hometown to participate in the anti-French resistance war. With his embroidery skills, he was assigned to manage the village's embroidery class, which was actually a base for the resistance force.

After the country gained independence, Hiển became an official of Hải Dương Foreign Trade Company and started introducing Việt Nam's traditional embroidery products to the world.

"In the 1960s, when the state advocated the policy of exploiting available sources of goods for exports, I immediately thought about embroidery," Hiển said.

He forwarded his idea to the managers of the company. They hesitated initially, but finally his enthusiasm won them over.
After that, he often cycled to his hometown to visit the embroidery workshops that he had worked for and offered them orders for export. Along with bringing embroidery samples, he also participated in the processes of producing and assessing the final products to meet the strict requirements of both domestic and international markets.

Gradually, Vietnamese embroidered products such as pictures, brocade, table cloths and bedspread were appreciated by customers in Russia, Poland, the Czechoslovakia or Italy at that time.

When he realised the potential of embroidery, Hiển wished to expand the trade so that more jobs could be created for the local people, bringing economic benefits to the state.

He received a lot of support from the local authority. More and more embroidery classes were opened to teach the trade to the young.
"Every child, boy or girl, learned embroidery as eagerly as they were taught how to read and write," Hiển said, recalling the days that always make him feel excited to think about.

The classes soon expanded within the commune. From only 30 embroiderers, the number grew to 1,000 and even 2,000 at one time. Thanks to the booming trade, the local living standard improved greatly.

"After working hard on the farm, the villagers got absorbed in needle work and embroidery frames. What a peaceful scene it was," he said.

Besides traditional embroidered products, Hiển has also been concerned about modern techniques. He came up with the hardest challenge of making embroidered portraits.

"Besides needing an excellent technique, the embroiderers also need precise artistic awareness, great care and also special skills to give soul to each portrait," he said, adding that one portrait could take months to complete.

The 94-year-old artisan has created hundreds of embroidered pictures so far, from landscapes to portraits, the most renowned of which is the portrait of President Hồ Chí Minh. The picture has been displayed in many museums nationwide.

"I have always considered Uncle Hồ as a great leader, and so nurtured the ambition of finishing his portrait for a long time," he said.
All the work experience and techniques that he has acquired during his life have been carefully noted down in a notebook, which serves as Hiển's textbook to teach the craft to the young workers in Xuân Nẻo Village.

Many of his students have become skilled embroiderers and have opened private tailor shops around the country. They continue to follow Hiển's footsteps to introduce Việt Nam's embroidered products to the world.

The great teacher of many embroiderers received the title of Excellent Artisan last year in recognition of his life-long dedication and contribution to a traditional trade of the nation.— VNS

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