Viet Nam News
Văn Lâm Village is set to become a cultural landmark simply by preserving its traditional embroidery and lace trades, reports Bùi Quỳnh Hoa.
Wherever you go in Văn Lâm Village, there is one constant that you quickly become aware of – nimble fingers.
And these nimble fingers in the village in the northern province of Ninh Bình produce, or are capable of producing, sophisticated works of art, if not artistic masterpieces, using needles and colourful threads.
It is said that the embroidery trade took root in this village more than 700 years ago, during the reign of the Trần Dynasty (1225-1400). At the gate of the village stands an ancient temple dedicated to the founder of the local embroidery craft.
The story is that Trần Thị Dung, wife of the Great Tutor Trần Thủ Độ, visited the village with other people of the Trần royal family and taught locals how to weave and embroider.
The first local products were clothes decorated with bird patterns and parallel sentences and robes for the royal family.
The temple also worships Đinh Ngọc Hênh and Đinh Ngọc Xoan, who brought the lace craft to the village in the early 20th century.
It has been a Vietnamese tradition for long that temples are built and dedicated to those who founded villages or introduced a prosperous trade to the villagers.
While the temple marks eternal gratitude, keeping the craft alive has been a challenge, particularly in a market economy.
Thankfully, Văn Lâm Village in Hoa Lư District’s Ninh Hải Commune, about 110km from Hà Nội to the south, has succeeded where others have not. The villagers have kept their craft going, and their products have reached most parts of the country and crossed borders to enter foreign markets.
Floral elegance: A pattern for table linen created by the Green Sun Limited Company. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
According to village chief Chu Văn Dư Văn Lâm has 1,300 households at present, most of whom are engaged in making embroidery and lace, the crafts handed down through generations. Men in the village also master the craft, he said.
“Văn Lâm has ten officially recognised artisans in embroidery and lace, and five enterprises: Green Sun, Văn Lâm Tam Cốc, Minh Trang Handmade, Thái Liên Handmade, and Minh Đức. They are widely known for high quality, handmade embroidery and lace-embroidery products,” said artisan Vũ Thanh Luân, chief of Văn Lâm Embroidery Association.
“Their products have won high appreciation in European and northeast Asian markets for several decades, and the annual export turnover is between VNĐ50 and 90 billion (about US$2.2-4 million)
In Văn Lâm, each house is a workshop run by family members. Every family has many kinds and sizes of embroidery frames. Some are big as a doublebed mat, others are as small as a hand. The skillful people keep embroidering a wide range of patterns and designs into diverse products including bed-spreads, curtains, pillow covers, table linens, napkins, handkerchiefs and garments. They also create embroidery paintings and photographs.
Recognising the need to preserve and develop the craft, village authorities have also taken necessary measures including training courses for local craftspeople, annual embroidery contests, promotion campaigns for traditional embroidery and lace products, and marketing new products.
Work for everyone: Most of the residents in Văn Lâm are involved in the embroidery and lace trade, with the skills having been handed down through generations. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
“I learned the craft from my grandparents and parents when I was just six or seven years old,” said Luân, 62, who manages the Thái Liên Handmade Co Ltd.
“Day after day, I worked and learnt, and after I mastered the skills, I was able to set up my own enterprise. I have built close relations with Japanese partners (who are considered the hardest ones to please, and who always require the highest quality for their orders) over 15 years with about 480 patterns,” he said.
“It’s said that together with us (Văn Lâm embroidery craft village), other villages in Ninh Bình can also make quality embroidery products. But on lace technique, we are proud to be the masters in the province, even the nation.”
One of the ten recognised artisans in the village, Vũ Thị Hồng Yến, manager of the Minh Trang Handmade Com Ltd also enjoys high prestige in local and international markets.
Her handmade embroidery and lace-embroidery products, which have been exported to nearly 20 countries including France, Denmark, Italy, Australia, England, Japan and Korea, fetch an annual export value of VNĐ13 billion (nearly $600,000).
Yến and her staff have kept creating new products and modifying them to meet market demand. They have created hundreds of lace patterns and combined embroidery and lace to make highly artistic products.
“Customers’ needs are diverse,” said Yến, who is the fourth generation in her family to follow the craft.
“Some people like our silk blankets, others like mattresses, clothes or table linens. They are all interested in seeing how we make embroidery and lace products. And we always try our best to make high-quality products for our customers.”
Intricate: Văn Lâm artisans are proud to be masters in lace techniques. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Along with the strengthening trademarks in both local and international markets, the Minh Trang Company also provides embroidery training courses for young people in the region.
“From 2007, our vocational training centre has held more than 20 courses for about 600 trainees,” Yến said.
“When the craft is better known, it can create jobs for more people.
“More importantly, the training also plays a significant role in preserving and developing the village’s long history of traditional embroidery. It’s also a great resource which can support us, along with other local workers, whenever we have to finish a big contract in a short time.”
Chu Thị Liên, a Minh Trang employee, has been engaged in the trade for 16 years.
“I’m very proud to be a Văn Lâm embroiderer,” Liên said.
“I will follow this vocation, which requires mastery of every step, until I become old and cannot do anything,” she said, smiling.
The Green Sun Co Ltd has won high appreciation from foreign partners for its attention to details and high quality of finished goods.
“At present, we have 50 regular workers and 4,000 casuals,” said Green Sun’s workshop foreman Đinh Quang Huy.
“Our products, mostly blanket covers, bedspreads, pillow covers, table linen and curtains, have been exported to England, US, Germany and Italy, with a value of $2-2.5 million per year.
“We also have plans to increase our focus on expanding our local market very soon,” Huy said.
Sharp skills: With thin colorful threads, the skillful hands of local artisans in Văn Lâm Village make embroidery products that are sophisticated and beautiful. VNS Photo Đoàn Tùng
Ninh Bình is blessed with unique and diverse natural beauty spots like Cúc Phương National Park, Kênh Gà Hot Springs and Tràng An Ecological Complex, not to mention architectural landmarks like the Phát Diệm Stone Cathedral.
The province is estimated to have almost 1,500 historic relics, two of which have special national recognition: Hoa Lư, the first imperial capital of Việt Nam, and the Tràng An-Tam Cốc-Bích Động complex.
The province also hosts the Bái Đính Pagoda, the largest one in Việt Nam.
Nguyễn Thị Cúc, vice chairwoman of the Hoa Lư District People’s Committee, said the number of tourists visiting Ninh Bình in general and the district in particular has increased rapidly over the last few years.
Last year, the province welcomed six million visitors earning VNĐ1,421 billion ($63.2 million), an increase of 50.7 per cent as compared to 2014.
Meanwhile, the district welcomed more than 2.4 million visitors last year. But in the first six months of this year, it alone saw more than four million visitors, according to Nguyễn Ngọc Súy, head of Hoa Lư District’s culture, sports and tourism office.
Văn Lâm Village has also benefited from the tourism inflow.
“The number of visitors to Văn Lâm has increased, from 338,000 last year to 465,000 in the first 11 months of this year,” Súy said.
Its proximity to several tourism hotspots creates favourable conditions for Văn Lâm to market their high-quality, handmade products to local and foreign visitors.
Văn Lâm is well situated to take its traditional crafts to all corners of the world, becoming a historical and cultural landmark in the process. VNS