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Uses of Embroidery

Written by Le Thu Thuy

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For generations Vietnamese have used embroidery to decorate clothing, commemorative and ritual objects and household items. Here we look at some of embroidery’s functions and motifs through the centuries.


During feudal times, artisans decorated the king’s garments with dragons, phoenixes, cranes, tortoises and clouds. They also decorated clothes of other members of the royal family and the mandarins, though without using motifs reserved for the king. The most popular colors were yellow, red, blue and white.

Today there are no restrictions on the use of royal motifs. Ordinary brides may wear wedding dresses embroidered with dragon and phoenix patterns. Popular motifs for women and children’s clothing are flowers, small animals and dolls.

Some ethnic minority groups have their own embroidery style. Bo Y women of northwestern Lao Cai Province embroider pairs of butterflies on shirtsleeves, whereas Thai women in north central Nghe An Province wear skirts with hems decorated with butterflies and frogs webbed feet.

Commemorative and Ritual Objects

Object in this category include parasols, throne covers, hangings, covers for offerings, ritual garments, sacred flags, fan bags, ancestral tablets, horizontal panels and parallel sentences (two panels inscribed with poems and written in calligraphy). Phoenixes, cranes and flowers frequently decorate embroidered commemorative objects found in pagoda, temples and traditional festivals.

The ritual hats of the Muong shaman in northwestern Hoa Binh Province have simple geometrical dragons. Ritual object with embroidery include cloths to cover wedding offerings and hanging celebrating longevity or a new house. The embroidery motifs of votive and ritual object usually employ seven basic colors: brown, white, black, pale green, cherry red, floral violet and yellow.

Decorative Objects and Household Items

These include embroidered pictures of all sizes, tablecloths, napkins, handkerchiefs, doilies, pillows, blankets and sheets. In addition, the letters of the alphabet are also embroidered and sold.

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