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Written by Anne Senemaud
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A group of Vietnamese women including Thu Bedeaux opened the Hoa Sua Vocational Training School in 1955. Their original plan was a small housekeeping school for girls. Later, the idea expanded to a cooking and training school to teach disadvantaged children vocational skills. The following is an interview between Anne Senemaud of the French Embassy and Madame Song Thu, Coordinator at Hoa Sua.
Madam Song Thu, tell us a little bit about your background and how Hoa Sua Vocational School began.
I returned to Viet Nam in 1989. I had spent most of my life in France. My parents sent me there in 1949. In 1989 I went to work in refugee camps in Malaysia and the Philippines. I taught French to refugees, who were going to France. It was there I started a cooking program so that Vietnamese could learn about French food. In Malaysia, I also started a small embroidery school. At that time, all Vietnamese girls could embroider. I just taught them new techniques. They later sold their items to humanitarian aid workers to make a little money. This is how the idea for the school started. In 1993, I returned to Viet Nam. It took two years, but in 1995 we opened up the Opera House. Later we moved to our current location at 81 Tho Nhuom.
What was Hoa Sua’s purpose for opening an embroidery training school for deaf students?
Embroidery is one of the oldest and most practiced handicrafts in Viet Nam. Women in all families learn how to stitch and embroider. However, many of the designs and embroidery techniques that I knew before the war have disappeared. They are few examples available than before. Now, the same patterns are copied. I felt that a new style had to be found for Vietnamese embroidery using the unique traditions of this country and them allowing them to evolve into something new.
Deaf children are perfect candidates for learning embroidery since the craft need tremendous concentration and little interaction with others. Students coming from schools for the deaf have learned to read and write, but they have little or no vocational training. They need job skills to help them through life.
How is the shop and training for the students set up?
The workshop started in 1995-1996. In 1999, we opened a small boutique on Trang Thi Street. The first training course runs about six months. The children learn drawing, basic stitches, how to make table-cloths, bed sheets, etc.
in the second training course, which runs another year, the students learn how to embroider with gold for uniforms, and they learn more complicated stitches for haute couture clothing.
Some of our first students are now training others. Students who have finished their course work find jobs in shops on Hang Gai Street, or they stay and continue their employment in our workshops at Linh Nam. There, they fill orders for our shop at Trang Thi.
I understand you have been working with a famous embroidery school in France.
Yes, our last three trainers, Marie Massip, has been working with us for a year and a half. She comes from the Lycee des Metiers d’ Art Gilles Jamain in Rochefort, France. Mick Fouriscot founded this school to preserve ancient embroidery and lace techniques. It is now a highly esteemed institute. The school concentrates in two areas. The fist is the training and restoration of ancient tapestries and needlework. The second is training students to work in the large Parisian fashion houses.
These trainers teach our students in embroidery and in shop management. The children learn about pricing, display and so on. Our next step will be to send one of our Vietnamese students to study at the Lycee. When she return she will be responsible for running the program and training the other students.
There are already so many shops in Ha Noi. What are the special features that a school like Hoa Sua can offer?
The idea is not to compete with the very experienced businesses in Hang Gai. We don’t have traditional production nor staff to make large quantities. But customers can come to us when they want to order something special. A French master is there to register the order, which might be a design from some ancient embroidered sheets of family heritage or something original, which has to be created. We have lots of designs to propose. We do the embroidery and also the cutting and stitching of articles as diverse as shawls, children’s clothes, baby-shower presents, curtains, and cushions with special measurements, bed or seat covers, women’s clothes and of course table cloths and napkins. We give special attention to the quality of the cloth and the thread, to the colors and to their resistance to frequent washings.
Some materials are imported, though we find more and more materials of good quality in Viet Nam. Of course, customers can bring their own cloth or some ready-made article they would like to improve with an original design. We enjoy it when someone presents us with a challenge since this allows creativity and also provides the opportunity to give our pupils new challenges.
What are your plans for the Hoa Sua Vocational Training School in the coming years?
My dream is to develop a Hao Sua style, a fusion of Eastern and Western themes immediately recognizable to anyone who knows embroidery.
This is a very ambitious as we must keep our eye on the main goal of training our students. However, we become more skilled as we train more children. In a few years we should have a professional team.
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