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Hmong Reverse Appliqué: Cultural Meaning and Significance.
This book provides a groundbreaking exploration of the historical significance of Hmong reverse appliqué and circumstances that led to the development of this unique textile art form. Made by members of two Laotian Hmong sub-groups, the White Hmong and Striped Hmong (named after their distinct styles of clothing), reverse appliqué is a complex form of needlework traditionally used to decorate clothing. It also serves as a form of group and social identification. Many of the beautifully photographed examples in this book were made during a time of upheaval for the Hmong, when they were displaced to refugee camps in Thailand due to the Vietnam War, that covertly extended into Laos in 1961. Those Hmong who fought on behalf of the U.S., were forced to flee their homeland after the 1975 communist takeover of Laos. During their time of exile and confinement in refugee camps, Hmong women expanded their needlework skills in reverse appliqué to form a new textile art that involved the creation of abstract, geometric designs based on culturally significant symbols and motifs. Money generated from selling these items was used to purchase needed supplies for survival under substandard living conditions while waiting relocation. As Hmong refugees began to resettle abroad, most notably in the United States, needlework skills declined and reverse appliqué became a dying art. This book serves to document the history, practice, iconography, and significance of a folk art deeply embedded in the Hmong experience. It will preserve the memory and knowledge of an art form integral to an immigrant group that is now woven into America’s cultural fabric. 166 pages with 246 color photos and 2 vintage photos in black and white.
Reviews
Gerdner (Ethnicity and the Dementias), an expert in family caregiving issues in persons with dementia and especially Alzheimer’s, illuminates the history and culture of the textile art of the Hmong people in this beautifully designed study. Directed towards an audience familiar with needlework but not necessarily with the Hmong peoples, the book presents a series of striking handmade pieces, with eye-opening discussions of the symbolism of nature, family life, and spiritual beliefs woven into each. She opens by introducing the Hmong people’s history, their heritage prior to the devastating Secret War, and how the Hmong people have preserved their heritage through their artwork. Readers looking for a reverse appliqué how-to should note the subtitle; Gerdner’s emphasis is cultural, with Hmong Reverse Appliqué reading both like an academic survey and the catalog to a first-rate exhibition.

The photographs and images take precedence over the text, though each appliqué piece is described in detail, from the type of stitchwork and the fabric choices made to the symbolism of the shapes within the pieces. All images of the embroidery and of the Hmong people are clear and bright, with additional close-up images for important detail work, like decorative borders or intentional “mistakes” sewn within each piece to “let the spirit out of the work.” Gerdner often presents patterns in groups, highlighting individual approaches to motifs like X-shaped crosses or “cucumber seeds.”

Gerdner’s research into Hmong craftsmanship and culture is impressive, and she occasionally weaves in stories from her own travels and experiences with the Hmong stitchers, which add a welcome personal touch to the subject matter. While the descriptions of individual works can, by necessity, be repetitive, even casual readers with an interest in textile art will find the book gorgeous and informative. Ultimately, the Hmong peoples’ craftsmanship and resilience is reflected with respect, care, and insight.

Takeaway: These handmade creations from the Hmong peoples will inspire anyone interested in textile art.

Great for fans of: Clare Hunter’s Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle; Johanna Amos & Lisa Binkley’s Stitching the Self: Identity and the Needle Arts, Claire Wellesley-Smith’s Resilient Stitch: Wellbeing and Connection in Textile Art.

Production grades
Cover: A
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A

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