Visit to Ta Phin village to learn more about the Red Dao’s embroidery techniques

Yesterday we visited Choa Thi’s home in the little village of Ta Phin. Choa Thi is one of the women we work with and has made some of the beautiful jackets we sell on Travelling Trader.

red dao

(On our way to the little village of Ta Phin)

It is said that the Red Dao people originated from China and came over to Vietnam in the 12th and 13th century to escape the Minh dynasty, due to drought, failed crops and the pressures of Feudalism in China.

The Red Dao  women are striking. They wear beautiful red head pieces and their clothes are colourfully embroidered. The Red Dao women usually shave their heads and eyebrows.

lady with umbrella

(One of the older Red Dao women, a friend of Choa Thi’s)

When I asked Choa Thi why they shaved their heads and eyebrows she told me a famous Red Dao story. She explained that many years ago a women from the Red Dao people was making breakfast for her husband and children early in the morning. As she cooked a strand of her hair fell into the food. When her husband ate his breakfast he choked on the strand of his wife’s hair and died. She said that this is the reason why it became a tradition for women of the Red Dao tribe to shave off  their hair (they usually shave the sides and the bottom and keep some of their hair at the top) and eyebrows.  Looking around I saw that many of the younger women did not shave their heads and asked Choa Thi why this was the case. She laughed and said that many of the younger women wanted to look ‘Sassy’ and so they kept their hair.

Embroidery is something the Red Dao women learn from a young age. When I asked Choa Thi how long she had done this beautiful embroidery work for she explained that she learned from her mother from a young age, she thinks she was around  11 or 12 years old. As we walked through the village I saw many young girls with needles and cloth in their hands doing the intricate embroidery.

stitching full view

(Choa Thi)

Choa Thi tells us that she gets her cotton and her silk thread from other tribes in and around Sa Pa. In this way local minorities rely on each other. Choa Thi  explains the process when making her clothes. She says that she fist dyes the cotton fabric with indigo and then embroiders it before tailoring. Red Dao work on the “wrong” side of the fabric to create a design visible on the “right” side. Dao women learn patterns by heart because the designs are not drawn on the fabric. Each stitch requires precision to maintain a symmetrical composition and harmonious colours, and each design is unique.

Close up stitching

Designs done by the Red Dao may include geometrical figures, such as variations of an eight-pointed star, jagged lines, animals (dogs and birds) and plants (in particular, pines). The Dao also embroider human figures, which you can see in the above photo. Chao Thi explains that these patterns represent people holding hands. The Red Dao also often use the image of dogs and dogs legs because the dog god, Ban Ho is considered a totem.

close up stiching

Chao Thi shows us how she twists the silk thread.She takes some thread and twists a few of the same coloured silk thread together. When I asked her why she does this she explains that sometimes the thread is too thin and she wants it to be thicker. The embroidery is completed in lines, using the full length of the needle, and it is quite unique in that a design appears on both sides of the fabric.

close up of hands 2

When Choa Thi does her beautiful embroidery work it just seems like second nature. I asked her if she ever found it difficult. She laughed and explained that in her old age she has because her eyes are not as good. She now has to wear glasses when when she does her beautiful work.

I am in awe of the women in both the H’mong and the Red Dao tribes. Women work incredibly hard here. They make all of the clothes, cook, look after the babies as well as make the long Trek up to Sa Pa to sell their beautiful handiwork.  I feel as if the women of these ethnic minorities also keep up the preservation of their culture through their embroidery and handiwork. These techniques have been passed through generations. Around 80-90 percent of the women from these ethnic minorities cannot read or write but I feel they communicate history, art and culture through their beautiful work.

Hope you enjoyed the post 🙂


Travelling Trader




  1. I am blown away by the fineness of the work …. I have a pair of vintage pants that i have treasured my whole life. Seeing where they come from makes me love them even more. Love your posts!

    1. Thank you Merle! Do you have a pair of pants made here in Vietnam? Thats so amazing! The women here are just so incredible and their craft shows it 🙂

  2. It is quite incredible that this intricate work is still being taught and made by these women in this day and age. Each stitch creates a masterpiece! Amazing!

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