Humans of China: “We Never Use Machines to Make Clothes – They Are All Handmade”

4 weeks ago
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This article comes from Humans of China (WeChat ID: humans-of-china), which aims to document and tell the stories of the many varied people of this vast country, one individual at a time. This time, Hack interviews a lady from the Miao minority, living in Guizhou.

My family bought modern clothes for me but I have no intention of wearing them. I’ve always worn these clothes and I’m so used to wearing them now that I don’t want to change. My mother passed away when I was seven and she was the one who used to make my clothes. She was also the first person to add dark blue or black cotton to my hair, which she did from a very young age. After that, I had no one to teach me.

At around ten years old, I became interested in learning how to make clothes and would sit there watching the other ladies. Eventually, after spending hours watching, I learned. We never use machines to make clothes – they are all handmade.

The first thing I do is buy plain white cloth. Then it needs to be cut into sections and each section is worked on in a different way. One section is dyed blue, black, or purple, and the other has lines penciled in before being stained with melted blue candle wax to create a pattern. They are then sewn together with a piece of orange ribbon, and if the dress is made for a lady who’s already married, a black strip is added to the bottom. The other colors have no meaning, we just think they are beautiful.

Each dress now costs around RMB 300 to make and is sold for RMB 900. The time and effort that goes into making one piece is priceless. It would take me around a month to make a dress and it takes even longer to embroider a top, but I would work on it every day.

This year I am 82, and I can no longer make clothes. If I need new clothes, my daughter will make them for me – she also uses her hands, not machines. My daughter doesn’t wear them every day, she will only wear them on special occasions and festivals. These days only old people wear these types of clothes on a daily basis.

READ: “My Father Taught Me How to Cut Hair Using a Sickle When I Was 12 Years Old”

Photos: Cameron Hack

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