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Mendhi hands by Pushpa Jain. Photographer unknown. All rights reserved.Fish decoy. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Embroidered dress detail. Photo by Pearl Yee Wong. All rights reserved.Cedar bird by Glen VanAntwerp. Photo by Al Kamuda. All rights reserved.
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Photo by Marsha MacDowell

Ia Moua Yang
2005 awardee, Warren (Macomb County), Hmong textile traditions

Like other girls in village of Pousan in northeast Xienghouang, Laos, Ia Moua (b. 1948) at a very early age began to learn to sew the highly decorated and colorful cloth used in the clothing of her ethnic White Hmong community. The paj ntaub (meaning "flower cloth") incorporates a variety of patterns, motifs, and needlework techniques, including appliqué, reverse appliqué, and embroidery. Mastery of the techniques and repertoire of designs and motifs usually takes years, and expert craftsmanship is valued within the community.

To satisfy her father, Ia studied nursing at Sansonk Hospital, Samthong. She married Teng Yang, a Blue Hmong, and soon thereafter the war in Laos, in which the Hmong were allied with U.S. military operations, forced the Yang family to flee their country to Thailand. In 1976, after living at the Ban Vinai refugee camp for one year, the International Institute in Providence, Rhode Island sponsored the family to immigrate to Providence. There she continued to sew and also found work as a translator at the Women and Infant's Hospital. In 1987 she and her family moved to Detroit.

In the United States Ia Moua Yang continued to make the clothing necessary for Hmong traditional practices. She also began selling her work to individuals outside the Hmong community. Today increasingly fewer Hmong-Americans continue this textile tradition. Ia Moua Yang, however is not only one of the stalwarts in keeping this art alive, she is simply a master at what she does. Because her work is consistently of high quality and craftsmanship, technically well constructed, incorporates quality materials, and reflects innovative design approaches, she has been successful in making a living through her art. She sells her work at many different venues in Michigan, including at the annual Great Lakes Folk Festival, and at major national quilt shows, including those in Vermont, Chicago, and Houston. For this non-Hmong market she is constantly developing new ways of ingeniously incorporating Hmong designs and textile techniques into items that attract new customers.

At the same time she remains deeply involved in family and Hmong community life and has played leadership roles in the dissemination and continuity of knowledge about paj ntaub and other Hmong traditions. In addition to teaching paj ntaub to her daughters, daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, she has taught others in her community and given workshops to non-Hmong both within Michigan and at the textile events in Vermont and Houston. She also has authored a "how to" handbook that gives both technical and cultural information on paj ntaub. In tribute to Ia Moua Yang, Carolyn Shapiro, her colleague and Michigan Heritage Award nominator stated, "For Ia, weaving and sewing is not just making cloth, it is creating a social fabric. Her care for her craft is the care and nurturing of her people. It is the thread that links them to their ancestors and to each other."(1)

(1) Carol Shapiro, Nomination letter, December 16, 2004.
See also Ia Moua Yang and Carol Shapiro, The Pa Ndau of Ia Moua Yang: Keeping Alive the Treasure of the Hmong. Self-published, 2002.


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