A year ago, the world was different. We were eagerly awaiting a boat from China bringing our newest book, Every Thread a Story and its companion volume, The Secret Language of Miao Embroidery, to our warehouse. Then we were going to hop on a plane with 16 intrepid fellow travelers and head off to Guizhou Province in southeast China.
The books arrived, but we, of course, stayed put. As Chinese Lunar New Year rolls around again, I’m feeling nostalgia for the plans we had made, and am taking pleasure in paging through the book and revisiting in my mind the villages, the people, the street markets, the winding roads, the raucous festivals, the fiery sour fish soup. And the textiles. Always the textiles.
Every book has a back story, and as I flip through it I’m remembering what didn’t make it into the pages. That time we had to climb a steep stairway up to a village where a woman skilled in an obscure embroidery technique lived. But to be allowed to ascend the stairs, we were stopped every little way and obliged to drink a dipper of rice wine. Hospitality, you know. We were silly by the time we got to her little shop. I’m sure you can’t tell from reading the interview.
And that time we were coming down a steep and winding road after the Bridge Worshipping Festival in Fanpai, a small and remote Miao village. It’s a great festival, with lushen pipe parades, elaborate silver headdresses, and of course, lots of obligatory rice wine. It was raining, our van just couldn’t quite make the sharp turn, so we all got out to push. Our two authors Wang Jun and Zeng Li, photographer Joe Coca, associate Karen Brock, me. Dignity was lacking.
EVERY CORNER TELLS A STORY
Often what we found just around the corner was even more memorable than what we had come to see. The elderly gentleman selling pig parts on the street, so entranced with watching me writing in my journal that he finally took it away from me and carefully inscribed his own name in beautiful pictograms. The little village that we hiked to, not accessible by road, where the stilt houses stored caskets underneath—each carved from a single tree trunk, each held ready for a particular person, many dyed with indigo. The children pouring out of school at the end of the day, laughing and calling us “big nose.”
Books are memory keepers.
Every Thread a Story captures glimpses into the lives of 16 traditional Miao and Dong craftsmen, and memorializes the textile techniques they’ve mastered. We hope it also suggests the wisdom, ingenuity, humor, and generosity we found among them on our travels. And as we say goodbye to the Year of the Rat (with its negative thoughts and life disruptions) and say hello to the Year of the Ox (which will call for hard work, duty, and discipline), we’d like to offer you a little gift. It’s a book of patterns derived from historic Miao embroidery. You can color them, trace them onto your embroidery fabric, or just admire their intricacy and strangeness.