Hmong Pandau Quilts

UUFD houses two Hmong Pandau quilts, fine examples of the textile art of the Hmong people, donated by Stephen Aldrich and Deborah Merritt Aldrich, through Deborah’s mother and former UUFD member Helen Merritt (1920-2009).


The following information about the Hmong people and their pandau textile art is quoted from (with some editing) Wikipedia at


The Hmong People:
Refugee Experience

Native Hmong people lived in “hill tribes” throughout China and Southeast Asia. When communist forces took control of Laos in 1975, Hmong people who supported the Royal Lao Government and fought for the American CIA during the Secret War were singled out for retribution. Tens of thousands of Hmong people escaped into Thailand as part of a mass exodus of 300,000 refugees.  Once in Thailand, most spent several years in overcrowded refugee camps awaiting resettlement. Dependent on relief agencies for subsistence, many Hmong began selling handicrafts to improve their standard of living.  As early as 1976, NGOs, like the Christian and Missionary Alliance, coordinated with Hmong women to sell their needlework abroad.  In their Mountain Homelands, only rare moments of free time were spent on embroidery to adorn pieces of clothing for important rituals.  With time to spare in the camps, Hmong women produced an explosion of Western-oriented decorative textiles reflecting the motifs and values of their native mountain culture -- purses, bed spreads, and pillow-covers (among many other items) were shipped to relatives abroad who could sell them and send money back.  Men also contributed to the endeavor by creating drawings that could be transferred to cloths. In the 1960s, missionaries had taught men to draw illustrations for the folktales used in literacy primers. Cloths featuring elaborate and fantastic narratives sold well overseas and production grew. Eventually, themes from recent Hmong history, including the flight from Laos, were incorporated in the "story cloths," providing a historical record that did not require literacy for interpretation.

Hmong Pandau

Hmong Pandau (pandau meaning "flower cloth" in the Hmong language) are exquisitely sewn, highly colorful textiles crafted by Hmong women. They feature bold, highly stylized, and symbolic geometric design motifs painstakingly executed in bright, contrasting colors. Different patterns and techniques of production are associated with different geographical regions and cultural subdivisions within the global Hmong community.  Traditionally, pandau were applied to skirts worn for courtship during New Year festivals, as well as baby-carriers, and men's collars. The core visual elements are "layered bands of appliqué, triangles, squares tilted and superimposed on contrasting, squares, lines and dots, spirals, and crosses." The use of border patterns may show the influence of Chinese embroidery techniques.  Since the mass exodus of Hmong refugees from Laos following the end of the Secret War, major stylistic changes have occurred, strongly influenced by the tastes of the Western marketplace. Changes included more subdued colors and the invention of a new form of pandau often referred to as "story cloths." These cloths, ranging in size up to several square feet, use figures to represent stories from Hmong history and folklore in a narrative form. Today, the practice of embroidery continues to be passed down through generations of Hmong people and pandau remain important reflections of Hmong mountain culture.


A tiny needle, strands of bridge thread, lengths of vari-coloured cloth, and the genius of a Hmong woman – these are the ingredients of some of the most exquisite needlework to be found anywhere.  Throughout their long history, Hmong women have devoted their artistic skill and industry to the development of an amazing variety of techniques using needle and thread…”

Paul and Elaine Lewis

Peoples of the Golden Triangle


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