Embroidery is a popular traditional handicraft throughout Viet Nam. However, after being handed down to the Quat Dong villigers, the embroidery has been improved and made the art craft more popolar and attractive. For many centuries, the Quat Dong Village has retained and developed its traditional craft.
According to records in Ngu Xa Communal House and Quat Dong, Tu Thi Temples, Dr. Le Cong Hanh whose real name was Bui Cong Hanh, is the ancestor of the tradition. He was born in Quat Dong Village, Thuong Tin Palace, Nam Son Area (now Thuong Tin District, Ha Noi) and lived in the late Tran Dynasty and early Le Dynasty in the 14th century. The legend said that under the King Le Thai Tong’s envoy, Le Cong Hanh went to China as an ambassador. Knowing Le Cong Hanh as an intelegant man, the Chinese King and his court frequently devised situations to test the Vietnamese ambassadors’ intelligence and proved that the Chinese were superior.
The story goes that the Chinese led Le Cong Hanh to a room high above the ground and accessible only by a ladder, which was later removed. The room contained a bottle of water, a statue of Buddha and two large ceremonial umbrellas known as long. With his intelligence, Hanh found that the statue was made of flour and sugar. By slowly eating the statue, the ambassador was able to spend many more days in the room. He found that the umbrellas were richly embroidered. During his leisure time in the special rom, Hanh learnt more about the techniques of the embroidery. He combined the Chinese technique with Vietnamese one and later handed it down to the people of quat Dong Village and neibouring communes. He has been regarded as the master and patriarch of the embroidery in the village. The villagers buit a temple to worship Le Cong Hanh. The anniversary of his death is held on 12th day of the sixth lunar month every year to honor the great contribution of the craft’s master.
Diverse patterns on hand-made embroidered products in Quat Dong. (Photo:nhandan.com.vn)
There have been ups and downs over its long history, but the embroidery craft in Quat Dong Village has always been a means of earning a living for the citizenry. Since the 17th century, the craft’s reputation has remained strong and Quat Dong embroidery spread nationwide. During the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, the village worked under the colletives to export table-cloths, bedspreads, sheets and pillow-cases to other socialist nations. Becase of the loss of its traditional markets, in 1990, the exports came to an end. Therefore, the villagers must innovate to find the output for their hand-made products. They began to sell their products in the market. To meet demands of the maket-based economy, private producers and groups then replaced the cooperatives. Since then, the embroidery developed trongly in the village. There were many embroidery workshops in Quat Dong. Each had from 200 to 500 workers.
In Quat Dong Village, the embroidery is considered as a long – standing tradition. It is a handiwork which needs skilled hands, talent, sharp eyes, a sensitive mind, patience and carefulness. The embroideriers seem nonchalant while working, however, in fact, they are dwelling on experience and creativity in performing the work. They need to be able to sit in a straight manner, slightly looking down at the embroidery loom and having the right hand against the loom with the left hand free under the line of embroidery, thereby precluding eye strain and creating the necessary ease and comfort to be able to accom¬plish the work efficiently and effectively.
According to craftpeople, regarding the tech¬nique, the most difficult one is to combine colors to form the desired overall color. An ordinary painting, once completed, is a critical mixture of colors. After surveying the design, the craftsperson commences to work carefully, accurately and precisely selecting the colored threads, needles and adorn¬ments to be in harmony with one another. The color factor makes up 50% of the success of an embroidered painting.
To meet consumers’ demands, producers have continuously improved the designs of traditional embroidery. Beside traditional products, the villagers have created many new designs. They focus on developing embroidered landscape paintings showcasing various aspects of Viet Nam - land and people, ancient pagodas, birds, and interesting ancient tales, etc. Quat Dong craftspeople can copy any picture; a photograph, a wood-block print or some other favorite images. Especially, some artisans embroidered portraits to meet the demand for images of well-known leaders, such as Uncle Ho, Lenin, Le Duan, etc. Quat Dong is famous for landscape embroidery pictures such as banyan trees, river wharfs, and scenic spots like the One Pillar Pagoda, Ngoc Son Temple, Hong Thai Communal House, and Hue Imperial City. The hand-made products in the village have been exported to many countries around the world, including the European countries, Hong Kong (China), Japan, the Republic of Korea and the United States. Therefore, many Quat Dong townspeople supplement their agricultural income with embroidery they sell to visitors and wholesalers. The village elders always hope that younger generations will continue to preserve the long-standing tradition.
The handcrafted products reflect the beauty of landscapes in the country.(Photo:nhandan.com.vn)
There are many many well-known artisans in Quat Dong, with Mr. Bui Le Kinh being a notable example. He used to embroider royal garments for King Bao Dai and Queen Nam Phuong. Now the village records the title People’s Artisan of Mr. Thai Van Bon, who is famous for embroidering portraits of state leaders. His embroidery portrait of the Thai King has received highly international praise.
Currently, Quat Dong traditional embroidery village draws special attention of a large number of visitors, particularly foreign tourists, who wish to discover and purchase embroidery products. Visitors can reach Quat Dong from Ha Noi by traveling twenty kilometers south on Highway 1 to Thuong Tin District.
Travelling to the traditional craft village, tourists will witness the delicated technique of the traditional craft as well as buy embroidered paintings as souvernirs.