Photo of the Week – Vietnamese Embroidery

I remember as a kid, going through a crafts phase.

First it was popsicle sticks and glue.

Me: Mom! Look what I made!

Mom: Another popsicle stick basket? Really?

OK. Maybe she didn’t actually say that, but I’m sure that’s what she was thinking. Surprisingly, there are only so many things you can make out of popsicle sticks. (Confession: I think I just liked eating the popsicles. The craft projects were simply a ruse to get my mom to buy more of them…)

Then for some reason, my mom took up macrame and even sold some of her beaded necklaces. As a Renaissance boy, I dabbled in it but could never make the knots very evenly. Down the line came art classes with accompanying phases of cross-stitching, watercolors and basket weaving. Don’t judge… OK. You can judge. A little.

So on a recent afternoon of taking hilarious Chinese blogger Sally of Unbrave Girl around the streets of Saigon, a sudden shower forced us to find shelter. Providentially, we were right outside the XQ Embroidery showroom. The air-conditioned reprieve from the sticky afternoon heat was simply a bonus.

Established in 1994, there are now XQ shops in all the major cities of Vietnam, employing hundreds of artisans.

Sure, you can pick up embroidered pictures all along the shops between Ben Thanh Market and Dong Khoi Street for under USD 10, but for true masterpieces, XQ represents the top of the line.

Outlines of designs are imprinted on the fine muslin cloth but each artisan chooses her own colors making no two exactly the same.

Some of the works were huge and on first glance, looked like paintings, so fine were the details.

My favorites were the double-sided panels, practically see through, where you could not spot any knots, the colors seemingly melting into one another.

Prices ranged from just over USD 20 for a small piece to somewhere beyond USD 10,000 for a custom piece. You know you’ve made the big time when you can commission a embroidered portrait of yourself, something that takes multiple artisans 4-6 months to complete.

While I definitely do not have the patience to attempt something so detail oriented, I can truly appreciate the workmanship that goes into each of these threaded treasures, one of the many examples of beautiful, traditional art from Vietnam.

Where to buy: In Saigon, check out the XQ gallery right downtown at 106 Le Loi, District 1. Tel: 08 38277305 / 08 38256595.

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2 thoughts on “Photo of the Week – Vietnamese Embroidery

  1. cosmoHalliton

    These are wonderful! I’ve gotten to see the double-sided embroidery here in China and they are incredible. They even have some where the reverse side is a different image, either in another color or say an animal morphs into something else. I can’t imagine the time and patience involved in creating one of these artworks.
    cosmoHalliton recently posted..Der Dutchman Amish KitchenMy Profile

  2. James Post author

    Yeah, you couldn’t pay me enough to make one of these (not that I even could, in my wildest dreams, mind you!) Some of their workshops have hundreds of artisans working on various designs but it seemed relatively light-hearted. They chatted amongst each other and didn’t seem to be too serious. But you’re right, it takes beyond average patience to work on these pieces!
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