Ly Ta May (Tamay)
VIETNAM | 2017-2021


SECTION OF DRESS: Traditional cross-stitched motifs

Honouring her ancestral lineage creating intricate and meaningful embroidery.

Tamay’s real name is Ly Ta May, Ly is her family name and Ta May is the traditional name for first daughter. She is 47, a mother of 4 and grandmother of 5 children. She lives with her husband, three sons, the two older boy’s wives and their combined 3 boys, age 7, 1 and 3 months. She also lives with her youngest boy, Leon, who is now 11. Tamay’s daughter lives with her husbands’ family in the same village and has 2 daughters.

The family live in a village called Taphin, which is 20 minutes from the famous hill top town, Sapa in north Vietnam. Taphin is a majority Mien village. Mien culture has its own language and beautifully complex set of traditions, food, way of farming and shamanism based in the Taoist religion. The community is famous for textiles and as a ‘landless’ community they have identified themselves through their traditional clothing covered in magnificent tiny embroidery.

Embroidery is worn by men and children but it is the women’s clothes that really stand out as incredible. Every year a woman will spend all their free time, when not farming and caring for children, stitching panels of tiny embroidery. The techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, taught by mothers and grandmothers to daughters from the age of 8.

Tamay loves embroidery, she loves the practice, she loves how it connects her to women in her community, in Taphin village, but also to other Mien women further afield. It also connects her to all her female ancestors who have come before her. She loves the repetitive practice, and the way that it enables her to show off her skills and make herself feel beautiful. Pride is a word Tamay often uses.

She also loves rice! She grows all her own and says it is the most delicious, each year she dries and stores the rice in the roof of her house, protected from mice by her family of tiny cats!

She also loves babies and is an adoring grandmother. She loves learning, staying in touch with current affairs and herbal health care. She also loves sharing her culture and making money, she is a fantastic and fair business woman, working with tourists has given her so much joy over the years and she now has friends who live all over the world.

For the Red Dress Tamay was keen to create a piece. Seeing as her community are prolific embroiderers it felt important for them to be represented on the dress. However, Tamay was flummoxed by how to embroider onto the red silk of the dress. The Mien embroidery is created by counting the warp and weft of the base cloth, traditionally an indigo cloth of handwoven cotton. The red silk has a much higher thread count than the traditional indigo cloth and Tamay’s counted techniques were tricky to recreate on this fine silk. It took lockdown and the quiet time at home for Tamay to be able to make the time to figure out how to translate her traditional practice for the red silk. Fantastically, she did it! She is delighted to share her work with the global embroidery collective created through the dress.

This technique of embroidery is almost reversible, the pattern is created from the back, counting and retracing the stitches. Tamay’s design for the commission is a sample of the traditional patterns that can be seen below.



To learn more about Tamay & Me and see the beautiful clothing, please check out their website: www.tamayandme.com


OUR SUPPORTERS

A huge thank you to all who have given their time, energy, enthusiasm, advice, experience and financial support to the Red Dress project over the years.

In addition to the institutions below, funding has been gratefully received from a number of private donations and 344 individuals around the world via a Crowdfunded campaign in 2020.

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The Red Dress in its final incarnation, a magnificent, regal robe, symbolises the empowerment of women through the creation of something beautiful, something which began with bowed heads and tired fingers but also with faith and joy, an openness and willingness to be a part of something which they could not see at that time but in which they could believe had meaning and worth connecting with other women around the world
Lady Alison Myners, Chair of the Royal Academy Trust 2020
The Red Dress is in some respects similar to Mail Art, the populist artistic movement centred on sending small scale works through the postal service. It initially developed out of the Fluxus movement in the 1950s and 60s – but on a larger scale – the journey of the work is part of its identity, process, and in fact function. A signifier of the temporal and physical nature of the process inherent in the creation of the piece. The surface of the dress layered with embroidery slowly transforming into a specific topographical map – completely particular to the work’s journey – and reflective of the burgeoning sculptural landscape of the object
Paul Black, Artlyst 2015
It’s her (Kirstie’s) red silk Dupion bodice and voluminous skirt created for the Red Dress that fully demonstrates her commitment to embroidery and the immense respect for the international community of makers
Denna Jones. Embroidery Magazine 2010
I can't remember when they embroidered that piece of silk (2018?) but I feel that something has changed since. The fact that they could embroider what they wanted and that it is appreciated has given them some strength, some confidence that I didn’t feel so strongly before. Last year, I sent them a drawing and asked them to “interpretate" it the way they wanted; again it came back with a lot of emotions, another beautiful story. Thank you for giving them this opportunity
Nicole Esselan, Founder of Kisany Africa (supporting artisans in DR CONGO and RWANDA)
This is both an extraordinary work of collective art and profound and eloquent social commentary. It is also an example of how potent the Attire language is capable of becoming
Attires Mind (Fashion Blogger) 2020
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