Ly Ta May (Tamay)
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