Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, (2004).


Presented at “Appropriation • Acculturation • Transformation,” Textile Society of America 9th Biennial Symposium, Oakland, California, October 7-9, 2004. Copyright 2004 Textile Society of America.


The Miao of Guizho China are a people with no written script and therefore no written historical record. Of their pre-history, scholars are certain of only one thing: "…that the Miao were in China before the Chinese, for it is the latter themselves who indicate the presence of the Miao in the land, which they, the Chinese, were gradually infiltrating" (J. Mottin). With no written scripts, textiles are at once the Miao’s cultural identity, their history of migration, and a communication tool. For these reasons, Miao textile traditions survive to this day.

Although it is true the Miao have hundreds of different costumes, nearly all women’s costumes share one commonality: the indigo dyed pleated skirt. Among the skirts that are dyed solid or resist patterned in indigo blue or embroidered, the most popular are those made of dark blue fabric with a remarkable glossy surface. We discuss how each Miao group accomplishes this differently based on their acclimatization to new surroundings – appropriating new materials and adopting new methods yet keeping traditional customs, however minutely varied. It is a subtle acculturation graded over many years, illustrated by a visual transformation of the same material and same form suited to their culture’s esthetics. By highlighting the modifications in technique adopted in different areas, we will discuss how a dis/relocated people like the Miao manage to keep traditions alive and cultural ties intact in the face of great challenge.