Quat Dong village, along Highway No.1A about twenty kilometers south from Hanoi, is the patrimonial land of traditional embroidery: the Quat Dong commune, Thuong Tin district, in Ha Tay province. Scenes formed by the highly-skilled artisans of Quat Dong have won the hearts and minds of people around the world with their traditional needle-work in this most-famous embroidery village.
According to family annals, the ancestor of Quat Dong embroidery, also revered as the patriarch of Vietnamese embroidery, is Le Cong Hanh. Born in 1606, he became a well-known scholar of his time when, as a member of the King’s envoy, he traveled to China where he learned a new embroidery technique. Upon return to Vietnam, he taught this new technique to the poor villagers of Quat Dong with all his heart, and it remains a strong tradition to this day. Ever since then, he has been regarded as the master and patriarch of Vietnamese embroidery. The anniversary of his death is revered throughout Vietnam on June 12th of every year.
For many Quat Dong villagers, embroidery is considered a long-standing tradition. All villagers, regardless of age and gender, do intricate needle-work. Visitors will forever remember the image of a young girl sitting next to her great-grandmother, being taught lessons handed down for generations in exactly the same manner amidst the fragrance of rice fields gently waving in an afternoon breeze. The art of embroidery is taught within the family, and a potential daughter-in-law wooed from a neighboring village will soon learn the same skills taught only in this quiet village. To the onlooker, it may seem to be simple or relaxing work because there is no laboring under a hot sun, or being subject to the torrential downpours of a seasonal shower. However this work requires an extremely skillful and steady hand, an eye for the most intricate details, a demanding concentration, and a thorough commitment to producing only the highest quality. In order to successfully complete a detailed and intricate scene, the embroiderer has to first capture the image they wish to convey, whether it be sitting quietly to observe the sun setting over a forest lake, or examining an artist’s rendition of a moment in time. Next is to stretch and test the fabric, inspecting the weave for imperfections or discoloration. This is followed by making a detailed sketch on the fabric and selecting the perfect thread colors to convey the desired contrasts and shadows. Once the needle work begins, the most time consuming challenges the artisan must face are to form gently curving edge lines while presenting the most intricate and minute details such as the veins of a leaf, the early morning shades and shadows within the cusp of a flower, or the fire in the eyes of a rising phoenix. In order to do so successfully, the embroiderer must flawlessly combine and mingle the chosen threads with a steady hand for hours on end. They must focus on the harmony of nature to capture a frozen moment of life in the needle they have been so well acquainted with since childhood, utilizing the same skills taught five centuries earlier by Le Cong Hanh to the ancestors of today’s artisans. Today, these skills continue to attract the attention of foreign markets to this quiet village of Vietnam.