When we were children

Top from left: me & my big sis. Bottom from left: my cousin & my little sis (she is wearing the Hmong skirt featured in this post).

Top from left: me & my big sis. Bottom from left: my cousin & my little sis (she is wearing the Hmong skirt featured in this post).

I don’t have any memories of wearing this little skirt, but I know I did. I know, because I have photos of me and my sisters wearing it as as children. We must have worn it a lot because the skirt is so worn and frayed.

Does anyone make little Hmong skirts like this for their baby girls anymore? I hope so.

Child's Hmong skirt.

Child’s Hmong skirt.

This skirt, along with another, has been sitting in my suitcase of Hmong clothes for decades. It’s lost all the life I imagine it once had. My baby girl is now 17, she’s too big for it now, and even when she was just a little thing, the skirts were in such bad shape and terribly wrinkled that I never had her wear them.

So, I got to thinking. Someday, I would like to see my children’s daughters wear them. And so my journey to infuse some life back into this beautiful and fragile work of art, made by my mother’s hands years ago, began.

I was too nervous to wash it with water because I didn’t know how the dye from the batik section would react. If the color ran, it would ruin the rest of the skirt. So I decided on no water. Then I thought about giving it a good iron on low heat, but decided it might warp the shape of the skirt, which would be a travesty. Have you ever taken an iron to a knit sweater and that section looked totally wonky and stretched because the iron was too hot? Yes, that’s exactly what I didn’t want happening. I even thought about taking it to the dry cleaners, but quickly came back to my senses. What would the dry cleaners do to this delicate little thing? They probably know less about how to clean and care for it than I do. What to do? What to do?

After weighing all my options and thinking about it for weeks, and watching too much Antiques Roadshow, I finally came to the conclusion to leave them alone. The risk of ruining them was not one I was willing to take.

I purchased some crochet thread, threaded my needle, and carefully proceeded to stitch all the pleats together again.

Size 20 white crochet thread

Size 20 white crochet thread.

The pleats of the skirt had been left un-stitched for so long that there were no pleats left in some areas. As I started to gather the pleats, I imagined my mom doing the same some 30 odd years ago. Some of the holes made by her needle and thread were still visible and where they were, I followed these same stitches, channeling how accomplished she must have felt as she stitched this skirt for her daughters.

Gathering pleats for stitching.

Gathering pleats for stitching.

Now this little Hmong skirt will last another 30 years.

Pleated and ready for another 30 years.

Pleated and ready for another 30 years.

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