A Lao Lu look at last

Lao Lu jacket

How many hill tribe jackets is enough*? This is now my fourth, and was given to me by a friend a few years ago. Back then, it looked like this (and my hair was a bit different. The jury in my head is still out about how successful this fringe was!).

Lao Lu hill tribe jacket

While there was nothing particularly wrong with the jacket as it was, the back of the neck was not shaped and the front wrap-around section was far too close-fitting to be comfortable – I kind of felt like I was being choked by the strip of embroidered fabric. But removing decorative elements from garments like this always makes me feel like I’m disrespectful of the maker, who would have spent ages sewing it (the entire thing is made by hand, as you can see from the stitches on the inside and the embroidery/applique details. There is every possibility that she grew, wove and dyed the cotton fabric too.).

applique Lao Lu

Despite this reluctance, the fact that I don’t like having items that can’t be worn won out, and the embroidered strip was easy to unpick from the front edge of the jacket, so off it came. I thought this might prove to be the solution, but trying it on, realised the problem was actually with how the back of the neck was cut – it was way too shallow for the jacket to sit in a way that felt comfortable for me, so I cut a few centimetres off around the back neckline and finished it off with bias binding.

So much more comfortable now, although it did make me wonder whether the women who wear these jackets as part of their daily attire just have a different concept of comfort? Maybe they prefer to have things very close-fitting around their necks? Comfort is apparently quite a cultural thing!

Lao Lu hill tribe jacket DIY

I always like to know where my clothing comes from, but the friend who gave me this wasn’t sure as she had been given it by another friend to start with (so this is now something like a fourth-hand jacket?). Thank goodness for Google, which after a bit of hunting through “hill tribe” images (and much time spent being distracted by ALL THE OUTFITS) presented me with this blog, which informed me that it is a jacket from the Lao Lu people of Vietnam. If you’re an ethnic textile fan do NOT click on that link unless you have many hours of spare time up your sleeve as it is a veritable treasure trove of embroidery, applique, weaving, dyeing and everything textile related.

Interestingly, there is quite a lot of shaping to form the kind of peplum in the lower section of this jacket which I haven’t seen so much across the other hill tribe garments, and the layout of the applique is interesting too. I wonder if it symbolises something? (Now I have an excuse to do more Googling!)

Oh, and the jury may be out on my hairstyle, but I can tell you I most definitely will not be blackening my teeth with insect secretions, even though this is apparently the recommended accessory for this jacket.


*Here are some of my other (remade) hill tribe garments:


Possibly Yao


Akha (the original jacket can be seen here amidst weirdly formatted text)