SELLING HMONG TEXTILES
With commercial development, the types of needlework items produced by the Hmong resettled in the United States changed dramatically, as it had in Thai refugee camps. Flat funeral cloths evolved to wall hangings, pillow covers, and bedspreads; appliquéd works sold so well that batik was eclipsed; patterns got larger and coarser; colors changed to suit Western taste. Representational embroidery became possible as women learned new stitches, and story cloths blossomed with scenes of Laos, warfare, Hmong legends and rituals, and animals and birds in fantasy woodlands. Some men living in refugee camps took up embroidery to make political statements, selling their story cloths in the quickly developing American market ( Kohler 1986; Symonds, personal communication 1985).
I had decided to investigate the economic adaptations being made by Hmong households in order to see how gender relations would be changed by new relations brought about by production. My attention was first drawn to the economic relations between Americans and Hmong in the arena of needlework marketing. For Americans, small commercial ventures (especially having to do with fabric) are not confined to men's domains. Resettlement workers, sponsors, and volunteers have expected the women who make commercialized pieces also to engage in selling them. That Hmong women expected this, too, is obvious, because in Seattle, as around the country ( Fass 1986), it was Hmong women who first approached American women volunteers asking them to buy. Fass comments that most Hmong needlework ventures
began as social and cultural service undertakings, but many subsequently shifted priorities towards promoting self-reliance. This rearrangement of priorities resulted largely from pressure for change put on Americans by the refugees, either directly by the women or indirectly by [male] mutual assistance association representatives and Hmong community leaders. (ibid., 361-62)
This was the case with needlework projects in Seattle. There were two needlework cooperatives in Seattle, one an offshoot of the other. When the first, composed of American volunteers working with Mien and Hmong,