The old iron key turns on the third attempt and 50-year-old Wu Yuemeng pushes the door open with her knee. She motions her daughter into a seldom-used upstairs bedroom that is dominated by a dusty, century-old wooden loom and a metal-banded chest.
Wu reaches into the chest and takes out treasures, as her daughter – the cheerful 19-year-old Xia – looks on. She pulls out hand-woven shoes, finely embroidered silk ribbons and fabrics dyed with intriguing patterns – all of which are ethnic Dong costumes and accessories. Finally, she reveals the prize: a glittering ceremonial headpiece with swaying golden leaves (see magazine cover) that has been passed down by generations of mothers to their daughters.
Layer by layer, lace by lace, Wu drapes her daughter in the garments she began making while pregnant with Xia, before she knew her baby would be a girl, let alone what kind of girl she would grow up to be. After Xia was born, Wu continued to weave and embroider ribbons and shirts whenever she was not in the fields planting rice.
Dong women embroider with just a single needle and without a fixed pattern, using their stitches to express their feelings for their children. The Dong people of impoverished Guizhou province have no written language, but their textile craftsmanship is unmatched in its refinement, and is a clear communication of love.