A message from Serena Lee,
Founder and Tour Leader of Textile Odyssey
I founded Textile Odyssey in 2000 with the idea of developing unique, innovative tours that connect cultures through textile arts. My interest in fiber arts, handcrafted textiles, clothing design, and unique cultures led me to travel extensively in remote areas of Asia, South America, and the South Pacific throughout much of my life. Between 1973 -1976 and 1982 -1984, I spent five years in Asia, observing the fascinating cultures in many countries. From the larger cities in Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Japan, I made my way to small towns and villages in China, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Laos, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines.
After taking a break from my long travel adventures to raise three children, I had the opportunity to visit northern Vietnam in 1999. I was astonished to discover that, despite the globalization that seem to be happening all over the world, many ethnic minorities still wore their unique clan outfits, expressing a proud allegiance to their ancestral group. Men, women, and children all wore their elaborately decorated, indigo-dyed, handwoven outfits in the fields, in town, in their villages, as well as at festivals. Further research and fieldwork with the ethnic groups in Vietnam, China, and the Southeast Asian Massif confirmed that there are numerous ethnic groups who wear distinctive group dress and continue other ancient ways of living. And, despite the mass media/communications technology available today, little is known about many of these intriguing peoples.
Serena Lee (middle) with Black Hmong young women,
northern Vietnam, 2013.
It is with this sense of wide-eyed exhilaration that I develop each Textile Odyssey tour. As we travel to remote villages, we see and learn about traditional textile processes firsthand from local artisans. Beyond the special opportunities to witness unique techniques of weaving, spinning, natural dyeing, embroidery, braiding, applique, batik, etc., our conversations with members of these groups provide insights and understanding of these diverse cultures and their remarkable ways of thinking. In these small, out-of-the-way places, we are often greeted with generous hospitality. These gestures of human kindness and warmth towards one another as human beings are intrinsic to the way of being for many tribal peoples. Experiencing this generosity of spirit reminds us that we are all, thankfully, part of this greater humanity.
Your participation in Textile Odyssey Tours helps me fund an endeavor that is close to my heart and, in my humble opinion, very worthy. Little has been recorded about many of the minority groups in the Southeast Asian Massif-- as well as other remote cultures in the world. I hope that my documentation of these groups - through photographs and interviews with individuals within these groups - preserves some of their history for future generations. Documentation of these peoples and their cultural traditions is a way of recognizing their voice and place in history; it acknowledges the value of these peoples. This is crucial for the well-being of individuals and future descendants of these clans. At the same time, these unique ways of living are diverse solutions to the world's problems - they serve as an invaluable body of knowledge from which all of humanity can benefit.
May your Journeys be enlightening and textile-filled!
More info on Serena Lee's Research:
Serena Lee has presented her research on the dress of ethnic minorities in northern Vietnam and southwest China internationally at various venues including Stanford University, the 16th Congress of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, the Textile Society of America Symposium 2008 and 2014, the de Young Museum, the World Eco-Fiber Textile Forum 2008, UC Davis, the Association for Asian Studies Conference 2011, the Southwest University of Nationalities (Sichuan, China), the Thai Studies conference 2016, the Society for Asian Arts, Asian Borderlands Research Network. etc. She is an advisor to the board of the Textile Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco and founder and leader of its Ethnic Textiles Study Group.
Read about Serena’s research:
Encyclopedia of World Dress and Fashion: Lee, Serena. "Crossing Borders and Time: Ethnic Dress across the Vietnam–China Border in the Twenty-First Century." The Berg Fashion Library. November 2014 online update: http://www.bergfashionlibrary.com/view/bewdf/BEWDF-v10/EDch10916.xml (accessed 6 Nov. 2014.)
"Redefining Borders and Identity: Ethnic Dress of the Lolo/Yi Groups Across the Vietnam-China Border," presented at the Textile Society of America Symposium 2014.
Available FREE online at:
"Dress of the Lolo, Pathen, Hmong, and Yao of Northern Vietnam in 2005-2006: Reflections of Cultural Continuity and Change” by Serena Lee (Harrigan) , presented at the Textile Society of American Symposium 2008
Available FREE online at: http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/tsaconf/97
Mark your calendars! On Sept. 30, 2017, I will be giving a presentation on "Textile Arts and Ethnic Dress of Vietnam" for the Society for Asian Arts. This will be at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. Here's the link for more information and to register
I look forward to seeing you there!