The Kaili embroidery market is a veritable feast of textiles, bringing together artisans and dealers from subgroups of the region’s Miao people.
One of the most developed towns within China’s Guizhou province, Kaili is the center of the Miao’s heritage textile trade. Its market started in the 1980’s as dealers trekked from their villages to bring their region’s best pieces to sell. Back then, most buyers were visitors from Japan and France and the trading happened in hotel lobbies. As global interest in Miao textiles grew, the market moved to open areas in town.
Locals can gather everything that they need to continue their needlework at the market — from vintage costumes passed down over generations to freshly-made trimmings and bunches of braided ribbons and silk threads. Meanwhile, collectors can easily fill their suitcases!
The market provides a space for the Miao to celebrate their creativity and skills, and it motivates the community to keep their crafts alive. Besides the trading of some vintage collectables — such as the hundred-bird costume (above, large) and baby carriers — the market serves the daily needs of women who still embroider at home and sell pieces of handmade folded-cloth piecework and its raw materials like starched silk paper. You can also find cross stitched pieces from Jianhe County, satin embroideries from Shidong town, handwoven panels from Sansui, and many more regional craft items and supplies.
As fewer and fewer young people adopt traditional textile practices, many complex techniques can now only be found in museums and private collections.
Learn more about these rare Miao textiles in our other features on The Kindcraft: Miao pleated skirts and the Miao trims and accessories, both by Sharon de Lyster of Narrative Made. You can support the Guizhou artisans to keep their heritage craft skills alive by shopping from our Narrative Made collection.