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The Mei Tai Baby Carrier

March 31, 2015


We have talked a lot about Hmong fighters in Laos during the Vietnam War era and their historical involvement in growing opium poppy. However, on a much lighter note, Hmong women are gifted textile artisans. The most prized creation of Hmong women and means to establish them in the Hmong community is the Mei Tai Baby Carrier.

The Mei Tai Baby Carrier is designed to carry an infant on a person's back or chest. Mei Tai's have a long history, dating back hundreds of years. They originated in China with the name meaning "to carry on the shoulders with a strap." The proper pronunciation of Mei Tai is "may tie". In its simplest form it is merely a wide strap or belt of fabric to be wrapped around both the wearer's upper body and the baby, thus supporting the baby against the wearer with moderate pressure horizontally and from below.

Baby carriers are customarily embellished with designs and decorations through the use of a broad range of embroidery techniques. Hand spun silk is customary thread for fine embroidery. The foundation materials can be silk, cotton, hemp or flax. Besides embroidery, certain weaving styles and types of fabric dyeing are also used to distinguish the product. Distinctive differences in style, technique and material can be identified with specific Hmong tribes in Laos, Northern Thailand and Northern Vietnam.

Pictured below, a Hmong mother has her baby in a carrier with one pair of very long straps attached at the top. These straps are wound over the mothers' shoulders, down and cross over the chest, then back around the baby's bottom and back around to the front being tied at the mother's waist.

Hmong women are creators of exquisite textiles. From the age of five, they begin to learn needlework, continuing through to their teens. At that time, they make their wedding dresses, baby carriers, and baby clothes. When they reach middle age, they continue to make clothes for their descendants. Because of the elaborate design and incredible embroidery techniques, tribal art enthusiasts prize Hmong baby carriers.

The quality of a Hmong woman's textiles often defines her social status. The girl who can weave and embroider special patterns is seen to be hardworking, intelligent and will become the most sought after bride in the community.

Therefore, in some villages, a girl may wear her baby carrier to market events, showing off her work to potential suitors. Her handiwork is an artistic representation of her individuality and creativity.

The Elephant Story has a wide range of Hmong hand woven and embroidered fabrics, including the Mei Tai baby carriers. The embroidered fabric applied to the Vietnam Era Jungle Jackets is an individual vintage Hmong artistic creation.