Maly Vang weaves her Hmong heritage into modern macrame wall art
The first time Maly Vang encountered macrame was by chance. She was learning to do hand lettering and calligraphy on Skillshare when she came across a macrame instructional video by popular artist Peggy Dean called @thepigeonletters on Instagram.
“Once I saw this video, I went to YouTube and kind of self taught myself how to tie knots and make wall hangings,” Vang says.
While working in the Wisconsin Department of Administration in 2017 as an instructional designer, Vang experienced a 9-5 day job crisis and needed a breakout. She has always been creative, but as she grew older artistic outlets were put on the back burner until she decided she needed to adopt a healthier mindset.
“Basically, I wanted to start manufacturing again because I felt I needed to release that stress,” Vang says. “It was more therapeutic for me than anything else, and as I started to create more, I was like, ‘Hey, I think I could sell some of that. “”
It was then that malyMADE, his macramé company, was born. Vang says she explored the hobby, aiming to use different techniques to create beautiful wall paintings that people would like to hang in their homes. Instead of sticking to a specific process, she likes to design how she feels in the moment, but considers the size, shape, and basic materials before starting the knots. This allows it to go with the flow and follow how the knots meet.
While creating all kinds of wall hangings and other macrame accessories, over the past two years Vang has become well known for her xauv-inspired pieces.
A xauv (pronounced “so”), which translates directly to “padlock” or “money” in Hmong, is a silver necklace worn with traditional clothing, Vang says. The necklace is often worn as a remembrance of the past hardships faced by the Hmong people – when the Hmong were enslaved, they wore identification necklaces, and after being granted freedom, the xauv became a symbol of independence.
Vang is Hmong, and so are many of his clients. In 2018, a client asked her if she would be able to make a xauv-inspired wall hanging, and from there it became Vang’s most popular project. Xauv necklaces often feature several circular pieces and decorative accents that create a bold chest piece. Designs have evolved and since the start of Vang more and more manufacturers have created similar parts. To stand out, she will frequently use double hoops, which also echo some xauv necklaces. Its knots also mimic some of the patterns you’ll find at xauv.
“I didn’t expect to have so many Hmong customers,” Vang says. “I didn’t want to put myself in that bucket where I only do Hmong inspired macrame because I think macrame can be taken in so many directions, but now that I have incorporated more art into macrame of Hmong inspiration, I feel a deeper connection with my culture and my people.
Pieces inspired by Vang’s xauv sell out in minutes. The waiting list for custom pieces has grown too long, especially as Vang also works at the Bayview Foundation, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing and services to low-income residents. Since she couldn’t keep up with demand, she set up a system where she will announce to her mailing list when her xauv-inspired pieces go live for pre-orders. Four times a year, she creates different designs and opens a limited number of spots each month. This allows her to continue creating xauv-inspired pieces, but she also has time to experiment with new macrame designs and projects.
Macrame has been around for thousands of years. One of the most widely shared stories is that it started with Arab weavers in the 13th century, but some go back even further to its origins. The art form saw a revival in the 1970s, and it is just as fashionable today.
Due to the long history of macrame, Vang considers herself a modern macrame artist. “I try to create unique pieces, unique pieces just to stand out from the crowd and what’s already available on the market,” she says.
Although xauv art is her main activity influenced by the Hmong, she also incorporates the Hmong heart and other figures in her designs.
“There are a lot of patterns and symbols in Hmong textiles, so I’m just trying to fit that into the macrame, whether it’s my wall hangings or accessories,” Vang explains.
As Vang’s macrame sells out so quickly, the best way to get yours is to join her mailing list, which is the first place she will announce the availability of models.
Maija Inveiss is Associate Editor of Madison Magazine.
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