As with other hill tribes in the region, the responsibility for producing clothing and apparel is left to the women. These days factory-produced fabric and dyed thread is purchased ready-made from local stores to be used in making clothing. The Lisu method of weaving is just like that used by the Lahu. The thread is spun by hanging it down or around one’s back. This method of spinning thread does not appear anywhere in Thailand. At present, the pieces of fabric woven by hand are much smaller in size and are not very wide. They are only used in the production of shoulder bags.
The distinguishing feature of Lisu bags are the strips of fabric sewn together in overlapping stripes of mixing colors. Other major characteristics of Lisu decoration include patches of fabric and silver beads attached to the main body of the piece, with some embroidery added to the bag. At the base of either side of the bag are tassels running down as extensions from the strap. There are a number of other little ways in which the Lisu spruce up their bags to catch the eye, such as using yarn of varying colors for the tassels or stringing beads and silver balls on into little tuft shapes.
The following patterns are the staples in any good Lisu woman’s repertoire of needle-work. Most of the them focus on sewing small tabs of fabric of contrasting colors criss-crossing over one another. There’s kua-pia-kua (tail of the bow), pia-goo-ma-kua(tiger’s chest), foo-yee-chee (snake’s belly)na-hoo-mia-cheuy (hat’s eyes) ee-geu-ja-ya (criss-crossing tabs of colored fabric) and ah-na (dog’s fang). In the case of ah-na, a woman’s workmanship is rated by how small she is able to make the dog’s fangs. Generally, only two of these patterns are used to decorate the collar of a woman’s shirt: ee-geu-ja-ya (criss-crossing tabs of colored fabric) and ah-na (dog’s fang). Both of these patterns work well when sewn in a curving line around the border of the collar. Both the ee-geu-ja-ya (criss-crossing tabs of colored fabric) and ah-na (dog’s fang) patterns are used as a part of all the other patterns. As for the other patterns, however, they will not be mixed together. One of them will be chosen (such as the “tiger’s chest”) and will serve as the base pattern to which the ee-geu-ja-ya and ah-na patterns will be added. Usually these patterns appear in the decoration of sleeves, belts and children’s hats.
Sewing fabric into “chicken intestines”
Lisu are experts at intricate stitch-work. Fabric is sewn into thin strands, 8-12 meters in length, alive and bursting with color. These threads will then be bound together into a thick mass. At the end of each strand is a tufted, fabric ball. This mass of strands is used to accent the sash wrapped around the waist. Worn by both Lisu women and men, this thick mass of “chicken intestines” sways to and fro as the men and women dance. A proper mass of “chicken intestines” will contain at least 200 strands–less than this wouldn’t be attractive. To add to this, the women also have a hat, which they wear on very special occasions.