Traditional Embroidery to Piece Vietnam’ Past and Present Together
Tan My Design, the oldest embroidery shop in Hanoi, borrows its name from a Vietnamese word meaning “new beauty.” We’ve met with Nguyen Thuy Linh, head of Tan My Design, breathing a fresh air into the tradition of Vietnamese needlework, featuring premium handcrafted items with a modern sensibility.
As the craftswoman rhythmically maneuvers the tip of her hand, silky thread continues to pierce through the fabric. One after another, each tiny stitch adds up to paint a flower and a plant that would never wither. It’s the magic of embroidery, one of the oldest forms of art since the beginning of civilization.
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Hand Embroidery, a Centerpiece of Vietnamese Culture
Vietnamese hand embroidery techniques, hailed for its superiority across the world, have been part of the lives of women in Vietnam for thousands of years. Just like learning how to cook and sew, Vietnamese women have naturally picked up embroidery to decorate the interiors of their homes or embellish their clothes. Originally a practical art, hand embroidery became more colorful and elaborate as it absorbed the Chinese embroidery art and French embroidery techniques between the 17th and 19th centuries. Embroidery artists portrayed not just Vietnam’s nature and landscape, but the faces of historical figures using the needle and thread. Among those works, some are masterpieces that applied over 500 colors and took years to complete. Embroidery details can be found on ao dai, Vietnam’s traditional costume, or silk scarves. Even in wartime, Vietnamese women would sing peace as they sewed poetry and drawings that symbolize freedom on items such as handkerchiefs, fans, and baby garments. In other words, embroidery has existed as a means of expressing Vietnamese spirit in the difficult times ravaged by war and subordination under the colonial rule.
However, as computerized machines began replacing human hands, the art of hand embroidery started disappearing from Vietnamese’ daily life due to the time and cost requirements. There was a need to find a new meaning  for hand embroidery to carry on the legacy and also satisfy modern values. Tan My Design, the oldest hand embroidery shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, plays that role.
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Outside Tanmy Design

Embroidering for Four Generations
Situated on Hang Gai Street, Hanoi, Tan My Design first opened doors in 1969 by selling embroidered handkerchiefs to soldiers during the Vietnam War. Business founder Bach Thi Ngai thought of embroidering the sentiments of women who have to send their loved ones, husbands or sons to the battlefield on the handkerchief and also creating mementos for newly-weds by embroidering their names on the pillowcase. Her creations made in a windowless, humble shop located in a narrow alley would offer a small consolation for many of those trudging through a tough time.
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You will see a wide variety of embroidery pieces at Tanmy Design shop.

Thirty-something years later, Do Thanh Huong, daughter of the Tan My founder, moved her mother’s shop to the current location and transformed it into a chic boutique. In 2009, they opened a second store in a three-story building, selling a variety of craft items including hand embroidery works, ao dai, lacquerware, jewellery, and interior accessories. Today Tan My Design is a leading design brand representing Vietnam, and the shop on Hang Gai is famous for being a must-see place for foreign dignitaries and heads of state visiting Hanoi.
Currently, Nguyen Thuy Linh, Huong’s daughter, oversees the business as general director. Even her 8-year-old daughter named Kitty also helps out in the shop by bridging the language barrier for foreign customers. Tan My Design has renewed itself generation after generation into a refined lifestyle brand to continue to present traditional handwork items offering modern sensibility and practicality.
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(Left) Women behind Tan My Design. From left, Do Thanh Huong, Bach Thi Ngai, Nguyen Thuy Linh, Kitty. (Right). First Lady Kim Jung-sook visiting Tanmy Design. From left, Nguyen Thuy Linh, First Lady Kim, Do Thanh Huong.

Interview with Tan My Design Director Nguyen Thuy Linh
Q. What sets apart traditional Vietnamese embroidery from others in the market?
A. Most of all, many countries now rely on machine embroidery, but Vietnamese products are hand-embroidered. It is an intensive work requiring not just patience, but concentration and passion. Hand embroidery creates a work of art where the crafter’s mind, spirit and technique converge. No two embroidery pieces are the same.
In India, wool is used for yarn whereas silk is preferred in China. Vietnam traditionally relied on cotton. Cotton yarn has a greater durability than wool and lacks luster than silk, which makes it easier to formulate natural colors with. Vietnamese embroidery tends to use a single-colored thread for one whole pattern. If the work requires diverse colors, the crafter extracts pigments from natural sources such as indigo plants, Indian almond trees, locust trees, or various flowers, for dyeing.
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Q. We would like to know more about the embroidery masters at Tan My Design.
A. There are about 500 embroidery masters at Tan My Design. Interestingly, most of them engage in farming and embroidery at the same time. When it’s not a farming season, embroidery becomes their main source of income, and when they are planting seeds or harvesting, farming becomes their job.
Although there are many who know how to embroider, it is rare to find someone with sewing skills that could qualify them to be called master. You need originality, persistence, delicacy and artistic sensitivity to select the right color combinations. As embroidery is a kind of art that reflects reality, you need to pay attention to the most minute details to create an animated piece of needlework.
Embroidery skills usually pass down from generation to generation. That was my case. My grandmother who founded Tan My Design taught my mother to sew, and my mother trained me, and I am trying to pass it to my daughter. Masters at Tan My Design have also inherited hand embroidery techniques from their families.

Q. What is the design goal of Tan My Design? Where do you find inspirations?
A. Tan My Design pursues a perfect harmony of tradition and modernity. Every item we sell is made using a traditional method. Not just embroidered products but lacquerware, sculpture, and jewellery as well. However from a design aspect, our collection conveys modern sensibility that could even parallel contemporary art. We receive inspirations from Vietnam’s social and natural landscape, people and culture and try to reinterpret them our own way.
I believe Tan My Design products should be beautiful, original, and creative. It is not an exaggeration to say each product is an artwork carrying the spirit of Vietnamese embroidery masters.
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Q. In today’s world, the concept of family business is gradually weakening. What kind of attitude is necessary to carry on the family business in the field of traditional crafts?
A. In order to take over the family business in the traditional industry, you have to have passion and love for the work, on top of necessary skills. Women who’ve contributed to Tan My Design have all been passionate about embroidery, and their constant effort and sacrifice have led them to success.
In today’s world where everything moves fast, it is no easy task to preserve traditional values. It is much more efficient to make products using machinery, rather than through manual labor, if you want to save time, labor, and money. Moreover, it is easier and faster to make copies instead of coming up with unique designs for products. However, the key to a sustainable success is in protecting traditional values and originality. That, combined with the effort and work ethic to offer high-quality products and service, is what would get you out of any hardship you may run across while doing business today.

Q. Since opening in 1969, Tan My Design has grown tremendously. What’s your future vision?
A. My grandmother used to always say to my mother, “You have to continue to keep this work, my darling.” I heard the same sentence as I was growing up, and I plan to repeat it to my daughter some day. It’s a simple sentence, but I feel that it conveys the love, sweat, sorrow, and joy of all Vietnamese women who embroider.
The principle of maintaining quality products and customer service is one of the essential tips for success you can give to future generations. Despite harsh competition among businesses, if you have superior products and show respect for customers, you will inevitably succeed.
We would like to further contribute to the development of various Vietnamese crafts. At Tan My Design, you will see numerous handcrafted products ranging from embroidery to fashion, lacquerware, sculpture, jewellery, and painting. Thankfully some of Vietnam’s top designers are working with us. We plan to promote the beauty of Vietnam’s traditional craftwork through similar collaborations in the future.
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Q. What would you recommend to tourists visiting Hanoi?
A. Every item has its own value, but to pick one, I must choose hand-embroidered items that have existed for over half a century. In particular, you can check out bedding, table linen, silk or velvet scarves, handkerchiefs, lavender sachets, and embroidered garments. You will feel the spirit and knowhow that Vietnamese craft masters and women have long cherished.

Video ⓒ Tanmy Design




LOTTE HOTEL HANOI sits in the heart of the city between the Old Quarter full of historic sites and the New Business District. Located in the upper part of a 65-story landmark, LOTTE Center Hanoi, LOTTE HOTEL HANOI is popular among businessmen and tourists for its top-notch service and cutting-edge facilities. World-renowned hotel design companies, HBA and Wilson Associates, designed 318 rooms, inspired by Vietnam’s beautiful nature and traditional symbols. The banquet halls offer unmatched service and facilities for international conferences, seminars, and weddings. 

Address No. 54, Lieu Giai St. Cong Vi Ward. Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam, Lotte Hotel Hanoi
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June 2019 Editor:Ha Jaekyung
Writer:Lee Yeeun
Cooperation: Tanmy Design

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  • June 2019
  • Editor: Ha Jaekyung
    Writer: Lee Yeeun
  • Cooperation: Tanmy Design
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