Sisters crowdsource for 'world's largest' piece of traditional Hmong embroidery

Stacks of pink and green embroidery squares
Hundreds of people from the Midwest and beyond are participating in an effort to piece together an approximately 9 by 12 foot paj ntaub as a fundraiser for the Hmong Museum in St. Paul. Paj ntaub is a traditional form of Hmong textile art.
Courtesy of Third Daughter, Restless Daughter
Two women pose for a black-and-white portrait
Youa and Wone Vang create sarcastic, zany embroidery as Third Daughter, Restless Daughter. In 2023, they are also putting together what they are calling the "World's Largest Paj Ntaub", a traditional Hmong embroidery piece, with help from the community.
Courtesy of Third Daughter, Restless Daughter

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, or the shortest day of the year. In a season when we get fewer than nine hours of light each day, you may be looking for indoor projects to curl up with.

Sisters Youa and Wone Vang are the artists behind the embroidery business Third Daughter, Restless Daughter. Their work is a mix of darkly funny cross-stitches and big floral decorations that have gone up in exhibits and restaurants. The pair is currently bringing together hundreds of cross-stitched squares into what they are calling the World's Largest Paj Ntaub.

Paj ntaub means “flower cloth” and it's a traditional Hmong artform. Youa and Wone Vang joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to talk about their project, which is a fundraiser for the Hmong Museum's new space on University Avenue in St. Paul.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

Subscribe to the Minnesota Now podcast on Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or wherever you get your podcasts.   

We attempt to make transcripts for Minnesota Now available the next business day after a broadcast. When ready they will appear here.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Audio transcript

CATHY WURZER: Tomorrow is the winter solstice or the shortest day of the year. In a season when we get fewer than nine hours of light each day, you may be looking for indoor projects to curl up with. Our next guests have a suggestion.

Sisters Youa and Wone Vang are the artists behind the embroidery business, Third Daughter, Restless Daughter. Their work is a mix of darkly funny cross stitches and big, floral decorations that have gone up in exhibits and restaurants.

They're currently bringing together hundreds of cross-stitched squares into what they're calling the world's largest pandau. "Pandau" means "flower cloth," and it's a traditional Hmong art form. Youa and Wone are on the line right now to talk about their project, which is a fundraiser for the Hmong Museum's new space on University Avenue in Saint Paul. Welcome to the both of you.

YOUA VANG: Thanks, Cathy.

WONE VANG: Yeah, thanks for having us.

CATHY WURZER: Wone, I'm going to start with you. You've crowdsourced the work that it takes to make this huge piece of embroidery. Tell me about the process.

WONE VANG: Yeah, earlier this year, we were asked to contribute to a fundraising campaign that the Hmong Museum was doing. They've never had, actually, a facility or a home, and we wanted to help support them. So we came up with the concept of the world's largest pandau, which as you have mentioned, is called the flower cloth.

And so with this one, it was a $25 donation that individuals would make, and then we would send them a kit to create a heart in two colors. And then, they would send it back to us. And then, in the end, we will take all these 4x4 heart squares and construct it into a huge quilt-like constructed piece.

CATHY WURZER: Wow, that sounds beautiful. Youa, what have you seen so far? What's coming back to you?

YOUA VANG: So we've been getting a lot of mail. Our mailman probably hates us by now. [LAUGHS] We've been getting a lot of mail coming back. And it's actually pink or green that the customers would be able to get to choose. And so we're waiting to receive some more pieces before we can finish it. We are a little bit short of meeting our goal. So Wone, how many pieces do we have left to sell?

WONE VANG: Yeah, I think we have about-- maybe about 40 more pieces if we could sell them or to get them out there to have people construct it. And just so you know, all of the money that we received for the-- we're considering it a donation. All the funds is going directly to the Hmong Museum. So they're getting 100% of the profit from it. And then--

CATHY WURZER: Well, can--

WONE VANG: Yeah. Oops, sorry. Go ahead.

CATHY WURZER: No, that's OK. Can anybody do this, I mean if you know how to cross stitch?

WONE VANG: Yeah, I mean, the great thing is-- as I've been opening it, the pieces that have come back so far, we've had so many wonderful notes in it about how this brought up a tradition that they did with their grandparents or they haven't-- and several individuals have never cross-stitched before either. So many of them do have-- they can email us and ask us for tips. They have instructions of how to do it.

One of the great things that I have loved so far is when we rolled this campaign out, a lot of the pieces went out nationally. So it wasn't just people who lived in Minnesota, but I had people from California, from the West Coast, all the way to the East Coast, New York, along the Carolinas, down South.

And it wasn't just Hmong individuals and Hmong people who purchased and donated to it. It was any all nationalities. And so I think that is really the fun part about it. And again, like I said, the notes that I've been getting that have been coming back with some of these pieces have been amazing.

CATHY WURZER: Youa Vang, I know that you'd help your grandmother with her embroidery. What do you remember about doing that with her?

YOUA VANG: You know what? We actually learned from our mother, and she learned from her mother. So our grandmother, which is my namesake, but we have so many pieces from her. She's no longer with us. She passed a few years ago. But to be able to have those pieces is so important to us.

And then, a lot of the work that we do is in tradition with American embroidery, too, American cross-stitch. But the funny thing is a lot of Hmong embroidery is actually embroidery, but there's a lot of cross-stitch in it, too. So to be able to have that passed on from her to us, to our mother to us, my mom still has her little stool that she would sit on. It's a traditional Hmong stool that she would sit bent over. I remember seeing her just bent over it all the time.

CATHY WURZER: Did your mother mention when she learned how to do cross-stitch and embroidery? How did that happen for her? I mean, how did it play a role in Hmong culture?

YOUA VANG: She talked a lot about that because she said they'd be out in the field sometimes. And when you're taking a break in the shade, you'd sit and cross-stitch.

CATHY WURZER: Ah, OK. So it was part of what a woman would do, in addition to working, obviously?



YOUA VANG: Yeah, and what I love about it-- Oh.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, go ahead. Absolutely, keep going.

YOUA VANG: Yeah, what I love about it is that my sister and I are doing this traditional cross-stitch, and then we're kind of taking a left turn on what it is. And I love that we, in America, get to make something else out of it now.

CATHY WURZER: Wone, do you want to add something to this?

WONE VANG: Yeah, I mean, again, going back to the stories of my mother and my grandmother in the fields and in between that break that they would take, as you're working in the fields, your hands get dirty. And I love the story that my mom told me. What you would do is would quickly eat your lunch, and then you would just wet your fingers enough with spit so you get like three fingers that are clean. And then, that's when you start working on your pieces out as you're working, and as you're taking the break, and trying to relax a little bit.

I tell you, Hmong embroidery is so beautiful. It's a beautiful art form. It truly is. You two, I love what you're doing, because a lot of your work comes from pop-culture references. And I want you to tell folks about that. Maybe, Youa, you want to maybe explain where that came from?

YOUA VANG: Yeah, I just love being able to catch somebody's attention as they're walking by at a craft show booth or just being able to capture what's inside my head and put it out into something that is tangible. And the funny thing is as soon as you put it out, people are like, oh, I'm thinking the same thing.

CATHY WURZER: And you really have some beautiful pieces, and they're fun. They're fun. Say, Wone, I wonder about, how do we know it's the largest pandau that you're working on?

WONE VANG: As far as what Google tells us, [LAUGHS] there's not something out there that has been as large. I know that there has been quilts created that have draped over steps in New York and stuff that have been much larger. But in the end, I think, if I estimated it correctly, it's going to be about 9 feet by 16 feet if we get all the pieces back.

If someone still wants to do it, they still can because we'll start constructing it next month. And if someone wants to still contribute, they definitely can continue to contribute. And if we get more, we can definitely-- the pattern allows us to add a lot more to it, too. So if it's not the largest, we will probably try to make it the largest.

CATHY WURZER: Oh, I think you gotta go for broke and go for the record. Youa, did your mom get to be a part of the project?

YOUA VANG: She helped in terms of being able to cut the fabric that we sent out and helped wrap the thread. The sad part is that she is going blind due to diabetes these days, so that's the sad part, that she can't take part of it in other ways. But we still appreciate her.

CATHY WURZER: All right, now if someone's listening and they want to give this a try, where can they contact you?

WONE VANG: Actualy, it's on our website. So our website is So that's the number 3, the letter D, the letter R, the letter D, And within our shop, you can purchase the cross-stitch kit.

CATHY WURZER: Great. All right, we're going to cheer you on. We want to see this done. It sounds beautiful. Thank you so much.

YOUA VANG: Thanks, Cathy

WONE VANG: Thank you, Cathy.

CATHY WURZER: Youa and Wone Vang are the textile artists behind Third Daughter, Restless Daughter. As you've heard, they're crowdsourcing this large pandau as a fundraiser for the Hmong Museum in Saint Paul.

Download transcript (PDF)

Transcription services provided by 3Play Media.