Many southwest Chinese ethnic groups, especially the Miao, are known for their spectacular embroidery. Traditionally women’s work, embroidery was a Miao girl’s first attempt at needlework starting as early as four or five years old. Watching their mothers and other women in the community weave and embroider, they would later pass on this knowledge to the next generation. As one Miao woman explains, “A woman’s life is a dance with needle and thread. The book or painting of a woman’s life is created using the needle as a pen or brush and thread as ink.” Exquisitely woven and embroidered clothing and accessories, like this baby carrier (mei tai), were an important part of a girl’s dowry and distinguished her by the skill and richness of decoration of the needlework.
Baby carriers serve a very important function for the mother as they allow her to continue working while caring for an infant. There are many types of baby carriers, most of which hold the baby on the mother’s back. This T-shaped carrier is probably the most typical; the baby rests between the top panel and the wearer’s back with the belts wrapping around both of them to hold the baby in place. The straps are wound over the wearer’s shoulders, cross over the chest, and then wrap back around the baby’s bottom to the front of the wearer, where it is tied at her waist. Because the straps received the heaviest wear-and-tear, they are often in the worst condition; in this case the straps are missing completely but the body of the carrier has been preserved because of the beautiful embroidery.