Maly Vang weaves her Hmong heritage into modern macramé wall art

While she creates all sorts of wall hangings and some other macramé accessories, over the past couple years, Vang has become well known for her xauv-inspired pieces.
Maly Vang making a project
Photo by Nikki Hansen

The first time Maly Vang encountered macramé, it was by chance. She was learning how to do hand lettering and calligraphy on Skillshare when she stumbled upon an instructional macramé video by popular artist Peggy Dean, who goes by @thepigeonletters on Instagram.

“Once I saw that video, I then went on YouTube and just kind of self-taught myself how to tie the knots and create wall hangings,” Vang says.

While working at the Wisconsin Department of Administration in 2017 as an instructional designer, Vang got into a 9-to-5 workday slump and needed an escape. She had always been creative, but as she got older, artistic outlets were put on the back burner until she decided that she needed to get into a healthier mindset.

“I basically wanted to start crafting again because I feel like I needed to release that stress,” Vang says. “It was more therapeutic for me than anything, and as I started creating more I was like, ‘Hey, I think I could actually sell some of this.’ ”

That’s when malyMADE, her macramé venture, came to be. Vang says she explored the hobby, aiming to use different techniques to create beautiful wall art that people would want to hang in their homes. Instead of sticking to a specific process, she likes to design what she feels in the moment, but considers size, shape and base materials before starting the knots. This allows her to go with the flow and track how the knots meet up with each other.

While she creates all sorts of wall hangings and some other macramé accessories, over the past couple years, Vang has become well known for her xauv-inspired pieces.

Maly Vang holding a small piece in her hands

Photo by Nikki Hansen

A xauv (pronounced “so”), which directly translates to “lock” or “silver” in Hmong, is a silver necklace worn with traditional clothing, Vang says. The necklace is often worn in remembrance of past hardships faced by Hmong people — when Hmong were enslaved, they wore necklaces for identification, and after gaining freedom, the xauv became a symbol of independence.

Vang is Hmong, and many of her customers are, too. In 2018, a customer asked 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 multiple circular pieces and decorative accents that create a bold chest piece. The designs have evolved, and since Vang started, more makers have created similar pieces. To stand out, she’ll frequently use double hoops, which also echo some xauv necklaces. Her knots also imitate some of the designs you’ll find in 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 make Hmong-inspired macramé because I feel macramé can be taken in so many directions, but now that I’ve incorporated more art into Hmong-inspired macramé I do feel a deeper connection to my culture and my people.”

circular wall hanging with blue designs

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Vang’s xauv-inspired pieces sell out within minutes. The waitlist for custom pieces became too much, especially considering Vang also works at Bayview Foundation, a nonprofit that provides affordable housing and services to low-income residents. Since she couldn’t keep up with demand, she implemented a system where she’ll announce to her mailing list when her xauv-inspired pieces will go live for preorders. Four times a year, she creates different designs, and she opens a limited number of spots each month. This allows her to continue making xauv-inspired pieces, but she also has time to experiment with new designs and macramé projects.

Macramé has existed for thousands of years. One of the more widely shared stories is that it began with Arab weavers in the 13th century, but some trace its origins back even further. The art form experienced a revival in the 1970s, and it’s equally trendy today.

Because of macramé’s long history, Vang considers herself a modern macramé artist. “I try to create unique pieces, one-of-a-kind pieces just to kind of stick out from the crowd and what’s already available in the market,” she says.

Maly Vang holding a large macrame wall hanging

Photo by Nikki Hansen

Photo by Nikki Hansen

While the xauv art is her primary Hmong-influenced endeavor, she also incorporates the Hmong heart and other figures into designs.

“There’s a lot of motifs and symbols in Hmong textiles, so I just try to incorporate that into macramé whether it’s my wall hangings or accessories,” Vang says.

As Vang’s macramé sells out so quickly, the best way to get your own is to join her mailing list, which is the first place she’ll announce availability of designs.

Find malyMADE:
Instagram @malymade
Facebook @malymadestudio

Maija Inveiss is an associate editor of Madison Magazine.

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