The Conical Cap

Silk is the most popular material woven into traditional clothing in Vietnam. And yet, much less has come to be known as more iconic to Vietnam than the conical cap – nón lá. Even while wearing more modern clothing, villagers retain use of the conical cap, making it a ubiquitous in everyday life.

Several villages have been producing them for centuries, the best known in the Red River Delta being Chuông, Thanh Oai, and Hà Tây. In Quảng Nam province, the La Bông village of Hoà Vang District has been supplying central Vietnam with these special hats since the Nguyễn Dynasty.

The first major task for making the nón lá is turning wrinkly, curling, green palm leaves smooth and white. To do this, artisans dry the cleaned and treated leaves in the sun and whiten them with sulfur, thereby sheltering them from mold. Additionally, they must take care the fragile dried leaves as to not crush or break them. When judged sufficiently dry, the leaves must be ironed with enough heat to prevent future wrinkling, and not too much heat lest they crack or burn.

The next step is to prepare the frame, constructed from bamboo sticks and 15 thin split bamboo brims around the top and bottom, equidistant from the other. The worker then lays the flat white leaves across the frame, up to three layers thick, and carefully stitches them onto the frame. The stitches must be evenly spaced and in the end look like a continuous line of thread.

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