Lisu woman

Thailand: Lisu woman

Lisu woman
Lisu woman with various baskets

General description Lisu woman in traditional dress standing on a board wrapped in black velvet.

Dimensions 21.0 x 10.0 x 9.0 cm

Date when acquired 2012

Original Date 2012

Source Bought by Sally B. in Thailand

Lisu woman back
Back view


Her head is painted plastic with transfers for the facial features. Her body is made of white material over padding with a wire (?) support inside. Her hands are made of pink material.


The doll has a very large vibrant turban on her head. The turban is made of black cotton material. It is decorated with pompoms in neon reds, pinks, yellows and oranges. The wool is crisscrossed in the typical manner of the Lisu over the back of the hat with threads dangling down her back. Three multicoloured rows of beads run across the front of the hat to a small yellow pompom in the middle.

She is wearing a knee-length petrol blue tunic over a black skirt and a pair of trousers. The bodice of the tunic is in black cotton with panels of red, light blue, yellow and green on the sleeves. There are panels of petrol blue cotton going from the shoulders to the yoke of the tunic. The tunic is split down the sides and falls as two separate “aprons” hanging down at the front and back from underneath a plain black sash or belt. The tunic’s bodice has three large silver buttons (1 cm in diameter) embossed in a flower-like design. The black skirt is slightly shorter than the tunic. Hanging from her waist on the left are four pompoms in purple, yellow, neon green and pink.

Her trousers are of red cotton with medium blue cuffs. She is bare-footed.

Lisu head
Lisu showing bright tassels, pompoms and jewellery


In her ears, she has round solid silver earrings with a double chain falling down over her breast. Very long fringed red tassels are attached to the earrings.

The doll has a solid silver ring around her neck. Under this are three long silver chains and three multicoloured bead necklaces.

In her right hand is an open-weave bottle-shaped basket made of straw used for carrying fruit, etc. While in her left hand is a small straw basket with cotton wool in it (maybe for eggs?).

A wicker pannier is perched on her back held with purple wool tied over her shoulders. It is filled with pieces of wood.

Background information

The Lisu are believed to originate from eastern Tibet, though they came to Thailand from Yunnan, China via Burma. They have been established in Thailand since the beginning of the twentieth century, and today there are perhaps 25,000 in the country.

Expert weavers and embroiderers, Lisu women wear very colourful dresses, often with large amounts of elaborate and heavy silver jewellery. Depending on where the Lisu are situated, the style of their dresses varies. They often sew thin strips of fabric in overlapping layers of colours, on their clothes especially around the collars and sleeves. The style of Lisu women’s dress has changed quite significantly through the generations. In the past, weaving was done by hand, but now a machine is used. The designs use to be more intricate and beautiful, but the new designs are smaller. Lisu clothing used to be made from hemp fibres. In Burma and China, the Lisu continue to wear the pleated hemp skirts of their ancestors. The style of dress of the Lisu in Burma is quite different and varied from that of Lisu found elsewhere in the region. In northern Thailand, cotton has now taken over as the primary material and Lisu women in Thailand have become accustomed to using cotton or synthetic materials, which can be easily found in nearby markets. The wools on this doll are typical of the neon colours found with synthetic wool.

The Lisu women’s’ costumes of the ‘flowery’ sub-group found in Thailand include a knee length tunic of light blue or green cloth, often with red sleeves. The upper sleeves of the women’s tunic and its yoke of black cloth are heavily decorated with many bands of bright cloth, which are often embroidered. This doll has bands of different coloured material but no embroidery. The tunic fits loosely over the wearer, with a split running up both sides. In front, the tunic falls down to the knees, and in back, down to mid-calf. This asymmetry is not shown on this doll. The women also wear plain belts from which hang multicoloured tassels (on special occasions these can be up to 200). The pompoms on the left are most probably indicative of these tassels .The women apparently usually wear blue or green trousers, though this doll’s are red. The more affluent women wear massive amounts of hand-crafted silver ornaments for festive occasions. This doll has the chains and necklaces typical of the Lisu.

When they get completely dressed up, young Lisu women will also wrap their hair up in a turban using a piece of long black fabric, about 3-4 cm wide. To make the turban, the women begin by measuring the size of their head; then they place the measured fabric around their knee and use it as a dummy, wrapping the fabric around and around until it has formed the desired shape. Next, strands of yarn of various colours are tucked through folds in the turban and wrapped around the hat, criss-crossing over each other. Finally, long, beautiful strands of fabric are attached to the rim of the hat and left to dangle elegantly down the back. The portion travelling under the front of the hat is decorated with little beads and fancy tufts of yarn like this doll’s pompoms. The turbans are also decorated with multicoloured woven rosettes. Elder women just use the black turban, neatly wrapped and folded.

The Lisu men’s outfit is much simpler. They wear trousers with a low-hanging crotch made of the same blue or green cloth as used for the women, while their jackets are often of plain black material. The shirt can also be made of felt, with long-sleeves and an inside lining. Silver buttons are often sewn onto the shirt. The more buttons the better, with the ideal being 1,000 buttons. A red sash is wrapped around the man’s waist. The men also carry a handsomely decorated bag hanging off their shoulder. Long tassels hang down from the bag like horse’s hair.

In the past, Lisu men would wear black, yellow, blue and red turbans made of silk on their heads. These days these turbans are almost impossible to come by. They are made of a white towel-like cloth sewn over cardboard or foam (for shape) and then wrapped around the head. A silver earring is hung from the left ear and a simple silver bracelet is worn on each wrist.

Source(s) of information;;; (all accessed 25 June, 2012); (accessed and 23 September, 2012) (accessed 3 October 2012)



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