Wondering how a tiny needle and colourful thread could be used to create such lively works, American artist Daniel Rueffert came to Vietnam to learn the art and has completed a 10-day course in embroidery with the XQ Hand Embroidery Co in Nha Trang in the central province of Khanh Hoa.

Born in 1948, Rueffert was drafted to fight in the American War in Vietnam in 1968, but chose to spend four months in jail rather than serve. He then moved to Mexico, where he has lived for 35 years, studying and teaching fine arts and establishing himself as a post-impressionist painter of Mexican lives and landscapes.

He remained curious about Vietnam, however, and visited the country as a tourist in 2009, saying, "I always wondered what I missed."

By chance, he discovered Vietnamese embroidered silk paintings at XQ Hoi An in the central city of Hoi An.

"I'm always careful and meticulous in using colours. I was surprised that the embroidery artists didn't use colours but threads to create wonderful paintings," Rueffert said. "I spent two years thinking about embroidery and wanted to see my work as embroidery."

He returned to Vietnam earlier this month and, by chance, stopped by XQ Hanoi on Hang Gai Street.

"I never imagined they would teach me," Rueffert said. "I built an embroidery table and frame and got started."

He visited XQ's head office in the Central Highlands city of Da Lat to meet Vo Van Quan, the company's director and founder. However, Quan has gone to XQ office in Nha Trang City to participate in the Nha Trang Sea Festival.

Rueffert set off to Nha Trang. After an initiation ritual in a Vietnamese ao dai (traditional robe), he was enrolled.

"Rueffert is very studious," said his supervisor Le Thanh Thuy. "He comes to the embroidery frame at 7am and forgets himself in learning until dusk. He has been a very adept student despite his old age. It often takes two months for a normal student to embroider, but for Rueffert, he could do it after just three days."

Rueffert said Thuy has been patient and helped him every step of the way.

"At first, everything was difficult for me," he said. "I forgot myself staying by the embroidery frame, but after three days I only finished half a leaf. I feel my time at the XQ class has gone by so quickly while my passion for traditional Vietnamese embroidery is so great that I have to use my time and try my best."

Since XQ was founded by Quan and his wife, Hoang Le Xuan, a number of foreigners have come to Da Lat to learn embroidery, but most only stayed a few days, Quan said.

"This is the first time a foreign artist has studied embroidery with all his heart. He has travelled half-way around the world to learn the art," he said. "I'm sure that Rueffert will be an ambassador for traditional Vietnamese embroidery around the world."

"I feel very indebted to everyone I met that helped me and there were many," Rueffert said. "The founder has been very generous with his time and made me feel at home."

Rueffert's first embroidery depicts young Vietnamese women working in a field.

"It needs time, but I have been very happy working on it," Rueffert said.

He plans to return to Da Lat in December to further advance his dream of painting with tiny coloured threads./.