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The end of the year is the time to take stock and reflect on the year and what a year 2017 has been! I stumbled into the start of the year not quite knowing a new year has started as I continued to plow through projects started in 2016.

Contributed to my friend, Betty’s, art installation “The blue who swims all this way” at National Gallery in time for the Children’s Biennale launched in May. I loved seeing the results of that handmade wall, a cumulation of a few artisan-friends’ handiwork. But it was also bitter-sweet because by the time the installation was up, it was time to say goodbye to Betty who moved to her new home half a world away.

 

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close-up of the feature wall

 

I also completed the project, “Draw a Friend for Pip”, for Pip’s Playbox at Esplanade. As I got more familiar with basic plush-toy constructions, it got easier… much less of a struggle as compared to when I first started the project in 2016. I now have a new-found appreciation for well-made plush toys. truly, truly.

 

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half of Pip’s new friends!

 

Aside from art installations, last year I  found commission work in the form of a cookbook. No, I don’t cook. But I do embroider! I created small motifs of herbs to complement the book, Daily Nonya Dishes, published by Landmark Books. It is quite a feeling to see my name in the credits page of a real book!

With projects done and dusted, the middle of 2017 was lull period for me and I pondered what is next. In the process, I lent my hands to the big soup kitchen of Willing Hearts. The mess I created confirmed that cooking really wasn’t quite my thing. So I went back to my sewing: making special edition siamese cat brooches to be sold for this heart-wrenching cause.

 

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our limited edition Siamese cats which were all sold!

 

Speaking of cats, I will miss the resident cats of Dulcetfig and The Company of Cats! 2017 saw the ending of some business relationships as our stockists called it a day.

But all is not sad goodbyes as I was introduced to some amazingly passionate people this year. It was a year of collaborations. Working with two separate children clothing brands in different ways, my embroidery has worked their way into little bubs’ everyday wear 🙂 Children clothing is not an area I would have expected to delve into, so I am very grateful for the opportunities.

 

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Chubby Chubby x Momshoo Collab (Personalisations of baby onesies)

 

We didn’t leave the adults out either. With our hand-embroidery on clothes workshop with Fashion Makerspace, we taught participants how to add little selfish details to their clothes. It also spreads my message of and making ‘heirloom’ clothing pieces that will be treasured and not thrown away the minute the next fashion trend catwalks in.

 

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embroidery samplers done by the participants of our workshop

 

In the same thread, I was invited to work with one of my favourite clothing brands, Uniqlo. We brought our pocket workshops to their Singapore Flagship store and created a modified Uniqlo clothing for their anniversary celebratory exhibition. I am very happy with the results of my boro-inspired, patchworked dress! it came together quite organically and I planned the underwater details as I stitched pieces together.

 

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my piece “Glimpses of the Sea” for Uniqlo Live anniversary exhibition

 

On the travel front, we took Momshoo for another ‘business trip’, to Taipei in April as part of Pinkoi’s Good Goods Market. I was very excited as Taipei is my favourite crafty city and what a welcome we got! Aside from the rain and wind, we felt the warmth of the Taiwanese people 🙂 It was a short but memorable 4 days.

 

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Momshoo at Pinkoi Market in Taipei

 

In October, we visited North Vietnam with the old town of Hanoi being our base. From Hanoi, we traveled out to world heritage site, Halong Bay where I got a taste of cruise-life. It is an experience to watch the ever-changing views of the islands in the bay from our hotel room balcony and waking up to the sunrise on the bay? Unforgettable. We also took long car rides to reach the mountainous town of Sapa where the rich culture of the various Vietnamese hill tribes thrives. I enjoyed a glimpse into their traditional textile craft processes from plant to cloth.

 

We came back from the trip to news of my grandmother’s passing. It was a whirlwind week that happened in a blur; we held her wake and funeral while still trying to recover from the buzz of experiences that was our Vietnam trip. But it was during this week I unearthed many interesting stories about my grandmother and her life, bit-by-bit relatives shared their memories of her. After the funeral, my father managed to gather his thoughts here, which gave us all some closure.

 

And with the usual busy end of year (thank you for choosing to support Momshoo!), we have reached the end of 2017. It was a marathon of experiences and I am happy to have gotten to know all the people I met along the year. Thank you for being so generous with the opportunities you have given me and Momshoo! Here’s to whatever 2018 will bring!

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Common Wisdom

The other day, A casual exchange with our favourite popiah hawker revealed a pearl of wisdom:

“If you want to have freedom (and happiness)… don’t expect to earn a lot of money. Something’s gotta give.”

He said this in chinese. “如果要自由自在,那就不会赚很多。一定要有点牺牲。”

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At the start of 2016, we bid farewell to a 5-year long experiment known as POPIN, a group of makers and artists who came together to craft magic. I joined in the group’s first project as a participant but stayed on to help run the parties in the next four annual community craft projects. Oh what fun we had! But what started quite organically was becoming quite a commitment and obligation of sorts and we decided to end the collaboration after our 5-year run. Also due partly to many member farewells in recent years as friends moved to other corners of the globe. In April, one moved home to Indonesia and July marked another goodbye to my fellow POPIN friend and partner-in-art as she moved to the US to embarked on a new learning journey.
Well, individually we continue to share our crafts in different ways. 🙂

So much for goodbyes! With one less project on my calendar, I decided this year to take on something new. A reconnection with old friends at the beginning of the year resulted in a part-time job at the lovely picture book shop, Woods in the Books! My first real job since I have been working on Momshoo since graduation. So much to learn and so much fun too!

Ironically, I found it is easier to sell books compared to selling my own products. Having less personal attachment to the products made it easier to promote and be objective. Of course it helped that I am a great believer in the habit of reading. It was also the first time I was interacting with children so much. And there is so much we can learn from children! I admire that children speak their minds. Leave them to pick their own books – they know exactly what they like and won’t be persuaded otherwise. I also pick up a few tricks with interacting with toddlers. They are easy to entertain as they are amused by the littlest actions. A smile from you is replied with a big grin that fills their whole face. Aww! I also found the purpose of the physical bookstore is to create experiences, chance discoveries of new books that you may not typically pick up. It is important to give the customer space to browse.

Being in a new environment of a bookstore also meant being surrounded constantly by inspiration. These inspiration have unknowingly found their way into my own work and life. I lost track of the number of times that customers/friends have told me “oh if must be so nice to work in a bookshop like this, I wish I could do the same!” Then do it! I am happy to have taken the leap to do something new last year and I hope to continue leaping in 2017. 🙂

Of course I can’t forget the travels in 2016. Most memorably, my first solo flight to meet my cousin in faraway Finland. Just a little taste of travelling solo, it was erm… Interesting. Here’s to more new adventures in 2017, wherever that may take me!

Rethinking clothes

I don’t know when was it exactly I started thinking about what I wear, not so much in the fashion sense, but more on the ethical side of things.

Maybe it emerged from the casual conversations during craft markets with my friend, Amy, who always professes her love for linen clothes. Maybe it was when I sewed my first garment and fell in love with the sense of satisfaction of wearing my own made clothes. Or maybe it was when I discovered the term Visible Mending through textile practitioner, TomofHolland, while reading an article n Uppercase magazine.

(To explain how linen clothes points towards ethics: Linen is one of those “Green Fibres” due to it longevity and how quickly it grows without the need for copious amounts of pesticides. In comparison, the popular fibre, cotton, also consumes enormous amounts of water to grow, which makes linen more eco-friendly.)

Whenever it started, it is definitely something I have started thinking about recently. Being someone who works so much with fabrics and textiles, I am naturally interested in where and how these materials I handle daily come from.

So when I came across this video filmed at Sagnlandet Lejre, Historical Archaeological Research and Communication Center, Denmark, which explains how textiles are made from plant to the final woven piece, it opened my eyes.

It is such a tedious process but yet so inspiring to think who invented/ discovered how to make textiles! Of course, I am sure today’s textile industry has simplified the primitive process with the help of mechanization, but the process is no less easy.

Which leads me to think about what I wear. When chancing upon this article, I began thinking about slow fashion and what it means to be a conscious consumer.

It wasn’t too far back when I was concerned about being seen wearing the same clothes over and over again. So what changed? Why are we led to constantly need to buy a new wardrobe every new fashion trend (or season change) when it leads to so much textile waste? The same textiles that goes through that long process to become clothes.

Now I have begun to realise, it is ok to wear clothes repeatedly, and let them get worn and faded with each wear. There are always ways of mending. In fact, I am excited to try out visible mending, to highlight the age of my favourite pieces. It is also a nice opportunity to put my embroidery skills to work.

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my first attempt at Visible Mending

Reading about Boro fabrics from Japan, that follows the “ancient Japanese tradition of making do and mending.” It is interesting to note how much history can be woven into these mendings. It is akin to my love for old buildings. There isn’t always a need to raze them from the ground, instead think about restoring and highlighting areas of their historical structure. It will take time to change the mindset, but I am going to start thinking the same about clothes.

A year of embroidery

During the last few days of 2015, we were talking about the things Momshoo, my small business, achieved and did in the year. Interestingly, we realized that much of it revolved around the craft technique of embroidery.

From the new products we created: wee pouches, mini embroidered flags, pot holders, jot of ideas book covers, embroidered rock paperweights… They all carried a hint of embroidery.

 

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Early in the year, I also tried out a technique based workshop (rather than our usual product based classes), an embroidery sampler workshop to great response… and which has gone on to become our most popular workshop offering. It is amazing and sometimes when I look back I wonder, being mostly self-taught and having only done it seriously for slightly over a year, what made me think I am qualified to give a class on the topic? But I am happy I did and humbled that people took a chance on the class and came out having learnt something new or in the very least enjoying the session.  

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Even some of the art I made this year featured embroidery!

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It was an interest that began towards the end of 2014 and lasted through to 2015 and I am still being fascinated by the possibilities of this traditional craft. Still learning new things and being inspired by the myriad of things I could do with it.

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I ended the year with thinking about how to add personal touches to clothing a with embroidery (something I saw back in my trip to Taipei in 2014 and again in a POPIN craft trip to the same city in Dec 2015) I am thinking some techniques of visible mending next?

Being your own boss and working from home often means weekdays blur into weekends and vice versa. Or does it? As I run a handmade business, weekends are precious as they are spent at craft markets selling goods or at workshops – catered to the usual working crowd, where weekends are precious for a different reason.

For my weekends free of events, they are spent at the comforts of home. The same space I conduct my business from. Which is why I find myself also working on weekends, no different from any other day of the week.

Ah, but that’s when the ‘weekend mentality’ kicks in. Even as I may be doing the same work as I do everyday, the weekend feels subtly different. I allow myself to be more relaxed about it. If I don’t achieve certain production goals I set for myself, it is ok. If I decide to take time off to write a blog post, it is ok.

And if I manage to complete some work during the weekends, I congratulate myself more than usual.

It is strange isn’t it, how this concept of weekend gets to us all? Not that I am complaining, it is the weekend afterall.

Food and memories

As usual there is a stack of books and magazines by my bedside as I attempt to reading a few books simultaneously. It is interesting when the contents of my readings start to coincide with one another. It is even more interest when these coincidences also conjure up my own personal memories.

Today I read about food. And how food can be associated with memories. Lucy Knisley’s Relish artfully shows us that. It is a “mouth-watering graphic memoir’” that is segmented into chapters, each one beginning with a backstory (in lovely comic graphics which is perfect for those who do not like reading lengthy paragraphs) before serving up a home-made recipe again in hand-drawn illustrations. This is one cook book that does not bank on fancy photoshopped images, but whets your appetite in a completely different way. Well, I don’t cook so I hardly ever pick up a cook book but this one is different. I enjoy reading her personal stories relating to the recipes.

Then, there is Kinfolk, the magazine that talks about food through tantalising essays. In an issue about aging, there is a feature on supper-club Mother’s Mother which “celebrates mother’s food from around the world”. I love the idea and unfortunately can’t paraphrase the concept better than what I am going to lift from their about page: Some recipes have been passed through generations getting tastier and tastier as they are handed down from grandmothers to mothers. The resulting meals will have changed your life and are probably responsible for forging your tastes…” Essentially, the club hosts meals where each time a person is brought in to cook a dish from their grandmother’s recipe. In between the cooking and the serving and the eating, a personal memory is shared through the food presented.

It made me think of my own food memories, what would I serve (assuming I cook) as my grandmother’s dish? The answer was clear, the small bowl of dry mee sua aka chinese wheat flour noodles with 2 perfect hardboiled eggs. This is what each person of the family would eat round the reunion table every first day of Chinese New Year. A seemingly simple dish. But not an easy feat, I remember the year we were tasked to cooking and peeling the eggs, oh we did terribly! The shells wouldn’t come off without a fight and left us with potholed egg surfaces. From then on, my auntie’s family took over egg-cooking duties and every year we would have perfect eggs to go with our noodles. The secret to the perfect eggs she says is… buying more eggs so there is room to throw out a few! The noodles are also known as longevity noodles and eating it means a longer life ahead of us. If I am not mistaken, this used to be cooked by my grandfather, before my third uncle took over. Maybe it should be called my ‘grandfather’s dish’ instead? Whatever it is, it is tradition! As well as the dish that has personal memories.