Saturday, 26 June 2010

Day 169-171-Palace 1st Guests

The Palace is proud to announce the arrival of its most esteemed  guests:

Dale Of Philly, the Princess of All Things Fabric

Bearing gifts of 2  exquisite floor pillows,the most magnificent screen, both hand sewn by the  Princess herself, 1 majestic brass table with 4 equally regal brass chairs , a larger than life carved coffee pot and 4 accompanying goblets plus 1 life size Victorian tea cup (not in pic)


Snowfern Clover, the Singapore Sling of All Food Mini

Bearing gifts of 2 dozens Turkish delights in exact scale and incredible details and the most  awe-inspiring doilies, impossibly hand tatted by Snowfern. 

After travelling 25 hours from the US to Singapore, Dale finally arrived on the dot at 12 am on 23 June 2010. I met her at the airport and brought her for a cup of tea before we went home. Picture above is the "tea" I prepared the next day after work to welcome her, Cindy and Asuka. 

It is amazing but Dale knew more Singaporean miniaturists than I do and so we went out after that to meet another Singaporean miniaturist PeiLi and had one of the best  Hainanese Chicken Rice in Singapore. Of course, we had to show off the best part of a miniaturist in this picture. 

Thanks to Cindy, who  is the official tour guide and who really took care of  Dale, they went and saw quite a few places yesterday . As you can see in the pic above, Cindy has packed to stay over for 2 nights here. All I contributed to the day was raisin cheese bread (only the best of course) which nobody ate except me yesterday.

And today, after a very full lunch of roasted pork and dumplings noodle, dry beef noodle, spring roll, rojak and oyster omelette, we went to Arab Street to shop for fabric. We were there for about 4 hours and at about 6pm, we came back for our appointment with Mum.

Mum cooked my favourite chicken curry and Dale's favourite cabbage and carrot which could be "chop suey" to her  and we then had the best durians ever for desert. We were very proud of Dale for sniffing the durians for a full 1 minute.

Dale has only been here for 3 days and I have already eaten my year's quota of forbidden foods. By the time Dale returns home, I may be able to apply for a job at this shop we saw at Arab Street.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Day 160-168- Embroiderer's Room & The Making Of

Brrrrrrr, what a cold, cold night it is here. 

This morning  I was taking pictures of the Embroiderer's Room to the music of a surprising thunderstorm. I braved the rain and went to work late only to find out that many were stranded in various flash floods all over Singapore.  But now, I am safely home, all bundled up in my batik blanket, listening to the crickets and frogs while uploading my 1st motion picture and feeling pleasantly chilly.I hope the music I picked for this post put you in the same mood too.

May I begin this post by showing you the one picture that was my inspiration for this room. It is the photograph of an ari embroiderer in his corner. The caption reads " An ari embroiderer at work; the reed mat, hookah and kangri (a wicker container for smouldering coals) near him are ubiquitous elements  of the local material culture." This picture guided me every step of the way in the making of this room and decided for me what must be built.

The Making Of....
Ubiquitous Elements

These are the first things I created for this room. Right after I made the wooden box of cards for Ira, I decided to make a bigger version (1" wide by 5/8" high) as a toolbox for my embroiderer. Due to its larger size. I am able to have carved sides all round.  The smaller ones are metal boxes which I painted. 

That same night, I made what must appear to some of you to be my favourite subject matter, THE Hookah. Unlike the rest, this one I really love. Standing tall and proud at 2 1/8" high and spanning 1 1/2" from the tip of the pipe to the base, I place it right in front of the room for my easy viewing. I made this one in no time.

On the other hand, it was a week later before I was satisfied with the distressing of  the spinning wheels. You might have read about it in my last post and then read about how I then spent the rest of last  last Friday making the embroidered dancing shoes. As you can tell from their name, I made these shoes for this room. And then I built the shelves for them.

These shelves were made with ice cream sticks and beads. I cannot cut the stick  any shorter for each holds exactly 6 pairs, end to end. I made the front wavy so that the tip of each shoe could be placed in between two half moons. As you can see, there was a lot of chiselling. I put the shelves against this wooden bench for comparison  as I painted the sticks to simulate its colour. 

I thought the half moons and  the beads completed the Indian look and when they were placed against the wall with fake log supports and the tool boxes snuggly tucked underneath,  I dare say they looked like they had been on those walls forever.

But nothing prepared me for this sight when I put the shoes on the shelves.  I hope you don't think me gloating but I actually clapped and gave it a standing ovation! Never mind that I could not be sitting while arranging the shoes.  Much as I love THE Hookah, I think these shoes are what give the Embroiderer's room that certain je ne sais quoi.  By now, my small Afghan rug and the "reed" mat are already on the floor.

Time for tea but not before I invented this portable  charcoal stove. There is no originality in the concept of course,  as we Chinese have been using portable charcoal stove for eon but this one boasts certain unique features like er.....Never mind the features, I  bet you haven't seen one like this!?

The kettle is a plastic piece that I distressed. I even broke the handle (unintentionally) to make it look 10 years older. The metal cups of chai and masala tea are the only artisan's work that I have used in this whole setting. They were made by Cindy who gave them to me as an anniversary present. I also aged the fancy tray and made a rug pillow which I didn't use in the end.

Here is a box of  ari needles also known as awls also known as "tambour" hooks, without which our embroiderer would not have been able to make the dancing shoes. These tools are homemade lovingly with beads and the prickly part of thumb tacks broken with a cutter. Don't try that without eye protection please! All the above I did during last last weekend

2 days later, we did a rousing performance at the concert hall of  The Esplanade, kind of like the Carnegie Hall (ya right) equivalent of Singapore. Although there was no standing ovation for our performance,  the audience did get on their feet to dance to a 90's disco medley performed by Ms Rahima Rahim, a rock singer turned grandma and Ann Hussein, a talentime winner turned singing coach. Truly legendary!

This is the last ubiquitous element, the kangri, really a  portable heater. I don't think I have ever been more enchanted by a gadget. A wicker basket made to carry clay pots of smouldering coals, one keeps warm by slipping a kangri underneath the pheran (long loose gown) he or she wears. Kangri are dowry items in Kashmir. I give this invention 5 stars for its simplicity, economy, effectiveness, portability and beauty. I hope you notice that all my portable gadgets have smouldering coals in them, including THE Hookah.

We are almost there, save for the following  finishing touches which I completed last night.

I replaced the rug pillow with this 2 that I made from sample fabric, picked because they looked like dyed bamboo. I used foam for the inside which I strongly recommend for its dentability. You will see later how the pillows sink in nicely where they are supposed to. I also added a milk jug with a cork coaster for cover.

I put tools like 3 pairs of  scissors, some knives and a spindle inside the tool box. There is also a piece of unfinished embroidery on the table.

Finally, here is the pièce de résistance, the before picture, of course. It took me about 3-4 hours to complete making this hurricane lamp work because it involved soldering loose wires but I am pleasantly surprised by how it turned out. 

And so, ladies and gentlemen,  with that, we conclude The Making of "The Embroidery Room".  But don't leave yet!

May I  now present, for the first time and never before shown,  my 1st motion picture. It is dedicated to my very talented friend, Rosanna, who will enjoy her own debut at SIMP this weekend. I hope you will enjoy the movie. 

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Day 162-166-A Spinner's Tools

The Spinner's Corner : On the upper left corner of the tribal home, a spinner stores her materials and tools. Occasionally , she sits here and spins. More often though, she will carry her tools on her shoulder to work outside with the other girls, be it  the spinning wheel or the simpler spindle and bowl.

It is no wonder that she prefers to work elsewhere, for this crammed, windowless space is  a mere 3 1/2" by 4" landing and rather poorly lit.  Despite the small  space, it has taken me 5 man days worth of work to complete making everything for my spinner.

I started preparations for the  "Embroiderers' Workroom" on the Vesak Day weekend, i.e. 28th May. The "Spinner's Corner"  is actually at the back part of that room.

I laid this little corner with a bamboo mat. You may remember from "Ingredients for the House" that it is an old coaster I picked from the trash. The bundle against the wall is the white cloth trimmings of the coaster which I did not have the heart to throw away.

This spinning wheel is the 1st spinner's tool to be done. It was not made by me. I just aged an existing piece I bought from Daiso. Chisel is a good friend when aging. This is my first "sun bleached" look. By now, I am fairly confident with "dark" aging, something like what I did for the door, using darker colours like brown and black but until this piece, I never had much success with "light" bleaching. This one is a compromise between the two, one I am fairly satisfied with but not before at least 100 layers of paint had been applied on it.

I nearly titled this post "A Spinner's Stool" because this stool took me so long to make. But I didn't use it because apart from sounding like something floating in a toilet bowl, I realised that almost a year ago, I already did a "Stools For Spinners" post. So I shifted the letters around and came up with "A Spinner's Tools".  

This stool was modelled after a real one that I bought from Pakistan almost 20  years ago. As you can see, it is hardly used which explains its almost pristine condition. But I didn't want perky and youthful,  I wanted age, stories, character.

This little thing and all of its  1 3/4" wide and 3/4" high frame took me a grand total of 3 days to make.  Divide that up and you can imagine the millimeters I progressed each day with this chair. I even weaved the seat with threads to make it look as much like my real one as possible. I used wooden beads and toothpick for the frame and while chiselling the tiny beads, I cut my left thumb. This stool will never be thrown away for it is generously stained with my blood.

May I now share a tip in miniaturising a convincing chair:  While you work, imagine how a homemade stool would not be perfect, how the seat sunk in after being sat on for 20 plus years, how the poor wooden frame is crooked from the weight it had to carry over the decades and how very old and dirty it must be after being handled roughly all those time. Either that, or spin a story around the chair after it is done according to how it turned out. I have to say though, this one is quite a bit better than the 3 I did, also in 3 days in  "Stools for the Spinners".

After the monumental task of making the stool, the rest was easy. In fact, I completed everything else in one day-yesterday, starting with this basket of spindles and 2 bowls. Inspired from a chapter in "Handmade In India" about hand-spinning wool, I thought these added a colourful touch to the otherwise somber corner. 

I hope you will enlarge the picture to read the article. It is very short but informative. I know I kept referring to this book but I truly think this book is an invaluable source of information about art and craft in India. 

The bowls in the book were made with apricot kernels (seed). I therefore used wooden bead for the inside, chiselled the hole till it is bigger and then encased it  with  seed husks from the palm oil  tree in my  garden, to simulate the kernel. 

This is a shot of the colourful corner. Thank goodness for this post, at least someone will notice my  "apricot kernel" bowls for the spindles.

The baskets were the last to be included. They were to be hung on the "thatched" walls of the room. I dyed each one a different brown with wood varnish I bought from Daiso. There's teak, mahogany, walnut, zelkonia (still trying to find out what in the world is that) and maple.

These baskets are used to hold all the materials for our spinners. Two of them hold flowers which can be used to dye the wool. 

I picked this poster for the embroidered saddle (see bottom right of the picture) which serve as an inspiration to our embroiderers. It is a vintage print from India that I downloaded from the net.

Lastly, the little broom and the only thing I like from some ebay junk I bought some time back. Our Banjaran girls are very proud home owners and you will find most tribal homes kept very clean even if all the other things around the house are falling apart. 

I need to make one more thing and I think  the  Embroiderer's Room will be complete.

Saturday, 5 June 2010

Day 163 - Embroidered Dancing Shoes

Traditional footwear or tilla jutti of Rajasthan are entirely hand-made, with tilla (silver and gold wire), embroidered uppers and no nails as they are strictly hand-stitched. No distinction is made between the left and right foot. 

These ethnic shoes were once worn by the Maharajas and Maharanis of India. The designs have changed very little from the days of the Mughal kings and till today,  the men's jutti is still characterised by an upturned toe resembling a proudly curling moustache. 

These footwear were made with thin leather  in various shades of brown for the insoles and base. A pair of prized jutti by skilled craftsman often include dense embroidery even in the leather insoles. 

Above all, it is in the embroidery work that the jutti will be judged and differentiated.  Beautifully stitched with threads and beads, you can often tell which region a jutti is made by the embroidery pattern.

Do you know that traditionally, the role of a shoemaker in a tribal Rajasthan village was considered so crucial  that he had 1st right to all the skins of animals which died a natural death? He just had to share them with the village sweepers. 

Not only that, he was also given a fixed share of the village produce in return for which, he was to supply his patrons and their families leather shoes and other leather tools once or twice a year.

Jutti making has since become a family occupation with the women embroidering the uppers with an awl while the men construct the shoe using cowhides for the uppers and buffalo hide for the insole. 

This vibrantly coloured collection belongs to dear Walter, beautifully embroidered by none other than his Ro.

 Note the pointy shoes in pic depicting 19th century Indian musician.

Many thought our Banjaran musician usually performed without shoes,  not our Walter who is always very careful about his appearance. That's why he owns the same shoes in twelve different colours.

Dear Ro, on the other hand, has only two pairs. Although lacking in quantity when compared to Walter's, these shoes, weaved with hemp dyed in the brightest hues, are no less durable and pretty. These shoes were made for dancing but Ro wears them only on very special occasions like when she is chairing the village meetings. 

If you love shoes like me, you will know that the problem is never about buying them. It is always about storing them. That's why Walter is suffering a headache now.


I walked into this old textile shop just down the road from my house for the 1st time 3 weeks ago even though I have stayed in this area since 1992. I saw the trimmings shown here at the 5th pic from the top stashed in a box and in matter of 5 minutes, the sleepy old lady at the shop slashed the price from S$12 a pack to S$8. She told me that the trimmings were made in Bombay (probably true) 9 metres each (not true, some were only 6 and all less than 9) and good value (absolutely true). I bought 14 packets, all different colours and Walter's shoes are the 1st things  I made with 12 of them. Ro's shoes are painted.
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