It was unkind of me to do that to her - as I am now guilty of being a magsquire (magpie cloned with a squirrel) just like her. Like mother like daughter, except I lack her patience and forbearance.
In the last few weeks I've been packing my paraphernalia or my karung guni collection into boxes to be sent off as freight to KL. And in the process I re-discovered , tucked away safely in a plastic bag (where else?) on the top shelf of the airing cupboard - my mother's gift when I moved to Leicester - a beautiful patchwork batik bedspread.
|Mak's patchwork present from the late 1980s
We both love sewing. I sewed my niece Maria a patchwork bedspread made up of sample material from Liberty's of London as a wedding present in 1996. For his 21st birthday I did the same for Shah, my brother's first-born.
A patchwork spread, no matter how simple the design, is made with much patience and love. Designing, cutting and joining the pieces are a long and painstaking task. It represents an old-fashioned idea of recycling and preserving scraps of textiles into useful, beautiful and unique household items. And so it embodies the virtue of "waste not, want not" - something almost absent in today's throw-away culture.
When I laid out my mother's patchwork on the bed, I could not help but notice that the remnants she had stitched together had, inadvertently, preserved parts of her history and mine.
During the 1980s, on my trips home from my job in Brunei. I would wander around Bras Basah Road, People's Park, South Bridge Road, Chinatown, and Victoria Street to ferret through the little kedai selling stationery, kitchen utensils, hardware items, umbrellas and raincoats and basic crockery items from China. On one of these expeditions I found a shop on South Bridge Road selling batik shirts, blouses, dresses, handbags, purses, housecoats, hats and sarung kebaya outfits in the style of SIA's uniforms. I also noticed the shopkeeper had placed bundles of batik scraps and remnants in a plastic bag on a table just outside his shop, priced at five dollars each. I made an inquiry and left the shop with two bundles. Mak and I drooled over this textile lode and with her blessings I made another trip the next day to buy another load - almost clearing all the shopkeeper had on his table! In the next few months, whenever I came home from Brunei, I would replenish our stock of batik remnants. Sadly the supply dwindled and eventually stopped altogether. I suspected the shop owner had diverted his stock to an agent.
That put an end to our collection. It was such a shame. They had such beautiful colours with very unique floral, abstract and paisley patterns and they fed Mak's and my appetites for sewing.
|Some of the pieces from the South Bridge Road shop
|I may be wrong but the dark blue pieces were used for SIA's uniforms in the 70s and 80s.
|From my sister's red Esbi Line cotton and my green paisley baju kurung
But this one takes the prize - a very special patch from my mother's Baju Kurung Teluk Blangah.
|The middle piece is from mak's kain sarung and the gems are the ones to the left and right.
This baju kurung is now my very treasured and favourite outfit which I proudly wear whenever the occasion arises.
|Smiles from Lely and AsH in her mother's baju kurung
But this textile archive does not stop here. Into her patchwork Mak also sewed these pieces:
|Cool Cotton bought in India
These two pieces recorded my travels with the spouse in India in the 1980s. During his sabbatical leave from Leicester University, Iain would make the journey to the Academy of Development Sciences in Kashele in the state of Maharashtra. This institution was run as an NGO to advise and support the Adivasis: India's aboriginal people who live deep in the rural areas. The Academy ran a clinic, schools, carpentry and light engineering workshops and a large herbal garden for doing research on Ayurvedic medicine. They were a dedicated group of young and middle-aged Indians, some with their families in tow, who pursued no hidden agenda (like snatching souls for conversion) other than to help to improve the health and education and employment opportunities for a group of people that have been marginalised from India's development.
We began our journey in Bombay (or Mumbai).
|Iain's drawing of Pitha Street in Bombay (click to enlarge)
|Kashele - here we come. huff, puff, puff!
But, once we got there, our sojourn in India took on a very fulfilling turn. There was so much to see and to learn from.
|Iain recording the activities of the young Adivasi workers.
For a city girl from Singapore, it was for me, initially, a real culture shock. But you soon learned to find space in the shrubbery for your very own private toilet, to spend the nights by oil lamps and starlight, to make a fire to boil water for a mug of tulsi tea. (You picked the leaves from wherever you found it growing.) You also learned to take a bath and to do your laundry in the river with the other ladies during the early mornings. And you took off your hat to this little Community for their inspiring commitment and enthusiasm.
There was much joy and camaraderie in our relationship during the time we were there.
|With three lovely ADS workers
No fancy hotels, no beach getaways, but the time we spent at Kashele was one highlight of my life in the 1980s - helping to quell and soothe the trauma of my youngest brother Akim's death in 1982.
I have never forgotten those wonderful people and at 69, it's so heartwarming that I will always be reminded of those marvellous times.
AND IT'S ALL BECAUSE MY MOTHER MADE ME A PATCHWORK BEDSPREAD!