Sunday 24 March 2013

A Patchwork Story

No matter how much we try, we usually end up with the habits of our mothers that used to irritate us.  Looking back I realised how mean and horrible I was with the old lady.   Knowing what a hoarder she was, I took it upon myself to regularly conduct a spring cleaning in my mother's bedroom.  I would crawl under her bed to excavate her collection of tins and boxes containing bits of string, rope and wire, old plugs, screws and nails, obsolete flash-lights, paper and plastic bags - the sort of stuff I would stash away in the nooks and crannies of my abodes here and in Kuala Lumpur!

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.
But that's only part of this patchwork story.  For Mak had used other remnants - from my sister's Esbi Line, for example, and her own MARA batik baju kurung '

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)

We always tried to get away from Bombay as quickly as possible to get to Kashele.  From Victoria Terminus we boarded the train for Karjat - a journey that took nearly 2 hours.  At Karjat railway station,  we crossed the track to catch the bus for an hour long trip to Kashele.  From there we walked for nearly two hours to reach the Academy.  This drawing tells it all although the spouse made it look like the urban chick walking with him was as tough as old boots.

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.



Anonymous said...

Love, love patchwork and quilts. Have my own collection of heirlooms too.Auntie, dont forget the rugs made out of shreds of worn-out used clothings and remnants neatly placed in front of stoves and depan pintus way back. They are so homey.My mama has the same dirty habit - hoards old stuff making rooms for rats and roaches.Must be folks from those days...they enjoy the mess and find it hard to *let go* of stuff. For me its an eye-sore and resembles messy-thinking/over-attachment traits, bad feng-shui practice :)

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anonymous March 24,

Thank you for the comment and reminding me of the rugs and quilts and mats for the stoves.

Although I won't go as far as to say that some folks enjoy the mess, I do agree that it is hard to "let go".

Nowadays people believe in being minimalist sans clutter and mess but it's a reflection of the technology - CDs instead of vinyls and tapes, folders and CDs instead of paper files. "Planned Obsolescence' in manufacturing and fickle fashionistas make it easy to chuck out the old and bring ( or buy) in the new.

Afraid to say I don't believe in feng shui. Parts of it sound reasonable but again it has become a fashionable practice.

Anonymous said...

Ambo suko bebenor, posting yg ini.

Being someone with interest in textiles, especially batik, you brought tears to my eyes :)

Hundreds of yers ago in the Malay Archipelago, textiles, especially from India, were viewed with awe, and some patterns were seen to be endowed with magic.

In addition patchwork clothes were especially believed to have protective properties.

So, Indian/batik cloth plus patchwork - that's double magic !!

The colonialists, especially the Dutch, restricted the entry of Indian cloth into the region, hence the development of batik to satisfy the market for colourful cloth that Indian textiles had fulfilled at one time.

On a personal note, my grandfather came to Singapore as a trader representing the interest of his family in Pekalongan, Jawa (ever heard of batik Pekalongan?). I was very much distressed upon chancing upon "batik Pekalongan", made in Thailand !! I came across these copycats in Tahiland, and in Geylang Serai :(


Anonymous said...

Used not to see much in Feng Shui till I experienced it for myself and practically see how the *energy* of things are related. Or you also dont believe in *vibes* ;) C'mon you guys believe in Djinns et al nest pas? But I do realize that its harder for the Muslim mind to understand the whole concept.

What you called fashionable has been in practice way before the western world discovered it am afraid.

anak si-hamid said...

Thank you Jasmani.

What a fascinating comment. I hope you're documenting your grandfather's experience!

Yes, the West (and others) have been pilfering other people's art, food, music, craftwork and claiming-and profiting from it - as theirs. Or they call it FUSION - I'm being very cynical here. It's an affliction of the oldies!

In this country, they are very keen on taking out copyrights and patenting on things like traditional food e.g. Stilton cheese and Melton Mowbray pork pies - to protect their heritage.

The imperialist takeover of non-western textile industry and textile designs need to be documented.

For instance , the paisley print of the West is actually of Indian and/or Persian origin. As for the Scottish Harris Tweed, it also suffers the same fate as batik Pekalongan. Imitations are rampant

Also the word 'gingham'comes from what we describe as 'genggang' from 'kain genggang'.

You have indeed opened an interesting can of "kain" !

anak si-hamid said...

Dear Anonymous March 26,

Thank you for the response to my comment.

I'm sorry that you took umbrage at my reply.

Just to clear one point. Although I wrote "Afraid to say I don't believe in Feng Shui", I also added that "parts of it sound reasonable". I did not condemn FS into the bin of hocus-pocus trickery.

I acknowledge and respect your belief in FS - it worked for you. And talking of "energy lines" (which I believe also has to do with FS), the English has the concept of Ley Lines - lines that stretch for hundreds of miles aligning sites of ceremonial and cultural sites like churches, monuments (Stonehenge) and villages and towns. These ley lines they say, are in harmony with one another, which tap into the Earth's energy.

And by the way, we have been told by an FS practitioner that our house has bad FS because the front door opens out to a road - that our prosperity and dosh will disappear in that open road. However, our only worry is with the state of the economy and banking system in this country which are eating away into our savings and pensions. I would put this at the door of human greed and deception and would not put the blame on our door's bad FS.

No, I do not think the Muslim mind has any problem in understanding the concept of FS. As you say "we guys" have not only our Jins but a whole retinue of Satans and Hantus and pelesits: in both the spirit and the human forms! Although we Muslim chappies cannot pretend to understand the "whole concept" of FS, but we do appreciate some parts are "reasonable".

When I use the word "fashionable", I'm not referring to FS as a recent discovery of the science of architectural location. I am aware that like Acupuncture, Chinese Herbal Medicine and Indian Ayurvedic Medicine, FS has a reputable and worthy pedigree.

The one problem is this. Westerners with their half-baked knowledge of FS has adopted it to fit into their art-farty, money-making fashion practices. They (or most of them) have no sense of the "whole concept" and practice of FS.

It's very similar to those fashionistas who don and sport the Palestinian scarf when they haven't the blindest bit of understanding of or sympathy with the sufferings of the Palestinians.

As for believing in "vibes" I can only say 'Je ne sais pas la response' ( I do not have the answer) But I will add Allahu a'lam (God only knows)

Awang Goneng said...

This Iain's drawings are terrible. I think he needs drawing lessons (but no nudes pleeze, we're priggish). I say so after looking at his drawings in this post. But I'll reconsider if he will prove me wrong by producing a pictorial book of Kuala Lumpur as he sees it on his frequent trips there. Perhaps you, ASH, should write the text, and then I may change my mind about you both.

anak si-hamid said...

Dear AG,

I don't know whether I should thank you for the comment.

Just to spite you, Iain is now thinking of draw-ring nudeys. In this cold you can't find them on the beach and he threatens to look for such candidates in the tropics!

I fear there's no way we can change because we are located at where 3 Ley lines converge.

Perhaps your Ley lines are more messy than ours eh?

Awang Goneng said...

I saw her and decided it was a good Ley. A house on a supposed hill where the binmen scatter all asunder on Fridays and recyclers have the afternoon for the bottles thereafter. One morning I looked out and saw a yellow jacketed youth trying to aim at our garden wall with his member, in the narrow gap between our house and the neighbour's back garden. He was the council worker, and he was incontinently sober. Did I blame it on the Ley lines? Feng Shui? Geomancy? Sword in the Stone? I don't know, but I shooed him away pronto. Who was it who said we have the djinns and the one-eyed monsters? But no djinn ever told me to move house because they'd like to have a Ley. No one-eyed monster will have this house for fear of being accused of inappropriate behaviour. We have enough of it to do ourselves without them coming in for the spoiler. Like our boiler now, going steadily on the blink after some ten years. A long time for the Ley to be lying low. But we stay, and we don't blame other people. 'Tis not in the stars that we are underlings, etc. Tomorrow I'll be calling the heating engineers, no matter what they say or Ley.

anak si-hamid said...

Aaah AG,

I don't envy you your date with the plumbers. (It seems that anyone and everyone who has to work with his hands is an engineer).

Iain and I have been on the blink for years and like Humpty Dumpty, and no plumber can put us together again.

Hope by now your heating problems are over.

May our paranormal forces be with you!!