Wednesday, January 09, 2013

The daughter of a seamstress

*I have not blogged in a long while. I don't know where to begin. So I'll take my colleague's advise and tell the story of my mother.

   

"Lu beh tak chek, lu eh cho hami?"
(You can't study, what can you do?)
My late grandmother asked her to pick up a life skill. She didn't know what she wanted to do in life but she knew she liked fashion. So, she ended up taking some courses in sewing. That was more than 30 years ago, before reality shows like Project Runway became a hit. Sewing isn't exactly a profession to be proud of at her time. 

Long hours, paid peanuts but enough. Enough to bring up her daughter. The dress she wore on the day she got married was her own sewing. No, not a pretty white bridal gown, just a long floral dress. Simple but I thought she rocked that dress. All she had was a very simple wedding because dad didn't have money. They got married after 7 years of courtship. Their marriage eventually shaped my entire childhood (that would be another story altogether).

Before I was old enough to attend school, I would tagged along whenever she goes to work, which was just down the row of pre-war houses we rented along one of the main streets of Penang. She introduced me to Barbie dolls - I didn't quite fancy dolls or cared very much on the efforts she put in to make different dresses for them. She introduced me to colours - I absolutely loved colouring! Eventually, she taught me to draw. As expected, how to draw people, starting off with female figures. She studied a bit of tailoring after all.

"Lang mana si square eh? Lang toh beh wu body shape eh mah."
(How can people be in squares? People should have body shapes)
Yup, I drew people that looked like Spongebob! I loved how she would make final touches to their eyes, with curly lashes. Growing up, I was planted with the idea that girls with eyes as big as marbles and curly lashes are beautiful. And I - I have small eyes that curved into an inverted moon crest shape when smiling, just like hers.

At home, every single thing that can be sewn, she did them all - bedsheets, curtains, cushion covers, blankets, floor rugs, my school uniforms, my pencil boxes (when those pants-shaped jeans material pencil boxes were in trend. Those born in the 80s would know what I'm talking about!) and et cetera, cetera, cetera. One of the years, she sew me 15 dresses for Chinese New Year. For the Chinese, the actual celebration lasts as long as 15 days.

You see, I took the things she did for granted as a child. Yes, she might have enjoyed sewing stuff and trust me, she's one modern mom. You would WANT TO wear the clothes she makes. But really, she make them because it was cost efficient. It helped a struggling family to save A LOT. She was blessed with a talent. More than that, she was blessed with a spirit of resilience beyond her circumstances.

Hence, I don't believe in paying hundreds for a dress. I know how much seamstress like her is paid, no matter how expensive an evening gown may cost. I believe in dressing to be presentable because if I mismatch my clothing, I think I would not be a good representation of my mother. I like colours because my mom has shown me the wonders colours can do.

And in the work I do today, I see how much a simple life skill such as sewing and tailoring can help bring a certain change to a struggling family. Women across the world, like my mom, if given a life skill and an opportunity to work, can shape the future of their children. I owe a big part of my life to my mother, who could have given up on me but choose to stay. There's only so much I can tell you in this entry, the rest will have to wait. Here, I want to celebrate the fact that I am a daughter of a seamstress and I am very proud to be one.
If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor -Albert Einstein

The dresses she made for her collection of barbie dolls last year

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