Walk Sew Good

Walk Sew Good
Do you ever wonder.....what if?
What if I had decided to stay?
What if I had taken design instead of science for my college studies?
What if I didn't have kids?
A few chance encounters this month stirred these thoughts.
  1. A friend mentioned over coffee how being married with kids changes our progression as artists. No overseas workshop trips, less time to experiment and being in the flow of creativity. It's a change in priorities! 
  2. I attended a talk "Surface Design: Discover the Quality of Tactile Fabrics" and discovered that Tiffany Loy and Minyi both went to Japan to study weaving and shibori, respectively.  I wanted to scream, "I want to do that too!"
  3. Then I e-met two wonderful ladies, ​Gabrielle Murphy and Megan O’Malley who plan to walk across Southeast Asia later this year. They plan to speak with and learn from the people that are making fashion in a positive and sustainable way. I wanted to scream even louder, "If only!"
I started wondering "what if I had made these decisions earlier in life?". Obviously this would be very unfair to my family as I had made a commitment to be with them. But can I do something to improve my situation?

Of course I can! I saw this quote on a friend's facebook feed. It's true, you have to change your situation to be where you want to be. I might not be able to go on a study/workshop trip, but I can continue learning on my own and attend local workshops to satiate my hunger for knowledge.  I will squeeze in as much time as I can to continue my craft, and be extremely DISCIPLINED (ahem, do you really need to surf the internet?). It's my life and I have to take control of it!

Everybody's journey will be different, but by witnessing and being part of others' experiences we can grow richer too. I'm so in awe of Megan and Gabrielle - what they are doing is amazing. They will be connecting with people across South East Asia, people who are trying to change the fashion industry status quo for the better.  The stories of these people will be shared on Youtube and as Megan beautifully puts it, 

“We want to connect people with the stories of those working hard to create fashion in a sustainable and beautiful way. The aim of Walk Sew Good is to start a conversation with our followers and show them how they can support a fashion industry that has a positive impact,”

I asked both of them what pushed them to do this, and I wondered how their families felt. Megan and Gabrielle mentioned that the inspiration to walk came from the 13,000km pilgrimage Satish Kumar undertook to promote nuclear disarmament in the 1960s,

"In terms of how we decided to go for it, the idea had been mulling around in my brain for about a year and a half after I read an article about Satish Kumar before I did anything about it. What a legend and an inspiration! I highly recommend his book if you can get your hands on it. He did his walk to promote nuclear disarmament and after reading the Dumbo Feather article, I felt like I wanted to do something as powerful and meaningful about a subject I cared deeply about."  - Megan

I really could understand what was going through Gab's mind when she alluded to the "now or never" attitude. If you don't do it now, then when?

"I could spend the next 50 years of my life stuck behind a computer, or desk or counter in a job I hate, complaining about the state of the world, doing nothing about it, then die sad and depressed without ever having really lived; OR I could join Walk Sew Good with Megan." - Gab

Are they scared? Yes, they are (and so are their families), but, as Gab put it, 

"I think that there are some risks in life that are worth taking. If this trip can help make a difference to slavery, pollution or improve sustainability it's worth it. Hell, if it can stop my friends from buying so much crap then it's worth it. "

If you would like to support them on their 5,000km journey across SE Asia, pop over to their campaign page and "like" them on their facebook so that you can be "part" of their journey.  These two definitely knew what they wanted to do and are an inspiration to all of us!

So stop asking the "what ifs" and change them to "now or never"!

Fashion on the Ration: Make Do and Mend

Fashion on the Ration: Make Do and Mend
fashion on the ration

My friend, CL, had popped over to the UK to attend a conference in April and casually asked, "Would you like anything?"  I was thinking of very nice teas and their buttery cakes, and of course Jaffa cakes. So when she got back, I was pleasantly surprised (okay, I was OVER the moon) when I received the Make do and Mend booklet that I had seen circulating in the British mending space.

Even though it's a reproduction, it does give some insights as to how people lived during the 1940s and how the war saw the introduction of not just food rationing but clothing rations as well. Almost everything was diverted to the war effort.

Just how much of this is part of our lifestyle? Very close to zero! Some of the tips in this little booklet actually echo what my mother taught me. Things like, how to store your clothes properly, getting rid of moths, putting newspaper into wet shoes and my all time favourite - NEVER hang dry a knit.  I learnt my lesson dearly when I didn't listen!

Refashion or upcycle was never part of the lingua franca but they definitely knew what they had to do to add a bit of spunk to their wardrobe.  This section on "Turn out and Renovate" definitely shows us the endless possibilities of what could be done to get a "new" wardrobe; they even had a section on underwear. I was surprised that there wasn't anything on Men's refashioning though, but before you say that men do not sew, EVERYONE was encouraged to pick up sewing skills as part of the war effort as you can see from this little snippet from the Imperial War Museum website. 

make do and mend

And can you believe that clothes swaps existed even then?
"Clothing exchanges were set up by the Women's Voluntary Service (WVS) to help meet the needs of parents struggling to clothe their growing children. Parents could take the clothes that their children had outgrown and were given a number of points for the clothes handed in. These could be 'spent' on other clothes at the exchange. "
And what about in Singapore?  Just like in war torn Europe, war compelled the public to do what was necessary to make new clothes from old, and mend worn garments: read the story behind the sewing machine now displayed at the National Art Museum.  But mending was very much part of every culture even before the war. In Singapore, we had "sew sew" women who would visit households on a regular basis just patch up some clothes or fix a button that was falling off. I found some images here and here.  
A mention of one sew sew woman can be found in the Singapore Memory Project.  Ng Fook Kah remembers her grandmother, Chan Chow Foon:
"Grandma was a “sew-sew” woman, skilled in 手红handicrafts, sewing, mending with threads and needles. She plied her mending skills at the boats anchored at the docks and outer waters of Singapore. "
I wonder what happened to the the "sew sew" women after the war?
I found this old Singtel phonecard on sale on the internet, and it shows a sew-sew woman at work (sorry for the extremely pixelated image). 
sew sew woman

Why can't it be stylish to be mending? Let's bring mending back in vogue. I'm now on my second mend of my jean shorts, and if you are keen to know more about mending, just hop on over to my Fix It Friday series. 


Did you know it's Mend it May on Jen Gale's My Make Do and Mend Life? She's got some pretty nifty resources too! And if you are in London, lucky you! You're in for a right treat if you visit the Imperial War Museum. They have an on-going exhibition called Fashion on the Ration, detailing how men and women styled themselves during the war. It's on until May 2017, so catch it while you can.

Fix It Friday

What is Sustainable Fashion Really?

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A few weeks ago I caught up with my friend Lastrina, and found out that since her COP21 moment in Paris last year (you can read about it here) she has taken great strides to get Singaporeans to be more concerned about climate change, and, more importantly to take action.  She co-founded, Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA) with three other amazing ladies who were also attended COP21 - Melissa Chong, Cuifen Pui and Juliana Chia.  One of the initiatives under SYCA is the Learning and Leadership Programme, which involves deepening youth knowledge on climate-related topics in the local context; and secondly understand oneself better, and enhance skills needed to start movements.

SYCA invited Connected Threads Asia to be resource people during one of the sessions (23 April) and I was very honoured to facilitate the session.  Participants experienced a session of exploring their values, understanding the supply chain of the fashion industry, and working as teams to define what would be the most sustainable garment. For me one of the points that came to mind during the session is how everyone has a different take on what sustainable fashion is. In fact, many people I speak to don't realise that to achieve sustainability in an industry :

a) It takes time. Existing companies are huge mammoth like structures with supply chains that extend across the globe, so change happens a step at a time. Positive changes have been made since Rana Plaza, some people say not fast enough,  but remember because so many parties involved things can't happen over night.

b) Systemic change has to happen and for this to occur, collaboration is needed. And when I mean collaboration, I mean with EVERYONE who is part of the system, including the authorities.  Take for example, a few stores setting up a clothes recycling bins is only a small step, but collaborating with the local authorities to have an official collection .... now that's big impact and everyone can get involved. If you are looking for alternative technologies to recycle mixed textile blends or a create a waterless dye, why not work together with other brands to develop it so you get economies of scale when it comes onto the market. It's a win-win for the brands and the environment.

And then there is this .... the vast amount of information on the internet .... there is so  much that people jump to conclusions and they don't dig deeper. If in doubt, try searching for the information yourself, treat what you see that gets posted or shared with a pinch of salt.

The slack that some brands such as H&M and Levis are getting are a case in point.  Business model aside (yes, I don't like the fact that seasons change EVERY week to promote consumerism) , brands that are making positive changes to their supply chain (be it environmental or from an ethical point of view) and are transparent  about it (varying degrees, I might add) appear to be the ones that are usually picked on. Remember the World Recycling Week campaign? Many people were accusing H&M of being unsustainable and forgot about the things that they were doing for positive change. Rather than point fingers and be a keyboard warrior, why not work together towards something better? Why not get the ones who are not making any change at all to do something?

And what do you think about the backlash to Australian brand Gorman? They posted a #whomademyclothes post in response to the Fashion Revolution Day campaign. Unfortunately, or fortunately, they were called out by the public - their parent company were graded an "F" in The 2016 Australian Fashion Report.  What does the grade "F" mean? What would your response be?

 A lot of the people who commented on Gorman's instagram did not know what the grade "F" meant or did they read the report.  What would you do?

Please note, I'm not defending all these organisations, nor do I buy from fast fashion ones either because I believe in 2nd hand / upcycled or ethically made purchases.  You might not believe in the same things I do, but I do believe that everyone should be well-informed to make the right choices.

DIY Shibori

DIY Shibori
Shibori upcycling

Apart from upcycling my scraps, I have been fascinated with how you can change the colour of your clothes. Adding a burst of colour, whether it be bright pink or even black, can really change the way you perceive your garment. Just like that, you can become attached to it again, and hopefully it will make its way back to the top of your pile of clothes in the wardrobe. Sad to say, we tend to ignore certain items when we get bored with them, and if you are not good with the needle and thread (or sewing machine) perhaps a packet of dye would help you in getting a "new" garment without hitting the stores.
You might remember the DIY Batik tutorial I posted last year. I really like the way my white top turned out but I have to admit that the whole process was tedious (I was getting impatient!) and unless you live in a cold climate, the bainmarie of wax makes you all hot and sweaty!
DIY batik upcycling
Shibori with Batik Dye
As a result of the batik trial, I ended up with a bottle of batik dye that I had to use up. Initially I thought of doing more batik, but then who wants a wardrobe full of the same things?
I recalled my friend Yumiko telling me about Shibori and even encouraged me to do it on a dress that I had acquired at a clothes swap
shibori diy

But what is shibori? 
Shibori is a Japanese dyeing technique that uses the resist method (much like batik) but instead of using wax, you shape or fold the fabric. The creases  or physical pressure of objects on the fabric will act as the resist - think of it as a manual resist method. In fact, the word "shibori" comes from the verb root shiboru, "to wring, squeeze, press." Indigo is commonly used for shibori and is the dye most associated with the process mainly because there were not many dyes back in the day. Unfortunately,  most indigo dyes (unless stated) are no longer extracted from plants. So even if you see "indigo" on the labeling, it is highly likely that it is synthetic rather than natural.
Traditional Shibori
The traditional way of executing shibori is to dip the whole piece of fabric into the vat of indigo after binding it with clips or string (see below). 
Picture of Indigo Dyeing: Shibori
Image: from Instructables
How I did Shibori
I decided to experiment because I didn't have a big vat to put my dye in, and secondly I didn't have enough dye to soak the garment. In fact, I would not advise preparing a big vat of dye unless you are doing lots of dyeing or having a dye party with friends. 
shibori DIY

1. After rolling the garment onto a plastic bottle, I tied about 20 elastic bands to secure it before scrunching the fabric. It basically looked like a messed up scrunchy!
2. I then dripped the batik dye over the garment (not forgetting to have a bowl underneath!)
3. To take it further, I used a wet sponge and "sponged" my dress as though it was having fever. So I alternated between sponging and dripping. All this happened very randomly over the garment.
4. After the whole garment was completely soaked, I let it dry under the sun.

[Update: make sure your garment has been cleaned before you dye it]

[Update 2: The most go to place to get your dyes online is Dharma Trading. At home in Singapore, you can try Art Friend but the selection is not wide, and I haven't been able to find indigo dyes there. ]


At this stage, I was thinking I had made a mistake because I did not see any white areas where the resist was. Obviously my eyes were deceiving me because as soon as the dress was completely dry I removed the elastic bands, and voila, I could see that the manual resist method had worked.
What made this different from the traditional shibori was that the garment was either a pale blue or an intense ochre; there was none of the original colour. Looking at the dress, it appeared as if I had replicated the movement of water under the sun!
shibori dye

Here I am wearing it. I really love the way this has turned out and I might try it again but with a different colour.  Have you tried shibori? What was your experience with it?

shibori dye

shibori dye

shibori dye

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An Eventful Green Week

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An Eventful Green Week
I think this week is a great week if you are looking at what to do to be green.

Earth Film Fest

First up is Earth Film Fest. 
My amazing friend, Michael Broadhead, has organised the world's first crowd-based film festival. It's happening this week. If you want to see the award-winning environmental movies, you will need to contact any of the hosts who are screening them in their homes. Just reach out to them on social media. What are the movies? They have a great line-up of them, and I highly recommend Cotton Road!

Earth Film Fest

World Recycle Week 
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Secondly, H&M has launched it's world recycle week. If you are thinking of clearing out your wardrobe then H&M is one of the places where you can drop them off in return for a 15% voucher. For every kilogram collected, 2 euro cents will be donated to the Straits Times School Pocket Money Fund. There is a lot of controversy behind the campaign, and one   two of the major sticking points are that 1) the technology is not advanced to recycle all materials; and 2) the scheme still promotes consumption - well, you can ignore the voucher!

The third thing that's happening in this eventful green week is Green Drinks on COP21 Paris Agreement & Climate Change. Speakers from civil society will be sharing their thoughts on the agreement and what it means for Singapore. Speakers are Melissa Low of Energy Studies Institute (ESI) will explain key elements of the Paris Agreement, Pui Cuifen of Singapore Youth for Climate Action (SYCA) will share SYCA's observations of the journey to COP21, and Sandra Marichal of #up2degrees will tell us about her 13-day Antarctic Expedition alongside renowned polar explorer Robert Swan OBE and a movement she founded to raise awareness of climate change and global warming, and to inspire Singaporeans to take action.

Date: 21 April 2016 (Thurs)
Time: 7pm – 8.30pm
Venue: SingJazz Club, 101 Jalan Sultan, #02-00, The Sultan.
Admission: Free (contributions to society accepted)
RSVP: Via Facebook or email

Earth Day

Earth Day is also happening on the 22 April. Why not make small positive changes to your lifestyle? Go vegetarian once a week, carpool, or make that conscious decision not to buy things you don't really need. 

Repair Kopitiam
Want to get your mending fix this weekend? Pop by one of the Repair Kopitiam locations on Sunday between 9am to 3pm. Bring along your broken possessions and the lovely volunteers will teach you how it can be repaired. 

And yes, don't forget Fashion Revolution Day is happening on 24th April! Make sustainable fashion choices and always remember to question #whomademyclothes.

Fashion Revolution Day Singapore

Trying to Weave Clothes

Trying to Weave Clothes
My weaving journey so far has not been very good. I have been weaving and upcycling my scraps - sakiori - but I think I have been too eager to progress from weaving squares to something more advanced.
The first mistake I made was the tension!
I just forgot about it! I had already successfully woven two sample panels of upcycled scraps that it slipped my mind to watch the tension when I wove a bigger piece. My plan was to weave a top based on an old t-shirt. My brain told me that if I just pinned down the warp then everything that would follow would be magic. Unfortunately, that did not happen. Not only did I lose the tension, but the front panel of the top warped. I was feeling very disappointed as I had spent so much time and effort to weave it.

weaving sakiori

The second mistake I made was not taking into consideration the type of textile that would allow my garment to fit the body. The fact that I had used sakiori - weaving various scrap fabrics - did not help with the weaving either.  For a garment to work, I had to use the right type of fabric and the woven fabric had to be light enough to conform and drape nicely on the body. So now I have ended up with this warped creature!

weaving sakiori

weaving sakiori

So, lesson learned - planning is a must, and definitely don't hurry.