Sunday, January 31, 2010

Turning the first corner

Beading Frame
Originally uploaded by Taking5
I wonder sometimes whether it is wise to natter about my beading progress (or lack of it) in the public domain. Will the fact that I am posting about my "kasut manek project" give me the added motivation to finish the job, or will I eventually slacken off, leaving online only an unfinished tale? We shall see.

After one week, I have completed 1½ rows of beads. It does not sound impressive, I know. But it is much better than 10 beads which is where I was when my friend started off for before she handed over to me.

There is quite a bit of specialised equipment involved in beading – the beading frame, the needles (one extra fine, one large and thick – meant to poke the beads in place), the thread (finer, sturdier than normal cotton thread thread), and the beads of course. Fortunately for me, my kind friend lent me the entire package. I suppose I will get round to buying my own after I finish this pair of shoes (a long way I fear).

The week has been one of ups and downs. I started off fairly well, finishing the row which my friend started me off on. Then, when I turned the corner to start off a new row (we started in the middle of the shoe) I made a mistake, requiring me to unpick. For the uninitiated, this requires that I pass my needle back through the point at which I'd just pushed it through. Not easy. I did it eventually, continued with my beading, and made another mistake. Tried to unpick and managed to snap the thread. Started again, and after another few beads made yet another error. By now, I was feeling a little frazzled. I decided that I'd just continue as a light pink bead being substituted for a white bead did not seem to be something one would notice in the grand scheme of things. Carried on blithely and at the 1¼ row mark, I discovered that I had inserted an extra light pink bead some 15 beads back. (The photo shows my beads and beading frame just before I found out about the error.) This was unlike the previous errors whereby I realised my mistake practically immediately and could adjust very quickly. This extra bead could have ripple effects for my whole shoe pattern. So I unpicked the whole ¼ of my row of beads!!! Sigh. Moral of the story: rectifying mistakes when they are small is so much better than having to clean up larger messes!

Anyway, after that, everything seemed to go quickly. I must be getting the hang of it. Managed to turn yet another corner to start on a fresh row. So that's where we are, 1½ rows after 1 week.

Interested in my progress?  You can see the photos here.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Yesterday, I started off on my first kasut manek project. For those who do not know, the making of kasut manek, or nonya-style beaded shoes, has been enjoying somewhat of a revival here in Singaporer.  Like the embroidered sarong kebaya, kasut manek are instantly identifiable with the peranakan community.These beautifully hand-made shoes are the result of many hours of patient, painstaking work.  In the past, young nonyas would be judged on the quality of their beadwork in the marriage mart.  Today, many people try their hand at it because they want the satisfaction of making and owning a pair of patterned, beaded shoes.

Like myself, for example.  My friend kindly started me off with the loan of a frame and a lesson, Beading 101.  The first lesson I learnt was how to start sewing the beads on, as she started me off with a practice row. Then things got serious.  We selected a pattern - a single large flower, identified the beads and then tried to find a suitable shoe template.  Here, problems arose.  Carefully estimating how big the pattern would be on the shoe, she told me that the open-toed shoe I was planning on was too narrow to support the pattern.  We had to try again,  and this time I selected a simple repetitive pattern - a "Cloud Forest" which would stretch across the shoe.  She then carefully traced the outline of the shoe template onto the canvas on the top of the beading frame, and started off on the first row for me.  Then, she felt that the thread we were using was a little too thick for the needle, unpicked the beads she had just sewn on, and started again, observing sagely that if she was having problems, it was likely that I too would have difficulties with the needle.

Reflecting on her efforts, I realised that the truly important lesson was the importance of planning - she had really taken the time and effort to visualise the end product, and also to make sure that the technical aspects of the beading process were carefully attended to.  With her clarity on the desired end state, and meticulous checking of implementation details, she prevented my kasut manek project from being doomed to failure before I had even started.


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