Participants at a workshop at Wish I Were Stitching.PHOTO: WISH I WERE STITCHING
Accountant Caleb Choo, 30, had never touched a sewing machine before signing up for a tote bag workshop with a sewing school.
But he had a very special reason for doing so – he wanted to give a hand-sewn tote bag as a birthday present to his girlfriend-to-be, civil servant Tan Jia Hui, in her 30s.
So he signed up for a three-hour course with Sew Into It in December 2015.
Ms Tan agreed to be his girlfriend a week after accepting the bag andMr Choo feels the bag played a big part in this.
“I think she was impressed that I went to learn something that most men would not so as to give her a gift. It was also the first time she received a handmade bag.”
Operations executive Victoria Loi, 30, on the other hand, decided to make sewing the theme of her hen party when she got married in September last year.
She engaged instructors from Sew Into It and, with six colleagues, learnt how to sew a clutch bag in two hours.
After that, they went for dinner and drinks with their new bags in tow.
Ms Loi says: “I wanted to do something novel and we all agreed that sewing was special.”
Sewing is more than just a novelty; it is making a comeback among stay-at-home mothers, working adults and even children.
Co-founder of Sew Into It Amy Toh (standing) with her students Ng Hui Ling (sitting) and Ms Ng’s daughter, Janelle, who learnt to make messenger bags.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Businesses which offer sewing classes say they see more people coming forward. Sew Into It had no shop space when it was founded by former teachers and sewing enthusiasts Amy Toh, 35, and Karen Loh, 37, in 2014.
When they conducted workshops, they took their sewing machines with them, whether it was to a client’s home or a public venue.
But they have had their own space at 333 Kreta Ayer Road and 15 sewing machines since August 2015. They conduct 24 regular workshops a month, including drop-in classes teaching people to sew clothes, bags and soft toys.
Another company, Fashion Makerspace, was founded in 2014 by fashion designers Shareen Lim, 33, and Hailey Lim, 26, and patternmaker Teo Danlin, 35, together with business partner Ken Low, 33.
Initially, they conducted private introductory sewing workshops out of their own homes and at public venues.
As interest grew, they moved to a permanent space in Trengganu Street last May and now run about 20 sewing courses for people with different levels of proficiency.
Ms Shareen Lim feels sewing has taken off here together with a growing interest in DIY (do-it-yourself) projects.
She says: “When you make your own thing, as opposed to buying off the rack, you have the option of customising and personalising.”
She added that her students often say they have learnt to appreciate clothes more after taking sewing classes because of the time and effort taken to make them. “Handmade clothes often come across as more valued than clothes bought from stores.”
Housewife Jenny Toh, 53, who picked up sewing four years ago, finds it enjoyable and therapeutic.
“I love playing with fabrics. When a project is completed, I feel very satisfied.”
She has sewn bags and pouches and is learning how to sew clothes. She has also donated a blanket she sewed to charity.
Members of Pasir Ris Sewing Ladies (from left) Ms Romnah Omar, Ms Suhaila Jamat, Ms Hamidah Mika Noh, Ms Lysa Zehra Hussain, Ms Eve Li, Ms Anna Han, Ms Noor Chahaya Majid and Ms Nana Yusof. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Meanwhile, others sew to make friends. Stay-at-home mother Lysa Zehra Hussain, 38, and about eight to 10 other women living in the Pasir Ris area come together to sew once every two months. They call themselves Pasir Ris Sewing Ladies.
They bring their own materials and sewing machines in a trolley bag – and sometimes their children too – and meet at the multi-purpose room in one of the women’s condominium.
They decide beforehand what they want to sew – it can be a bag or a piece of clothing.
Ms Lysa says: “It’s more fun to sew in a group. Each of us has different strengths in sewing, so we can learn from one another.”
The group got to know one another through The Sewing Network (Singapore), a Facebook group set up a few years ago for sewing enthusiasts and which now boasts more than 3,000 members.
To promote local crafters, some other members from the network set up a group called Artisans’ Haven to sell the clothes and crafts that they have sewn at flea markets.
One of them, stay-at-home mother Yuwana Ehwan, 42, says: “We want to let people know that even though customised clothes are more expensive than mass-produced ones, the quality is better.”
Children starting young
When her daughter, Noelle, turned eight about three years ago, stay-at-home mother Caroline Lee threw a sewing party for her with sewing company Sew Into It.
The company carted eight sewing machines into the function room of her condominium and for the next three hours, two instructors taught Noelle and her seven guests how to make an owl soft toy which they got to keep. It cost $70 a child.
Ms Lee, 40, who used to sew quilt covers and cushion covers, says: “Noelle loves craft work and I believe sewing is a useful skill to have.”
Noelle enjoyed the experience so much that she went for two more workshops at Sew Into It with her older sister, Chiara, 12.
There, they learnt to sew a book cover and a cross-body bag. Each session costs $40 to $70 a child.
The sisters are among a growing group of children here who are picking up sewing.
Companies that offer sewing classes for children say they have seen a rise in demand.
Fashion Makerspace started offering ad-hoc workshops for children last June during the school holidays after customers requested them. It has since conducted six other workshops.
Co-founder Hailey Lim, 26, says: “Parents want their children to have some hands-on skills and children themselves are often also keen to try it.”
Meanwhile, founders of Sew Into It, Ms Karen Loh, 37, and Ms Amy Toh, 35, initially thought most of their clients would be adults, but it turned out that many children and their parents were interested.
In the beginning, they took along their sewing machines to homes to conduct workshops for groups of four to six children.
As word spread, they also got requests to run workshops in pre- schools and primary schools. They now run workshops from their shop at Kreta Ayer at least thrice a month for children and adults.
Ms Toh says: “Many parents and teachers find their children can learn important values from sewing.”
Madam Ng Hui Ling, 35, director of a security company, says sewing has helped train her daughter, Janelle, six, to be patient and focused.
She says: “You need focus to sew in a straight line.”
Stay-at-home mother Geraldine Teoh, who is in her late 30s, agrees. “Each class is a minimum of three hours and if they don’t follow instructions carefully, they may have to unpick their stitches and redo many steps.”
She has organised four private sewing play dates for her oldest daughter, Megan, nine, and her friends.
Sew Into It has also been offering workshops for youth-at-risk since October 2014 and last November, it introduced a two-day T(w)eens Fashion-Sew! camp for 17 girls aged 10 to 16 to make their own blouse.
The girls had an image consultant to help them to find a colour and style that suited them and also went on an excursion to the fabric market in Chinatown to choose their cloth.
The camp was so popular that Sew Into It had to do another run in December after parents and children requested it.
Junior college student Iffah Umairah, 16, was one of the participants. She has been hand-stitching stuffed toys since she was about 12 after picking up the skill from books and YouTube videos.
She hopes to make more clothes for herself. “I find sewing therapeutic. When I am focused on where my stitches are going, other thoughts disappear from my mind.”
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Knitting, crocheting also catching on
Besides sewing, other types of needlework such as knitting and crocheting are also catching on here.
Facebook group Knit and Crochet Group Singapore, for example, which was started in March 2015, now has more than 1,400 members.
It was started by American stay- at-home mother Michelle Seyffert, 35, who has lived in Singapore for seven years. She had wanted to reach out to other people interested in crocheting.
Members of her Facebook page share photos of knit and crochet patterns as well as their completed projects.
So far, Ms Seyffert has organised a few meet-ups with other mothers at Starbucks cafes.
“We chatted and most women brought a project with them to work on while we talked,” she says.
Some women also asked for help when they got stuck with a pattern.
On why needlework is catching on here, she says: “It is heartwarming to give handmade creations to friends and family.
“It’s actually more expensive to make a blanket than to buy one at a shop. But there is no price tag on a handmade gift.”
Ms Angela Ng, 35, who founded knitting and sewing supplies company Wish I Were Stitching in 2014, says the interest in needlework here is part of the growing handmade movement worldwide where “people are keen to make and craft their own things”.
Ms Ng’s company also conducts classes – about 10 a week – for the public.
She says those who sign up are usually working adults, mostly women in their 20s. She also started teaching seniors in an eldercare centre recently.
She started the Facebook group, Knit, Crochet & Cross-stitch Singapore, which has more than 200 members, to complement her business. Members meet monthly at her shop to knit, crochet and do cross-stitch.
People want to do needlework for various reasons, she says.
“Some want to relieve stress, some say it is better to learn a skill than waste time watching television. Others want to make things for their friends and family.”
Where to start learning
1. Sew into it
This school offers two- to three-hour drop-in classes to make clothes, bags, soft toys, cushion covers and other home craft items (from $55 a person). It also has a course on sewing men’s workshirts (five sessions, three hours each, $280 a person) and sewing skirts, blouses and dresses (nine sessions, three hours each, $500 a person).
2. Fashion makerspace
It offers an introductory workshop on how to use the sewing machine and a textile tour in Chinatown (11/2 hours, $15 a person). It also has advanced workshops on how to make clothes, including tops and A-line skirts (10 sessions, 21/2 hours each, $520 a person).
There are also ad-hoc classes for children aged seven and above, teaching them to make a bag (two hours, $68 a child) or a skirt (three sessions, three hours each, $148 a child).
For more information, go to www.fashionmakerspace.com
3. Quick sewing class
This offers home-based sewing classes for groups of four to five at locations such as Yishun, Bukit Panjang and Punggol. It focuses on baby and children’s clothes (five hours, $59 a person; three five-hour sessions, $150 a person).
For more information, WhatsApp Ms Lim Jia Wen on 9237-9747 or join Quick Sewing Class (Singapore) on Facebook.
This story was first published on The Straits Times.