Sunday, December 19, 2010

Ethnic Cushion Covers

My favourite silk cushion cover with old Miao embroidery

Three years ago, I designed a series of ethnic fabric cushion covers for the little stall I ran with my sister. The cushion covers are made with my collection of ethnic minority tapestry. Some sewing were done by myself and some were sent to a friend's workshop. These cushion covers were made with limited production of single, a pair or double pairs of different shades. Honestly, I did it for fun more than for the business. I just love to create with my collection of ethnic fabric and accessories. (Don't get me wrong, I do need income). However, I just cannot make any profit considering the amount of time spent in producing every single design.

I am glad that I kept some of the cushions for personal use. Some of these ethnic tapestries I used are difficult to obtain these days and they cost double or triple than the price I paid. My favourite design shown above was sewn from a Cambodian silk scarf with a Miao embroidery piece from a village in Quizhou, China. This little piece of embroidery is really precious. It took me one international flight, a domestic flight, a long distance bus and a chartered car service to reach the village. Of course, there is an easy way to get these pieces from shops in the city of China. But, be prepared to pay 10 times the price and no fun for not able to have personal encounter with the people who produced these beautiful handicraft.

2-tone artificial silk covers with old Thai silk yoyos and pompons-
zip less design with the opening hide behind the decorative band

2-tone artificial silk covers with Vietnam White Hmong embroidery and pompons
Cushions with Flower Hmong tapestries and decorated with bells and Tay people accessories

The piece of cross stitched embroidery and applique is part of a Vietnam Flower Hmong lady skirt

Cushion cum chair pad covers with Vietnam Flower Hmong people embroidery
-The embroidery  was part of Hmong women sleeves

These two Thai raw silk cushion covers show the ethnic flavours with their decorative pompons lace and embroidery

Cushion cover with Vietnam Lu people embroidery
-The embroidery  was part of Lu women sarong

I felt sad when the pair of cushion covers, as displayed above, and another set of the same design in brown fabric were sold. In addition, I was feeling happy when my little stall had closed sale. I guess I was running my passion rather than my business!

I had so much joy when my sister and I were running our little business. With the business running, I had a good reason to travel for business, a good excuse to spend time on my creations, and escape from the frequent questioning from my husband for not working on my paintings.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Handmade Cards

Recently I received my orders from  and I was so happy and excited like children getting their new toys. There were my scrapbooking materials, fabrics and books. I just couldn't wait to start new crafting and sewing projects. It was tormenting for not having time to create with holidays and happenings around. After 10 days of long wait, I finally settled down to create.

With my beloved Aunt Choo Choo's birthday around the corner, I made her a card. No sketch, just playing around with my new puncher and stamps. The velvet ribbon and metal alphabet used on the card exudes class and elegance.

Time To Celebrate I
And I made a few more cards to keep for birthdays of family members and close friends.

Make A Wish

Time To Celebrate II
You light up a room

I still prefer hard copy birthday cards than e-cards where I can touch, feel the textures and read the hand written messages. Thus, I like to take the effort to handmade them for those who are dear to me. Something I had done since my high school days. When beautiful imported Hallmark cards were too expensive for me to afford them. My simple cards of drawings with watercolour on water color papers had warmed and touched hearts.

Today, with the availability of modern tools and art supplies, more beautiful and fancier cards can be made easily. My daughters continue the good tradition. They make me all kinds of cards, including one from Ning called the "Happy Day card"  :)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam-Chapter 4

"I know you what you did behind my back."
It was entirely different to see Dien Bien Phu during the day and night. It was a hazy morning when my sister and I got up. Probably due to open burning for land clearing. My sister and I had a simple breakfast and checked out of the guesthouse. 

Our first visit was to the morning market. Where else could be as fun and interesting than the local market. It was here, I met with many Hmong people apart from the majority Tai people.

Red Hmong baby carrier
The hill tribes spend lots of time in producing baby carriers. The baby carrier is a work of art and love. As much as I love to own many styles of baby carriers, I only own two of the carriers from Dong people in China. I am skeptical of buying them from the haunting experience I had in collecting old stuffs and personal experience shared by my sister's friend. Most of the time, I would just admire them... like when I came across this Red Hmong mother and child in a baby carrier at the market area.

"Yau Cha Kuih"                                                                Beautiful girl vs ugly fish

Pleasant encounter
There was a lady in the market selling a deep fried cakes , similar to Chinese " Yau Cha Kuih". But I have no guts to try as I would be on the road and I didn't want to take the risk of an upset stomach. And the small fresh water fish looked so non appetising. I am not a fan of fresh water fish.

Young embroiderers
After leaving the market, we headed north to Lai Chau Province. On entering the province we could feel the rising of temperature though it is situated on high mountainous region. On the way, we stopped at a Red Hmong village. That was my first experience coming close in contact with the Red Hmong. We communicated with sign language and friendly smiles. 

In the village, I met a beautiful young girl sitting in the porch embroidering her new outfit. It was a beautiful scene. I approached her to see what she was working on. Although she was shy, but she was friendly. Two young girls came later to join her for the sewing session. I am amazed with their patience and skill at this tender years. 

Cool head cloths and looks
Our journey continued, and we passed by a town where I had a new encounter with tribe I have never met before. These ladies were cool and calm. I don't think they are Hmongs as Hmongs do not use such head cloths. I bought some machine embroidered laces where the tribe used to decorate their outfits in a small shop. The price was reasonable, and they did not overcharge us though we were tourists. I think generally, people in the rural are still genuine and honest.

We crossed the a bridge which I had forgotten its name ; passing by mountains and we descended to a deep verdant valley where Lai Chau town is nested. It was a hazy and dusty town which has the oddity of being one of the hottest places in Vietnam in the summer. Our driver stopped us for lunch at a restaurant cum guesthouse where we met with two French bikers with their Vietnamese tour guide. How I envy them to be able to travel the country on bikes.

Haah, 50,000 Dong?                                                              Funky girls hat

Followed on was Tam Duoang. We had a close encounter with the friendly Black Dao. There was a big group of them harassing a foreign biker with his tour guide to buy their goods. 

We jokingly told them that it was our turn for the pleasant harassment. We found the Black Daos to be fun loving people. Besides weaving, they handmade their beads in black, white and red. Making beads is uncommon for the hill tribes in this region.

Meeting a group of Lu ladies in Tamdoung was another highlight of the trip. Their "black teeth" made them distinctive and charming. The Lu women smoke their teeth through a bamboo pipe by burning Met and Xuyen trees they obtain from the forest. The Lu sometimes walked all day to Sapa to sell their sewing products. Meeting them in Sapa is really by chance. 

We passed the infamous Tram Tom Pass in Tamduong and were overwhelmed by sublime beauty and serenity of this mountainous area. The creator is truly the most talented architect and artist and I witnessed another of His fabulous creation here.

The ride from Lai Chau to Sapa was really bumpy on the earth road. I am glad that I had no motion sickness or I would have thrown out the overnight meal. The excitement of meeting different tribes along the journey had erased all horrendous memories of the unpleasant ride. Our 2 days ride with our jeep ended in Sapa.

This is final chapter of my sharing on travelling experience via the Northwest loop, Vietnam. Thank you for following.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Recycled Travel Journal

I love to bring along a journal on my travelling trip abroad. I am ashamed to say, I never completed any of them when my journey ended. Reason being, I was simply too tired or busy to write during the journey. After all these years, I have completed only one journal on my Beijing visit and that was done after coming back home. I only have notes of the rest which I used for references on whenever necessary.

My Chiangmai Travel Journal

For my recent trip to Chiangmai with my good friend, I handmade a recycled travel journal with old table calendar. I always thought it would be too wasteful to trash the outdated table calendars and I have kept few copies of them in my treasure box :)


As the main concept for this journal is " Recycled", I picked a Body Shop ribbon from a Christmas gift packaging last year, some garment tags, old drawings on watercolor paper, old paper stocks which had turned yellow and spotty and most important an outdated table calendar for the project. I gather some materials and info of Thailand from an old magazine; color copy a fabric I bought from Chiangmai years ago; select some plain paper and pretty scrap booking papers from my paper stash; rubber stamps and inks, some quotes on paper. Last but not lease, the stationery set which consisted of white craft glue, used hotel key card or phone card as glue applicator, various sizes double sided tapes, cutter, scissors, markers and pen.

1) First, cut away the calendar stand of rectangle shape. Then, flip one cardboard to the front and the other to back to make the front and back cover.

2) Tape the recycled ribbon on front and back cover with masking tape. To prevent ribbon from fraying, brush clear nail polish at the ends of ribbon.

3) Cut and tear small pieces of plain, printed papers (even fabric) and images or words from catalogues and magazine related to the theme. You may tear and cut the papers during the process of the collage.

4) Apply white craft glue with a used hotel key card on the cover. I worked on the front and back cover at the same time in order to achieve similar color tone and texture. I started the paper collage by pasting different papers of varied sizes overlapping each other, stamping some beautiful images and overlapping with some semi transparent paper. These layering gave a depth to the artwork and making the layout more interesting. Don't worry if the papers go out of the borders as you could trim them later. Also not to worry of too much glue as white craft glue is transparent once it dries and leaves a protection coat on the crafts.

Half finished

5) Brush some colors on the covers with ink pad to make the colors of the puzzles more uniform. Then, I used a permanent marker to draw some patterns in order to link all the puzzles together. I continued by brushing over the black drawing with white acrylic paint as I didn't have white ink pad; the drawing now blends with the artwork.

6) I pressed some acrylic crystal stick-on with an iron. You may obtain this crystal beads from shops selling tailoring supplies where they are greatly used locally on Malay tudung and baju kurung. Or you may recycle you broken accessories parts to collage onto the covers.

The making of travel journal
A fully completed journal
The cover and back cover of my travel journal is completed. I went on working on the inside pages. I tore some plain papers to cover on the calendar pages for writing spaces; brushed some paint over garment tag; cut a strip of paper from an old catalogue to paste on one of the page; using my magic ink pads to brush on the edges of paper and etc. I enjoyed most was machine stitching on the book.

Left : Machine stitched a flyer onto the page- allows full view of flyer including the back page.
Right : A hill tribe embroidery work was stitched on a paper before being paste onto the inside cover

I didn't complete the journal writing again.....and of course those photos had to be added on after coming home. A week of hard work after coming home . Yeah!!!I finally completed my first handmade travel journal and putting it onto my blog. Good job!

Glimpse of the inside pages

So friends, let's start making a recycled journal for yourself. It doesn't have to be perfect like those publication layouts. Be free to doodle something and paste on anything. Writing down feelings and thoughts of a moment and cherishing your record for a lifetime can be unique experience.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam-Chapter 3

Turned and I got you.
On our journey to Dien Bien Phu, just before Tuan Giao, we came across some Tay children walking home from school. While our children carry fancy bags with Ben Ten, Barbie or Disney cartoons, they used colorful hand woven sling bags with enduring beauty that never go out of a fashion. (At least that is my opinion). These types of bags are commonly used in Indochina with variation in motifs and colors. 

Let's try this.
Sa People-Life must be hard, smile was luxury.
I always bring along used children's clothes and toys when I travel to Northern Vietnam.  By the roadside near to a Tay village, we stopped the jeep when we spotted a woman with her naked child. I gave her child some old clothes. Very soon, more children and adults rushed down from their stilt houses at the slope next to the road to get their shares. Some distance away, we met one of the poorest tribes in Vietnam, the Sa people. They were small in size and worn shabby clothes. They wore modern clothing and the ladies were clad in Sarongs. We distributed some candies and clothes to the kids. 

At times, I felt reluctant to give away used fashionable children's clothes as I worried this might affect them from keeping their traditional attires. But when I saw those children didn't have enough clothings to keep them warm or having enough change of clothes, I added in the extra load to my backpack. Their mothers couldn't make sufficient clothes for them as their costumes take longer time to produce and kids need frequent change of clothes. 

In Tandem

bundles of spun cotton
Our jeep had a flat tyre when we were at the town of Tuan Giao. Luckily for us, we got to roam the town and meet the locals while our driver changed the tyre and had the flat tyre repaired in a nearby workshop. I bought two bundles of embroidery spun cotton and some beautiful laces where the hill tribes used to decorate their costumes, etc. These laces are being extensively used by hill tribes from Thailand, Vietnam and China and the choices 
Black Tay
here were better than the city in Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam. The prices were cheaper than the ones in the city. Another thing I did in this town was to follow the ladies like a puppy, admiring their intricate embroideries or beautifully woven textiles closely. The Tay ladies that I have met along the Northwest loop Vietnam mostly appeared in neatly tied hair buns or head cloths; dressed in tightly fitted and well coordinated outfits. These ladies in rural areas really took care of their appearances.

Am I cool?
The flat tyre of our jeep was fast being replaced. Our journey continued after the short break. Before arriving Dien Bien Phu where we would spend the night, we came across the coolest girl we ever met in Northern Vietnam. I am not sure if that was a common hairstyle for the local kids but it was the same hairstyle we found in old Chinese paintings and porcelains.

We arrived Dien Bien Phu town before it turned dark.  Dien Bien Phu attracts many French tourists for it was where the French last colonialism in Indochina ended with its defeat to the Viet Minh. As our trip was short and our main purpose for this trip was to meet the locals, we didn't visit the relics left for this decisive battlefield.

DIEN BIEN PHU HA NOI HOTEL - the guest house that we put up was really big. This jointly operated guesthouse between Dien Bien Phu Tourism Ltd. Co and Ha Noi tourist was pleasant (to our standard) and we paid about US$12 for double bed with attached bathroom, hot shower and buffet breakfast.  In the town, there was photo shop where we could copy our pictures into CD and a young man in the shop was adept in Adobe Photoshop programme. He adjusted my photos in his computer to their best quality before developing them! The people here might not speak English, but they were amiable and helpful.

We had a good sleep in Dien Bien Phu after the long journey.

P/S: to be continued in chapter 4 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam -Chapter 2

It was not a misty morning scene but a hazy afternoon caused by open burning
The serenity of the country side and ways of life brought us back in time. The setting was just perfect for an old movie except the few dis harmonizing satellite dishes and antennas sticking out from the roofs like sore thumbs. 

Purchased a bundle of vegetable in exchange
for a photo shot with a Black Tay lady :)
The parched plateau of Sonla in the dry season was no less colorful and interesting. Nevertheless, the richness of its diverse hill tribes residents has painted this land with vibrant colours when the weather is wetter. The markets were a perfect place to experience the local flavours. We visited markets by the roadside, in open and enclosed areas. We had fun buying vegetables which we brought to the restaurant later for cooking and chasing after the Tay ladies for snap shots on them. The problem was I used a normal digital camera; with no fancy zoom lens, I could only capture the objects from a near distance. I was afraid of offending them, being rejected and warned by them; hence most of the time I tried to take photos without being noticed.

Cheers, got you!
The Tay was the most distinctive to me with their hair tied into buns and head cloth. My sister and I thought it was pretty cool. I wonder how long they take to wash their hair each time.

 Mama Bun                 vs                     Baby Bun                      vs                     Trendy Bun

The shooting continued when I explored the market with my head cloth on. I was annoyed and I felt uneasy. I was not a local, why take my photos? Then, I realised and empathize with the local.......
I had fun buying the Tay head cloths and other sewing accessories used to make their costumes in a small market not long after we left the Son La town. A Tay lady helped me to set the head cloth on me. A tourist with a sophisticated camera found his new subject and started taking pictures of me while I was posing for Tyng in one of vegetable stalls.

Unidentified ethnic group in an eatery place

In the same market, we spotted these two ladies, I presumed they were mother and daughter. I couldn't identify which minority group they belong to, but I guess it might be from a branch of the Hmong. There were similarities in the batik fabric, embroidery and applique. Their costumes were really nice with the layering and I really love the small vests. And it was uncommon to see a hill tribe with short hair. There are 54 ethnic groups in Vietnam and some ethnic groups have sub branches and locality differences. Whenever, I met a new ethnic group on my trip to Vietnam, I will get excited. Today, I have met about 13 ethnic groups and it will take a long time to meet them all.

A visit to a Tay village in Son La - Tay girl enjoying the snack from us.
We enjoyed meeting children on our trips. In our backpack, we carried with us some old toys, stationary, hair accessories, candies and snacks. By sharing with them these things, we could easily break ice with the local kids. Those little things always come in handy. We never pay for photography even if we were asked to.  This was to avoid cultivating the habits among them. 

As our journey on the Northwest loop was somewhat brief, we omitted visiting pagodas, waterfalls, museums and relics, focusing mainly on markets and remote villages. For my next trip I will visit the museums in these areas to have a better understanding on their history and diverse ethnic minorities. 

Goodbye Sonla. Tyng and I continued our journey to Tuan Giao.

P/S: to be continued in chapter 3

Monday, October 18, 2010

Journey of Northwest Loop Vietnam -Chapter 1

If I could ride a bike, and being a good rider, I would take my adventure on the less travelled roads of Northern Vietnam on a bike. But I can't.....I could only charter a jeep with an experienced Vietnamese driver to visit this enchanting land. It was a memorable trip my sisiter and I took in 2007

Among the less travelled roads in Northern Vietnam, the northwest loop is the only one accessible by jeep. Other less travelled roads could only be accessed by bike and of course, by foot if you have the time. The experience of travelling on the northwest loop is awesome, even though we did not get to travel by bike. I can't remember exactly, but I think we paid US$530 for the service of a jeep and a driver for the 3 days 2 nights journey with a reliable travel agent, Handspan, in Hanoi. We didn't hire a tour guide but we had expressed our interest with the tour office when we made our booking. One experience I learnt from travelling in Vietnam, especially in Hanoi is a penny for a penny. Prices equal to quality. I would rather pay a little more to a reliable travel agent than to get really frustrated. We had a good driver and though the jeep had a punctured tyre, we arrived safely at Sapa.

Our journey started from Hanoi, passing Moc Chau, Mai Chau, Sonla, Thuan Chau, staying overnight in Dien Bien Phu, continuing to Lai Chau, Tamduong and ending the second night in Sapa. We did'nt hop on the jeep on the third morning when the driver made the return trip to Hanoi on the less interesting highway passing Yen Bai as we wanted to spend more time in Sapa and tracking around. However the charges remained the same as he had to drive his way back to Hanoi.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

recycled and refashioned - Tote Bag

Before                                                                                     After

I picked up this Island shop (one of my favorite brand) linen top with beautiful prints during one of the wardrobe clearing session of my sister -in -law. I am not voluptuous enough to wear  the top but I thought  of redesigning  it into something....

The top is just perfectly to be redesigned into a tote bag. It was not difficult to just sew the opening at the bottom and turned it right into a tote bag. But I thought it would be better off with some pockets for my nick-knacks and the interlay would add weight to the tote for firmness.

Women are more complicated than men in many ways... for one we have more nick-knacks to carry around...thus, compartments are useful.

Open up the seam along the bust lines & sewn an orange inlay,
there they are - 2 pockets outside and another 2 inside the bag.

Left- A loop to hold the keys save the trouble looking for them!
Right - The original side zipper of the top

A lot of patient needed to do the embroidery

To give the tote some texture I embroidered it with chain stitches and added some wooden beads and buttons. Finally I added  a tassel which I removed from  a curtain panel some years ago. I always thought it would be useful one day.

During one of the family meeting, I showed my sister-in-law the bag and asked if it looked familiar to her. She was puzzled for a moment and cried out when she recognized it.

I have given a new life to her top and this gorgeous tote catches many of my friends' attention. 

Let's reduce, reuse and recycle!