New Workshops!

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I hope everyone's 2018 is going well in terms of health, love and friendship. These are the most important things on my list to stay focused on.  I got so busy with my art and work that these slipped on the way side and I felt rather horrible about myself.  What's life without health, love and friendship? You will need to have them to enjoy all the hard work you put in your work. Anyway, enough with me nattering on. I have some good news and bad news.  The bad news is that if you had wanted to sign up for my upcycling workshop, Restyle Your Wardrobe (27th Jan), it is actually sold out, which actually is good news for me.  I will let all of you know when the next one is happening.

But there are other workshops happening this quarter. I hope to see some of you soon.

Colours from the Garden - after the success of the last natural dye collaboration with Cultivate Central, we have decided to run the parent-child workshop again on 24th Feb, 1030am - 12pm. Sign up at here.

Repair Sewcial - the second round of my clothing repair session is happening on 24th March 2 - 5pm. Learn how to fix zips, darn and even rethread elastic. Book your slot here.

repair clothes workshop

Simple Living : Beeswax Wrap Workshop - The Tender Gardener and I are continuing our DIY beeswax wrap workshop and this time we will be at the Funan Showsuite located on Hill Street. If you are keen to start your zero waste journey by removing cling wrap and aluminium foil from your kitchen pantry, then this might be the workshop for you. Details and sign up at this link.

DIY Beeswax wrap workshop

DIY Beeswax wrap workshop in Singapore

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

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It has been more than two months since my natural dye experiments during the art residency at L'Observatoire. I decided to take a break (it was Christmas and New Year) before going into it again, but during this gap I had to do a few tests to determine the colour fastness of the dyes.

So far my tests include:

  1. Mango leaves, Mangifera indica. L. - yellow green
  2. Rukum masam, Flacourtia inermis Roxb - muted pink
  3. Eucalyptus leaves (immersive and eco print) and bark, Eucalyptus camaldulensis Dehnh - rich brown
  4. Golden shower tree pods, Cassia fistula - pale brown
  5. Yellow onion skins - deep orange
  6. Red onion skins - pale orange
  7. Coffee grounds - very pale brown
  8. Avocado seeds and skins - tones of pink
  9. Blue pea flower, clitoria ternatea - blue
  10. Dragon fruit - pale pink

Colour fastness is the ability of the dyed material to resist fading due to light or water.  To test for light, I covered half of the swatch with foil, leaving the other half exposed. For the water fastness, I sewed individual swatches onto white cotton fabric and laundered the swatches in the washing machine.  In fact, I washed them in the same manner as I would normally do with my clothes.  The objective is to see whether the colours would fade, run or even transfer onto other clothing. 

Colour fastness to light.

The colour chart comprised screen printed natural dyes (the squares), and swatches of dyed fabric covered in half with foil. The chart was exposed to indirect light from 4 November - 9 January 2018.

  • Screenprinted swatches 
  1. fading observed for tumeric, eucalyptus leaves, blue pea, dragon fruit.
  2. colour change from pink to brown for rukum masam
  • Immersed swatches
  1. fading observed for dragon fruit and blue pea
Images below, before (L) and after (R). 
Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Natural Dyes - Colour Fastness

Colour fastness to water

After 4 rounds of washing the swatches in the washing machine (with drying in between), I opened up the fabric to see the result.

There was transfer of colour from the dyed swatch from the yellow onion skins (acidic) and tumeric. I was pleasantly surprised that the rukum masam did not wash off.

Colour fastness - Natural Dyes

Note:  I wish I had done this better and used my knowledge in science - always have a control rather than rely on photographs. As you can see, the lighting was not ideal.

Collective Stitches Exhibition with Dionne Swift

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Have you ever wondered how resilient nature can be? Lay cement to make a pathway, and few blades of grass will peek through after a few months. Under the hot sun, a white wall will become dull and as the season changes to bring rain, shades of green and grey moss will appear.  I find it fascinating how nature responds to the built up environment, and discovered interesting features that could be incorporated into my heavy machine embroidery. Not only that, I also realised how much of this mirrors our life, navigating through different challenges, making crucial choices, and growing personally everyday.

So, I was very excited when I received an email from textile artist, Dionne Swift, to take part in her exhibition, Collective Stitches. She was gathering interest from all her students to showcase their work, and of course I said,  "Yes!".  Being based in Singapore, I don't think I would get such an opportunity, so I got cracking in November after my art residency at the L'Observartoire, and got the three heavy machine embroidered pieces sent to England.

The pieces will be exhibited at:
1st – 4th March Collective Stitches The Knitting and Stitching show Olympia
26th – 29th April Collective Stitches The Knitting and Stitching show Edinburgh.

A Life's Journey
"The three pieces, Embracing the Storm, Challenging Choices Ahead, and Cultivating Resilience, were inspired by the walks that the artist took from her place of work to her home.  Each time she took the journey, she noticed how nature’s way of dealing with adversity is a reflection of our own mechanisms in coping with the different stages of our lives.  From the uncertainty during the heavy rains to the plant that is able to grow under distress, these pieces are a reminder that struggles do not last forever."

Free motion embroidery by Agy
Embracing the Storm
~30 x 30 cm
textile waste


Free motion embroidery by Agy
Challenging Choices Ahead
~30 x 30cm
textile waste


Free motion embroidery by Agy
Cultivating Resilience
~30 x 30cm
textile waste

How to Upcycle Your Scrap Threads

How to Upcycle Your Scrap Threads
Old raggedy threads (ORTs). I didn't know that the thread remnants from sewing and embroidery projects would have a special term; I had always called them scrap threads. After a little research, I realised that orts is actually a word that was used in the 1700s to mean remains or scraps of food, and it has Germanic origins!

how do you upcycle your scrap threads?

I had never thought of upcycling my scrap threads. Previously I would throw them in the bin, basically treat them as waste.  When we think of waste, we do not associate it with words such as "valuable", "significant" or "energy".  One of my readers, Kassy (thank you, Kassy!), shared an article on my facebook page .  This short yet important post shares the cultural significance of orts. The author, Ms. B, details how she made an orts box for a friend and then shares this beautiful paragraph:

"Orts are the tiny snippets of thread left over from sewing and embroidery. For many generations and in many cultures these bits of thread held great importance. On a base level, they represented a part of a resource (thread) that still had use as fire starter materials, stuffing, etc. But there was a higher significance as well. These were remnants of the spirit of the artists or crafts persons who used them. So, like hair or cast off clothes, orts gained a spiritual designation and were saved for special uses. They have been found in “Witch Jars” in Viking Era York and Colonial Era New England in both Pagan and Christian context. In Latin America, they are mixed in with the straw in the Christmas Manger Scene. Overall, they are considered to be lucky and full of positive energy." 

I like how Ms. B says that orts are remnants of the spirit of the artist or crafts person who used them.  As we sew a stitch in a project, we create a story, one that is unique to the maker. And as we complete the set of stitches and cut off the tails of thread, we may think that we are ending the story - we are not. By placing them into our own special orts container, we are saving them for our next narrative. So by saving them and upcycling them in our next project, we are continuing our journey as an artist / sewist both spiritually and physically. Let's all channel this energy through our work!

Do you have an orts container?

My orts containers are nothing fancy; they are upcycled from jars of nuts. They are clear so it makes it easier to select the scrap threads I want to use in my upcycling projects. I love the idea of having a smaller container to take with me if I happen to be sewing on the train (train rides have been horrendous in Singapore; on a bad day it takes me 2 hours to get into town, while on a good one, it is about 45 minutes to 1 hour. How do I plan my day if the duration is so erratic?). I will probably have a small zipper pouch with me.

How do you upcycle your scrap threads or orts?

I posed this interesting question to my readers a while back on facebook and I received a lot of feedback and interesting ideas!

#1 Sew between tulle or water-soluble material
This is something everyone should try and it is super fun. Just sandwich a lot of scrap thread between two sheets of tulle or water-soluble material and clamp in place with an embroidery hoop. Next, go crazy with your sewing machine - sew patterns, zig zag, straight lines or even do some free motion. The key is to make sure all the thread is fixed in one place.  After running it under the tap or trimming off any excess tulle, you should have a lovely looking piece of work.  Finally, I shaped it and made a bowl out of mine!

Janet turns hers into little patches that can also double up as coasters!

free motion embroidery with scrap threads

Why not sandwich them between cotton fabric and do some slashing, as recommended by this website.  Image below courtesy of Hot Pink Haberdashery.

Fabric slashing

#2 Sew them into your projects, use them as embellishments
Yes, that's right! They can be used to represent anything you want. Use it to make a statement!
In "Anthropocene vs Symbiocene" one of my free motion embroidery projects, I had a whale struggling under a lot of plastic waste, which is represented by the threads.

This one is shared by Kathy

#3 Put them outside near your birdfeeder or hang on the clothes line.
The birds will thank you with their beautiful singing! I didn't think that it would actually happen until a friend told me that she saw a bird fly off with a piece of candlewax in its beak.  And, did you know that there is a bird that lives in Singapore (and other parts of Asia) and uses its beak to sew up a beautiful nest! Of course it is called the tailor bird. It picks up plant fibers (as well as your threads!) to sew up a nest. 

Note: if you are intending to leave scrap thread, make sure they are natural fibers (no metallic or polyester).

Important update 3 Jan 2018: Since this post was published, a few readers have come to me with information that although we have good intentions, it is not advisable to put the thread out for the birds. This is because the dyes, mercerizations and processes can be toxic to birds, eggs and hatchlings. One reader has added that we have to "be aware that threads can wrap around the feet of a baby bird, cutting off circulation as they grown which then causes them to lose the use of the foot."

#4 Donate them to preschool for arts and crafts
Many of my readers suggested this, and you will be well-loved by the teachers.  They are extremely busy preparing for class, so any donations that will allow them to squeeze some extra time for class prep would be really appreciated.  Can you imagine cutting up thread and yarn for hours on end?

#5 Filling for toys and cushions
The scrap threads make perfect stuffing but it would take a bit of time to fill a cushion! I have a friend who has a cushion made up with a tiny whole for her to stuff the threads in.

#6 Use them for your mending projects
That would be boro style and it does look good on denim. Just grab a scrap piece of fabric, place it under or over the tear and start to sew running stitches (using your scrap threads) through the two pieces of fabric. For a tutorial on sashiko, visit this link or this one.

#7 Incorporate them into wet felting
 I have never wet felted before but I have seen how you can incorporate different types of fabric, threads and yarn to give a different texture to the felt. Check out this pdf tutorial by Cloth, Paper, Scissors!

What do you do with your scrap threads? Do share with us.

What do you do with your scrap fabric? 
Check out my fabric scrap kintsugi inspired trousers!

Why You Need to Upcycle Your Man's Shirt + Tutorial

Why You Need to Upcycle Your Man's Shirt + Tutorial
"Sorry, I am unable to repair it"
Those were the words that I blurted to my partner after he showed me the state of his dress shirt. After ten years of wear, the edgees of the collar had worn out, giving way to the stiffened card underneath. I had thought of darning it and even adding a patch, but he wears this to the office and I was thinking how I would make the repair less conspicuous. After several months of toying with the idea of mending it, I decided instead to upcycle the shirt into a top that I would wear.  I made the decision to transform it into a Bardot top and it was all done in less than an afternoon.  I can hear you all screaming out loud, "Isn't it winter now?", but when you live on the Equator, it is 25C and above everyday!

So why upcycle your man's shirt?
#1 It has a lot of material that you can use. If your partner is taller and larger than you then you have a lot of material to play with. You can always pop over to the thrift store if you don't have one or need more fabric.
#2  Think about the amount of natural resources and labour that went into the shirt.
#3 Think about the memories you will be creating when it's transformed! Definitely a talking piece!

Things You Will Need

  • Old men's shirt 
  • Tailor pins
  • Tailor chalk
  • Measuring tape and ruler
  • Scissors
  • Sewing machine and thread
  • Elastic band and safety pin
  • Bias tape - optional
DIY Bardot Top Upcycled from a Man's Shirt
My DIY Bardot Top


I referenced Scarlet Aura's tutorial. She does a good job explaining the DIY if you are using new fabric, and she has a great video! As I was using a large shirt, I made some amendments to mine.

Choosing the shirt

  • The shirt has to bigger than what you normally wear. 
  • Remember to take measurements - chest, bust, armhole, waist/hip (whichever is bigger) and chest to hip (or longer).  
  • Take these measurements and see if the shirt is suitable. You will need to lay the shirt flat (buttons done up) and it must be ironed.
  • Pin, draw and cut out pattern to get front and back panel

As you can see from the layout, I used the complete width of the shirt. If I had a much larger shirt (this one was a medium), I could make the width of the garment increase from 24" so that I can achieve a more frilly look. But the advantage of using the complete width is that I didn't have to sew up the sides! Bonus!

How to make a DIY Bardot Top

Cutting Out the Ruffle

Now use the rest of the shirt to create the long ruffle. The ruffle needs to be double the circumference where you would like the ruffle to sit. This is usually just below the shoulders. My measurement was 37 inches so I needed 74". The width of my ruffle was 7". Where on the remaining cut up shirt could I find all this material? I managed to cut out portions from the sleeves and the top half of the shirt (back, and yes, the front as shown below), and in all I managed to achieve 70".

How to make a DIY Bardot Top

Sewing Together

I hemmed all the edges and pieced the ruffle together to form a very side tube.
The top was slipped into the tube and sewn together as shown below.

Adding the elastic band

Measure the amount of elastic band you will need. Make sure that it is tight enough to fit snugly on your shoulders. We don't want anything peeking out!

Create a tube by folding in about 1 inch of the ruffle. Remember to leave an opening for you to insert the elastic band.

Finish off any raw edges either with bias tape or folding and stitching the edges. And you're done! Note the scraps that were left from the project (photo at top), basically the collars and cuffs!

If you are feeling adventurous,try doing a bit of embroidery on the top.

Want to try this out but need some guidance? Join my upcycling workshop, Restyle Your Wardrobe Workshop happening on 27 Jan.

How to upcycle your scrap fabric

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How to upcycle your scrap fabric
Ever since I started sewing, my pile of fabric scraps has grown beyond belief. There are tiny pieces the size of my hand and there are others that are double that size but not big enough to sew anything decent. So this scrap pile has just been sitting there looking bored, and when I look at it I think, "what shall I sew with them?", or "what shall I upcycle them into?".  The last time I touched the scrap pile was when I made my kintsugi inspired pair of trousers. Gosh, I love this pair not because it's colourful and unique, but because I spent so much time making it - it was a labour of love! I think it must have taken me about a month to upcycle all those scraps and transform my husband's denim shirt. 

So, what do I upcycle my scraps into? I found this great site, but I was sure there is something that does not involve needle and thread. I decided why not make them into beeswax wraps. They have been all the rage lately, especially with the zero waste community. They are fabric swatches soaked in beeswax, dried and then used to replace plastic cling wrap and aluminium foil. I was hesitant about using them, but after a while I decided to take the plunge.  The first batch I made was with Olivia of The  Tender Gardener.  We melted all the ingredients in a bainmarie and carefully spread the mixture onto the fabric using a brush. 

Olivia explained that it was important to use certified organic beeswax as the wrap would be used with food.  She also added that it was important to prevent the wax from cracking on the fabric and therefore oils such as coconut oil or jojoba should be added. Don't you think they look pretty?

DIY Beeswax Wrap using Fabric Scraps

Olivia and I were very pleased and excited with the results that we decided to conduct a workshop last month. All the ladies were definitely happy with their own wraps. 

DIY Beeswax Wrap Workshop

You can definitely try this at home as we have developed our own DIY Beeswax Wrap Kit in time for Christmas. Each kit costs $49 and includes cerified organic beeswax, certified organic jojoba oil, natural pine rosin, 6 cloths measuring 7"x7" and 9"x9", and a brush. What you will need at home is a heat source (a sauce pan will do), a small glass container (an old jam jar is good), grease proof paper (available at all supermarkets) and an iron. 

DIY Beeswax Wrap Kit