February 10, 2013

Hua Hong Stories : Chinese New Year Pajamas

My mum is not a great tailor, not trained at all because her youth was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation . For three years and eight months she was a rice cultivator who supported her brother's family and her two brothers and sister. Her father, my maternal grandfather Lau Kah Chui was very ill and indeed died during the war years when lack of money and lack of medicine sent him to an early grave.
Because it was warm, most of the time mum just let us wear little cotton shorts (made by her) and no top. My sister here is seen wearing home made pajamas and the long pants which would grow shorter and shorter as she grew.

Mum neither had the opportunity to further her education after Junior Three nor the chance to learn a professional skill. Could she have learnt how to make dresses in Singapore? Age caught up with her.  When her mother came out of China by the first boat after the Second World War she was old enough to be married off. There were three younger ones and it was not easy for the family.

We all know that in spite of her lack of training both at school and in a professional institute, she is able to make most of the basic home wear. This Lunar New Year  she is 88. I can recall the beautiful basic wear that she made to ensure that her seven children were clothed properly. And thanks to her frugal ways, we had at least one pair of good pajamas every Chinese New Year. It is the pajamas she made for us that make Lunar New Year such a warm and comforting event. They were cotton ones too!!
round collared pajamas my mother made for my sister, on the left. My sister grew up to become our family tailor/seamstress even though she is a trained teacher. Her workmanship is very perfect.  Must have inherited the genes from my maternal grandfather who was a China born tailor.

Mum never used paper patterns from Butterick to make the pajamas. She just placed the old pajamas on the floor and started cutting the cloth. As we were growing bigger, she just had to add an inch  or two to the seams, the length etc.  In no time, she would make one using her beautiful SINGER sewing machine. She did not even used pins. She just held two pieces of cut materials and sewed. A month before the Chinese New Year, she would buy the  cotton materials from Sibu (we lived in the Hua Hong Ice Mill  quarters on  Pulau Kerto).

Snap buttons

She used pressed/ snap buttons (I don't know if some of you remember what they are!) In Foochow they are called Bak Bak Kewk. (When people hear about buttons today, they think of something else actually, press the buttons and you get things done for example)

Pajamas made by her lasted and lasted and lasted. And of course they become hand me downs and even get passed around to the various cousins in Nang Chong.

Nowadays most  kids wear T shirts and shorts, or store bought fancy pjs to bed because their mums are busy career women who have earned income to spend on off the peg clothes. Times have changed and the weather seems to be too hot for long sleeves and long pants too. But my brother continues to wear China made cotton pajamas. A Foochow  40 year old  habit. Mum does not make any more pajamas now. She is retired from home tailoring.

Each Chinese New I would ponder on Chinese Pajamas. Sometimes I would buy for my children, sometimes not.  It is not a must have. But I think it is a good tradition to keep especially if you are quite good with the sewing machine.

But if you happen to see some good ones, you can always save some money and buy a pair or two.

My first thoughts today, when I opened my eyes...where have all those Chinese New Year pajamas wearing days gone? I would like to wear pajamas made by my mother. Round necks (no collar) with snap buttons, and simple cotton. I would not twitch because they are home made, I would not keep them at the bottom of the drawers, I would not secretly save my angpow to buy a nice store bought pajamas from Ngui Kee down the road in Sibu. I would want to wear them proudly and shout,"See my new year pajamas made by my pretty mother!!"

I would like to feel again, the old pajamas growing smaller, and the pants growing shorter over the year...I would like  to experience that euphoric feeling  that I am growing taller and more robust!!

I am glad that I have a Foochow Housewife for a mother - frugal, wise, good decision maker, simple, without make up, not be-panty hosed, not perfumed, not bejewelled,etc.

Thank you for the home made cotton pajamas.

Happy First Day of the Chinese New Year.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post! Again brings back my childhood.

My mom had to work because my father passed away very young. He left behind 5 kids, 8,6,3.5,2x1.5(twins). Luckily we had our grandma and our two uncles to help out.

Mom is a very talented seamstress. Both my grandma and mom are very good with their sewing. She took sewing classes while my father was still alived. So she sew all our clothes. I used to watch her sew, and helped her with little things that I can managed.

Just like you, I wished I can have clothes made by my mom again. FOR me, it is selfish thoughts ... they fit me better than from the department stores!

I somehow feel children these days are cheated somewhat. Yes perhaps store-bought clothes look smarter. But they cannot replaced the love clothes sewn by a mother IMHO.


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Cindy for these brilliant comments. Could you enlighted me re IMHO?

Happy Chinese New Year. May we keep our memories warm and our hearth full of hearty meals.

God bless.

wenn said...

Gong Xi Fa Cai!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Gong Xi FA CAI!! Blessings for every day of your life. Peace and Harmony.

Anonymous said...

In old days, the sewing machine was a main part of the dowry from the mother to the daughter as she got married. However, my mother did not have one and she saved money herself to buy one. As the kids grew up, we need new clothes. Mom made everything, from underwear to the shirt and pajama for the kids. It was always a busy time for mom as new year approached.

I was a little boy and used to hang around near the sewing machine to see what my mom did with the sewing. I like to put one of my fingers close to the rotating wheel on top (smaller one) and also at the bottom part of machine (bigger wheel) as mom peddled it around. I could feel the wind as the wheel rotated fast. I also got under the machine and sit on the wide pedal, making the big wheel a steering wheel as if I was driving a car.

There were a few times where my knee was hurt by the big wheel. I had quite a sizeable mole at the knee which was removed by the rotating wheel by accident. The old generation believed this kind of mole was due to one interjecting the roosters from fighting. It was great to have it permanently removed.

Mom had many broken needles from her sewing machine. The machine operated quite strangely because one needs to have the thread (local dialect: bottom thread) for the other side of the cloth, and it passed through the front end of the sewing machine in a complicated way. I had good eye sight. My mom sometimes asked me to help her pass the sewing thread through the tiny hole of the needle. We first used the saliva to sharpen the mushrooming end of the thread. Now, I myself have problem in passing the thread through with my naked eyes.

Because I observed how my mother did the sewing, I also know how to do it. Almost all my brothers and sisters trained ourselves on how to do it. Sometimes I could fix the torn clothes myself. I also know how to fix the buttons, especially nowadays when my button became loose with the broken thread.

The sewing machine is always put near the windows because it is brighter. Sometimes the rain attacked it because we forgot to close the windows. The board eventually became rotten. My mom kept saying that she wanted to replace the board, but I think she never did it. Two decades ago, I saw a simple electric sewing machine and bought one for my mom. I believe she still preferred her manual one which is now more than 4 decades old.

14 Doo Boy

Anonymous said...

Yi. Thank you for describing MY childhood right down to the snap buttons n the cutting of patterns on the floor!

Sarawakiana@2 said...

What a wonderful story/stories. May God bless your mother!! I love the part about your mold being taken off your knee. I spent quite a bit on the one I had on my thumb. God bless.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

That's nice to know that we have similarities when growing up. May God bless all mothers who struggled hard to clothe their children!!

Anonymous said...

IMHO ... In My Humble Opinion

those modern days short-hand for mobile phone and internet short messages. LoL

I suppose you know LoL (laugh out loud) :) ??


Sarawakiana@2 said...

Thanks Cindy...Never thought of that..now I am enlightened. IAE...tq

Yes I know LOL..and BTW and OTW..am learning every day. This will just show I am over the edge. OTE but NOSM

I learned from Dynasty Hotel Triple O (OOO)or 3O which means Out of Order...placed on the door of toilets.

Ann said...

It wonder if my Dad was the one who "taxed" your mum's rice for the Jap.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Mum cannot remember, because her oldest brother was in charge. They had to stay at home quietly and did as they were told. May it was your dad.

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