December 28, 2013

Dress Making, Dress Makers and Dresses

Today I remember the Ah Ging (Mrs. Wong Jin Hieng王政贤 , the art teacher of Catholic High School, Sibu) who helped me dress up well smartly as an undergraduate and as a young teacher. My first Baju Kurong was made by her and so was my first ball gown.  Apart from dresses and blouses made by her, I was mostly clad in uni tshirts and long pants, the uniform of all undergrads.

Unfortunately I do not have photos of those two awesome custom made clothes made by her. They would have paid tribute to her skills. Many lecturers of Sarawak Teachers' College in Sibu then, went to see her to have their clothes custom made. Later when teaching in the Methodist School I also went to see her to have many dresses made.  We all remember her with great fondness. It is a pity she passed away 3 months ago in Kuching after a short illness.

Mrs. Wong's tailoring shop was above her own father's barber shop in Market Road, Sibu and her husband's art classes were conducted on the same floor. Mr. Wong is well known for his Chinese brush painting.

My own cousin,Angela Wong,  who lives in Rajang Park also made dresses for my mother and I. She was such a meticulous tailor that every stitch was evenly done and all stitching was straight. I remember her rushing clothes to make the deadlines and she was really prompt. Her children (who later studied medicine) helped her with the hemming and sewing of buttons. It was a very family activity. Her husband would help her send the cut materials for "eding" in the town, until they bought their own edging machine.
Three Sibu Matriarchs whose blouses are all hand sewn and custom made by their chosen dressmakers. My mum (middle) usually has hers done by Angela.

 Many young Foochow girls would take up dress making lessons before they got married as dress making would come in handy as a part time job or as a full time job even after marriage. Those were the significant years in Sibu when most people were penny pinching and life was truly simple.

My mother's god daughter, Ah Sieng, learned dress making and stayed with us for about 2 years (after my father's death). She was such a nice addition to the family and I enjoyed watching her progress, how she prepared the paper patterns ( pah du) and how she carried her basket of uncut cloth, square rulers, measuring tape and pins.

My sister made almost all the clothes for my daughters, especially their school uniforms. She also needed to draft paper clothes pattern (which she has been keeping for more than 20 years in her dress making book) My sister Sing is a great haute couture designer. If given a chance she would have worked in Paris. But being an introvert she did not give herself a chance. Instead she was happy as an English teacher in Sungei Merah.

At university I was keen to have dresses made, and a large amount of  my scholarship was saved to buy presents at the end of the year. So when I bought materials from Globe Silk Store for myself and for my maternal grandma, I was very very happy. If I spent less money on movies I could get myself some material for a new dress. Workmanship in Sibu was only RM15 per dress in those days. Ah Ging always gave me special rates because she was so understanding. To day in Miri I cannot afford the RM100 workmanship per dress.
Most of the patterns were in Japanese and I was amazed how my dress makers could read all those figures and copy the patterns.

I was in love with buttons and threads. Still am. I fancied the four holed buttons most and would buy them even if I did not make any dresses or shirts. I used to have a drawerful of buttons, now I still have a small box of different coloured buttons, and they "would come useful one day".

With clothes available in departmental store and special boutiques we do not have to rely on dressmakers any more.

When I saw this in Fremantle, WA, I was thinking of all my nice dressmakers in Sibu, and how wonderful and skilful they were.

Angela and Ah Ging could have made the dress on the far right for me just by looking at the photo and with the help of their paper patterns.

But some special dressmakers would always be in our heart because they helped us to look pretty and have confidence in the society. And they were so kind hearted too for not over charging us.


Anonymous said...

Ya, Angela's son classmate and I always wonder how the family (Angela working at Sibu Water Board) can send thier son to study medicine in Australia! We always joked that Angela much have smuggle water board water to sell to do that!

Ensurai said...

Angela was a good seamstress and she worked fast. Her children were able to attain the highest education possible because they had partial scholarships because they were brilliant and the Wong family as well as the Kho family chipped in. Fees however were not that high in those days. David and Philip are all doing well. Annie is doing well too. I met Angela and her husband recently in Miri. They now live in Kuching.

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