November 6, 2014

Nang Chong Tales : Making of Patchwork by hand

My grandmother Lien Tie was a child bride,bought in China and later brought out from China by my grand uncle Lau Kah Tu.

On the day she was sold , sort of in the market of Minqing, she was a tiny little girl, sitting on the shoulders of her father, a poor farmer who needed money to feed the rest of the family. He was crying out loud, "Little girl for sale, healthy, and hardworking although very small. Feet not bound."

Grandma was one girl too many. Her feet had be bound, but because of the extreme poverty, her parents let go of the binding cloth so that she could work in the farm and do other housework. By the time she was five, they could no longer feed her and they had to sell her.

It was an opportune time that my grandfather elder brother, Lau Kah Tii, was walking along the street and he saw this sad scene and paid the sum of Five Dollars, the amount that was asked without bargaining, since he had already set some money aside to go to Nanyang with Wong Nai Siong. It was 1901. He not only bought one young child bride but he also had helped his own father , a few years before this purchase, to buy one girl for himself. Hence the two girls became great friends and soon they would be in the same boat to Sarawak.

When already established herself as a wife of a rubber tapper, one of the activities my grandmother liked was to save all the scraps of materials her in laws and daughters could give her. She would keep them in a worn out pillow case and when she had a little bit more, she would sew the little triangles together, usually in the day time before dinner. When she was staying with us, she too would put those pieces together, usually red ones matching with floral pieces.

When she had enough of the pieces,she would ask my mother to sew the bigger pieces together. And a little blanket would be made. The Foochows call this Pui Yan or Little Blanket.

Little Blankets are nice gifts for her new born grand children. They are easy to wash and dry.

I would always remember my grandmother being given pieces of materials by her loved ones. Sometimes my mother would deliberately go and buy a quarter chien (in those days, materials were sold in chien and not yard.) of some florals, telling her that those were scraps only. Mum would slip a few pieces of those into a plastic bag amongst the scraps from aunts or cousins who were tailors who kept a lot of scraps from their customers.

Today only two of my sisters continue simple Foochow patchwork with enthusiasm.

My friend Steve Ling and his wife Mee Jiong with two blankets and his mother in law.

The little ones would wear out the little blankets as they grew older.

But sometimes their mothers would really treasure them and keep them for a long time, patching them over and over again.

I had mine which was much loved and lasted until I was long married off.

On the other hand however, adults would sleep with the thick RED Wollen Blanket , called 12 pound blanket or sek ni pong jhieng, bought in Singapore, a bridal gift, and it was meant to last until the final days. That red wollen blanket would go to the grave with the person owning it. A richer family would buy a new one to go with the coffin.

Somehow seeing simple patchwork blankets always reminds me of the frugal ways of my grandmother who would hand sew each piece very neatly and then waited very patiently for my mother to help her finish the small blanket.

She placed the blanket on the floor and spread out the whole piece for all to see. The lines were straight and each piece would be perfectly flat against another.  This the Foochows call, "Bang Nik". All the angles would merge perfectly. We did not have to iron the blanket flat at all.

Patch work quilts would always remind me of my maternal grandmother.


Anonymous said...

How did you know what the father shout about the price in selling off the little girl?

Ensurai said...

The fact that my grandmother was sold to my grand uncle for 5 silver dollars was well known to all the members of the family. And my grandmother herself told me about it. She was a small girl and her father was desperate to sell her.

What I admired about my grandmother was how she took everything so well in her life and she did not have any emotional problems at all.

Anonymous said...

Wonder how she can remain unemotional. Wonderful lady.

Anonymous said...

Patchwork is a time consuming art.

Anonymous said...

Ann, Chen Jie Xue 陈洁雪 said...

I made one too, but not too lady like, Used my machine.

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