Vanishing trades

There’s often talk about vanishing trades in Singapore, and how these trades will soon be gone when the current generation of shoemakers/ tailors/ ratten furniture makers pass on.

My colleague stumbled upon a shoemaker in Golden Mile who not only repairs old kasut manek (traditional beaded Peranakan shoes), but also custom makes them according to your feet size. (I’m making a pair of shoes with him, and after he traced the outline of my feet on his book and measured their width, he noted that it was hard for me to buy shoes because my feet were size 5 in width but size 6 in length — because of an extra long second toe).

I was glad when a quick Google search revealed that others had also found him, but I wish someone would persuade him to teach his techniques via a video series, so at least his techniques are recorded and preserved. It’s also heartening to hear of stories like these, about attempts to archive old trades. I learnt dressmaking for a year under an old-school seamstress who was so good that she could draw two long lines exactly a half-inch apart in a paper pattern. The lessons stopped after she was diagnosed with cancer and passed away. I wrote down the steps to make my favourite pattern of all — the lined shift dress — and I’m glad I did that, because that’s all I have to refer to now. When I visited her in the hospital, my sewing teacher asked me what else I still wanted to learn. Pockets, I said. She laughed. Pockets? She said. Easy.

I have tried sewing after she passed on — in part because she looked disappointed when she asked me if I had finished the last project she was helping me with, and I replied I couldn’t bear to sew. It’s been painfully slow, of course, due to a lack of skill and determination. And well, I still haven’t sewn a pocket.

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