Working full-time as a clinic receptionist and with three young children to look after, Alice Chan Lee Foon, 41, spends about an hour every night to string beads into all kinds of shapes. She said, “I have to see to my children’s homework before I can start crafting. By then it is already after 10pm! As a full-time working mother, I don’t have much personal time during a normal day but on my day off, I usually spare two to three hours on my hobby.”
Alice used to enjoy beading when she was in secondary school. However, life got in the way and it was only these past two years that her interest in her old hobby was piqued again by accident.
According to Alice, she was roped in to help decorate her church for a Father’s Day celebration. She said, “A church-mate needed help in making paper lanterns and I picked up the skill quickly. Shortly after that, I received a call from my son’s art tutor about putting up craft work for sale at their annual art exhibition. You see, I send my three children to a private arts and craft centre and they would organise an exhibition every year end. I was offered a booth to sell my craft work simply because the organiser needed a variety of attractions for visitors at the 3-day event.
“I accepted the offer and thought long and hard about what I could sell. I decided to improvise on the paper lanterns that I had learned to make. I didn’t want to use the usual discarded angpow envelopes but bought fancy papers and wrappers instead. The lanterns were so well-received that I was invited to set up a booth again the following year.”
The second time around, Alice decided to make beaded accessories and decorations. It was what she loved doing when she was a teenager, after all. Initially, she bought her supplies of strings and acrylic beads locally but discovered that it is cheaper to order them over the internet directly from China. The self-taught bead crafter would watch videos on YouTube while waiting for the supplies to be shipped to her home in Ipoh, but she said, “I could only learn simple designs through videos. For the more complex ones, I order the items from online stores and use them as models. I don’t make an exact copy but rather improve on their design and colour combination. I also make different sizes of the same item.”
With the many types of beads of different size, shape and finishing, the range of items that Alice comes up with is only limited by her imagination. Usually inspired through browsing the internet, so far, she has already strung together vases, flowers, coasters, stationery holders, charms, costume jewellery and sets of Chinese zodiac, many of which are given away as gifts.
Alice emphasised that beading is not a money-making hobby as most people are not appreciative of handmade craft, or are unwilling to pay a good price for these items. She said, “I only picked up crafting again as it is an activity that I can involve my young children. It gives us an opportunity to bond. Also, initially, it was to support the art centre where my children receive their lessons. I would like to get my children interested in arts and craft rather than wasting too much time on the computer. Despite only able to spend minimal time on my hobby, I now have a sizable collection of items in my craft room! The year-end craft sale at the annual art exhibition will be timely!”
Alice’s husband Yew Chin Cheong, a building contractor, is most supportive of her hobby. He would usually voice his opinions and make suggestions that would give Alice fresh ideas. Also, when Alice set up her first sale booth at a craft bazaar recently, he was around to lend a helping hand.
Alice said, “It was upon my friend’s encouragement that I decided to rent a booth. I was hesitant initially but it was a good opportunity to make new friends who are also into crafting as well as show the public my bead-work. However, I am unsure if I would take up a booth again at the next bazaar as my children are young and impressionable. I don’t want them to think that they can make a living from crafting. I’d rather they pay more attention to their books!”
Note: An edited version of this article [Beading for change] was published on 19th September, 2015, in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.
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