Latifah works on a patchwork

Tucked-in Clothes a Thing of BEAUTY

During a two-week family holiday in Japan, Latifah Hamzah noticed a simple fabric art piece hanging on the wall of her sister’s home in Tokyo.

“I was curious and asked if I could buy something similar. My sister took me to an underground craft centre in the city. There, I noticed many senior Japanese women making their own art pieces and then putting them up for sale. It looked like a very relaxing hobby, and at the same time, they were able to earn some pocket money,” Latifah explained.

Latifah picked up a number of these DIY kits, thinking that she would indulge in a new hobby when she had free time. One month turned into two and three. By the time Latifah took a kit out, it was six months later, and she was aghast to discover that there were so many steps to follow. It didn’t help that the instructions were in Japanese only!

Latifah Hamzah with a Baju Pahang patchwork
Latifah Hamzah with a Baju Pahang patchwork

Known in Japan as ‘kimekomi’, which means ‘tuck into a groove’ in English, it is a doll-making technique first developed in the country in the 18th century. ‘Kimekomi’ is a craft where a pattern is first drawn, then cut onto a surface of either soft wood or foam board. Fabric or paper is then placed over the pattern and tucked into grooves between patterns.

“I wondered to myself, how in the world did I have the impression that this was a relaxing hobby? Needless to say, my first piece was simply horrible. Although I had second thoughts about my new hobby, I still managed to complete all the kits that I brought home from Japan, with the assistance of my husband. I found that it actually helped me to leave my work-related stress behind, due to the deep concentration required in producing the art,” added Latifah, who was in procurement at the time.

Reflecting on the tediousness in completing just a single piece of ‘kimekomi’, Latifah discussed with her husband, Raflly Nann, on how they could streamline the steps and yet make an art just as captivating.

Raflly (L) & Latifah (R)
Raflly (L) & Latifah (R)

Inspired by ‘kimekomi’ and its ‘easy tuck’ technique, Latifah and Raflly began experimenting with their own patterns and fabric scraps lying around the house.

“The biggest challenge for me was drawing. Raffly would come out with a pattern, but how do I reproduce this piece onto the foam board? My husband may have a flare for it but not me! After much trial and error, we managed to solve the issue with appropriate craft materials,” confessed Latifah.

However, unlike ‘kimekomi’ which produces simple pieces that the Japanese are known for, Latifah and Raflly want to promote Malaysia’s culture and tradition through their 3D non-stitch patchwork, by using primarily batik and songket. “Through our pieces of men and women garbed in traditional wear, not only do we get to showcase how a certain costume is worn, we can also promote our local fabric. Most foreigners have no idea what they should do with a piece of batik or songket, but when it is used in an art piece, they get to enjoy the best of two worlds,” she added.

Latifah works on a patchwork
Latifah works on a patchwork

Since her retirement two years ago, Latifah, 51, has established her brand name, QueenL’s Craft, to market her improvised ‘kimekomi’. Queen Latifah is a nickname given by friends as she was very fierce in her younger years.

Assisted by Raflly and sometimes three of their five children, QueenL’s Craft showcased its selection of art work to the public for the first time at the 2016 National Craft Day hosted at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex along Jalan Conlay, Kuala Lumpur. The 12-day event drew many curious on-lookers, who were soon converted into owners and fans.

Latifah’s usual genres are of people, animals, landmarks and flora. Feedback received from customers give the creative Latifah even more ideas to expand on, judging by her current bestselling pieces of the owl and elephant. “Somehow, foreigners love these two animals,” she said, while busy completing a commissioned piece of a family of owls which measures 4ft by 8ft, the largest that she and Raflly have worked on to date.

Most of Latifah’s pieces with people do not show a full face, as prohibited by her religion, unless it was a customised piece. Raffly added, “A blank face also means that the audience can better focus on the attire and not be distracted by the model’s beauty.”

patchwork of traditional costumes
patchwork of traditional costumes

It is no wonder that much care is placed in the purchase of fabric, based on its quality, motif and colour, to ensure that the finished art piece really stands out. Priced from RM40, QueenL’s Craft’s non-stitch patchwork art pieces are available at Boustead Cruise Centre, Petrosains Gift Shop and soon, Eraman Duty Free retail outlets, besides during craft exhibitions. DIY kits are also sold, and those interested in honing their skills further may sign up for short courses conducted at QueenL’s Craft’s workshop in Port Klang.

Despite the initial hiccups with ‘kimekomi’, Latifah now easily spends six to eight hours a day at her craft table. Smaller pieces of A5 size take about three hours to produce, while more detailed ones would take weeks. “Raflly loves to make large pieces with a lot of detailing. He is really patient and has an eye for even the smallest of details,” the wife proudly shared.

Note: An edited version of this article [Tucked-in clothes a thing of BEAUTY] was published on 2nd September 2017 in the now-defunct The Malay Mail.

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