National Textile Museum, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia

Ever since the dawn of man, we’ve used all manner of materials to clothe ourselves – from tree bark and fur to flax, cotton and silk. In the early days, perhaps this was more a necessity to protect against the elements; but as human culture and civilization grew, textiles became richer and more detailed: a symbol of wealth and power, or as an important part of religious and social rituals

The National Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur offers visitors a chance to look at the rich history and awesome art behind the textiles of this region. It’s a great place to check out if you’re ever in the Merdeka Square area.

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The museum itself was opened in 2010, but the building’s history dates way back to 1905. Originally built to house the headquarters of the Federated Malay States Railways, it shares the same Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture like the Sultan Abdul Samad Building just across the road. Later, it would house the Selangor Public Works department, the Malaysian Central Bank, Agricultural Bank of Malaysia, Malaysian Craft and High Court.

Entrance to the museum is free.

 

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Spanning two floors, the exhibits are divided into several galleries. We start off by checking out the lovely prints, techniques and materials used in the production of Malaysian Batik. Widely considered a national heritage, this unique textile is made by using wax-resist dyeing. The artist will draw patterns with a tool called canting, or print them with a stamp. Since the wax resists dyes, it allows the maker to soak the cloth in one color, remove the wax with boiling water, and then repeating the process until a colourful tapestry is achieved.

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Caustic soda, coloured salts, stones and other materials used to create dyes.

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‘Stamping’ a cloth with a copper mold in order to achieve a consistent pattern.

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Hand-drawn with the canting technique.

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Display of silk and cotton threads, looms and sewing tools.

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The Straits Chinese of Malacca – Chinese immigrants who assimilated with local Malay culture – have unique textiles of their own that adopt both Malay and Chinese elements. The clothing of the Baba Nyonya are usually elaborate, with loads of embroidery and detailing.

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The Tekat Gubah, found within Straits Chinese and Malay communities, is an embroidered piece which uses metal filaments of gold, silver and coloured threads to create designs on the cloth. The base is usually silk or velvet.

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From East Malaysia, a display of the Marek Empang from the Iban tribe – beaded collars worn around the shoulders to form beautiful patterns. These are usually done in white, red, yellow and red, and are part of the Iban traditional costume.

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Baju Berayat (Scripted Vest), a silk red vest with inscriptions of Allah on it. Said to provide protection to its wearer.

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A section displaying the traditional costumes of the different ethnic groups in Malaysia.

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There was also a gallery dedicated to jewellery, accessories and ornaments. One really marvels at the exquisite skill of the craftsmen of old. How did they manage to achieve such a level of detailing without machines?!

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Gold and metal belts.

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A 100-year-old gold modesty disc, worn by Indian girls and made by Indian craftsmen in Penang, circa 1900s.

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Brooches, pins, rings and other ornaments.

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A Taia Bubut necklace, worn by Bidayuh warriors for rituals. The necklace is made from shells, beads, glass and brass bells tied to rattan.

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Also on display are weapons such as the Mandau – an Iban sword, complete with sheathe.

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Sa’Ong Inu, a wide hat used by the Orang Ulu for shade.

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The Malays of old wore the Tengkolok as part of their daily attire. This turban-like headgear differed according to state with a unique way of wrapping it, and they often came in a variety of colours.

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The National Textile Museum offers an interesting insight into the country’s culture and history, told through textile. Admission is free, so feel free to pop in if you’re ever in the area. You can also do sightseeing at the nearby Music Museum, Merdeka Square and Sultan Abdul Samad Building. 🙂

NATIONAL TEXTILE MUSEUM

26, Jalan Sultan Hishamuddin, Kuala Lumpur City Centre,

50000 Kuala Lumpur, Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Open daily: 9AM-6PM

 

National Design Center, Singapore

Hey guys! I was in Singapore recently for a hotel review, but I can’t blog about it yet (it’s embargoed until December, when my article is published for work). What I CAN write about, though, is the places we went to visit during our stay. One of these is the National Design Center in the Bras Basah-Bugis district.

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The NDC is housed in the former 120-year-old St Anthony’s Convent – though, judging from its well-maintained structure and spick-and-span interior/exterior, you’d think it was opened just yesterday. Inside, visitors will find two galleries and three design labs, namely the IDA Labs, the Materials Design Lab and the Prototyping Lab.

We were led around by the affable Mr P, who guided us through different sections of the centre while offering some interesting insights on exhibits. 🙂

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As mentioned previously, the old pre-WWII Art Deco building used to be a school, so the layout is like a school block with a courtyard in the middle (now an exhibition space). During our visit, they were running a special exhibition in celebration of 50 years of Singapore-Japan diplomatic ties with Asia’s biggest Rody toy collection. These are cutesy inflatable ponies (? horses?) with short stubby legs, and they come in a variety of colours.

I don’t know why these were chosen to represent Sg-Jpn ties, since the Rody toy brand is from Italy. Mr P couldn’t answer me either lol.

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The one on the left represents Singapore, and the one on the right represents Japan.

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After awhile, it does get creepy, the way they’re all staring at you… .__.

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Some of the center’s staff busy rearranging the toys.

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We next stopped by at the Prototyping Lab – a maker space where SMEs, startups or anyone, basically, can rent a space and facilities to create prototypes or work on projects. Some of the stuff they have include laser making machines, 3-D Printers, CNC routers, and a host of other tools for carpentry, electronics ,and more. They also offer prototyping assistance schemes to help startups commercialise their inventions, as well as apprenticeship programmes.

I think it’s great that there are such avenues available. It’s no wonder Singapore became a first world country in a matter of 50 years – they genuinely appreciate local talents, and offer them the means to achieve their dreams and realities. Having a maker culture also encourages youths to be innovative and to think outside the box. This is something that Malaysia sorely needs. We have too many spoon-fed kids in our education system.

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The lab wasn’t very large but it was bustling with activity. There was a leather shoe workshop being conducted in one corner, while in the backroom some makers were working on electronic circuitry.

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The space was comfortably cluttered with an assortment of past projects, such as these 3D printed items, displayed on racks around the lab.

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We hopped on to the aptly named Kapok, a retail outlet-cum-cafe selling the most hipster sht imaginable clothing, souvenirs and other lifestyle items by indie labels and designers. Apart from being really cool and trendy, some of the products are legit great conversation starters, like this book-lamp. Open the ‘pages’ to turn the lights on, and simply close it to turn it off. Of course, the price was really ‘great’ too. Emphasis on the inverted commas.

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How about some iPhone covers made from real marble? Granted, you’ll have an actual stone weighing down your pocket, but it’s a nice thing to be able to tell your friends that it’s genuine.

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Olivia Burton watches for the ladies.

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Accessories from local label Stale and Co. 

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Cafe area is just next to where you can shop for stuff.

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I’d have loved to buy something from the shop, but unfortunately the cheapest items were at least 15SGD, and when converted to our measley, terrible-performing ringgit, that would set me back about RM45, which can buy me a week’s worth of cheap lunches back home. So nah.

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Moving on, we came to another exhibition titled Death by Design, which explores the role of design in death. I was really impressed – this was a final year project by students from the Division of Industrial Design, National University of Singapore – but it was of excellent quality. These students are on to great things ! 🙂

Death is often a taboo subject, and cultural aspects of honouring the dead are rarely changed or touched upon. But as we live in a modernising world, many of these issues are cropping up: the need for space to bury our dead, for example. The exhibition explores the possibilities of using design to solve these issues, challenging the norms of what people have been doing for centuries.

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In Chinese culture, for example, we burn paper offerings of hell money and gold ingots for our dead – a practice that is not very environmentally friendly. The solution for this, as explored by the exhibition, is a new paper design, which burns without leaving any residue behind.

On the topic of making a will, the exhibition suggested that it would be possible to leave ‘e-wills’ in the future, without the need for paper. The will or messages for our loved ones can be sent to the recipient, even after death, at a set time.

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The IDA Labs was next on the list. Like the Protoyping center, this is also a maker’s space where SMEs or individuals can come together to discuss, create and invent. There’s a large workshop-like area for working, complete with loads of 3D printers, as well as a classroom-like space.

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Pokemon-shaped 3D printouts. I’d pay money to buy these 🙂

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When a button was pressed, the thing started rotating and because the models are set at different positions, it gave the illusion of movement.

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The Materials Design Lab is where they keep a catalogue of new materials created to suit our ever changing needs in a modern world. This section is very hands-on as visitors can touch and feel samples. We had brain fart moments whenever we saw something that looked really hard and sturdy, and they ended up being as light as a feather.

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Last but not least was the exhibition dubbed Fifty Years of Singapore Design, which chronicles the journey of the country’s design evolution: everything from clothing to buildings, products, promotional government materials and even furniture. The iconic Singapore Airlines uniform was also on display (above). There were also posters explaining how the country’s stamp and money design has changed over the years.

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Mr P telling us about another iconic Singaporean item – the hawker stall chair. It looks simple, but there’s more to it than meets the eye. For example, the chairs ‘legs’ jut out for more stability, and the center has a small hole so that rainwater would run down without having to wipe it dry. It also allows users to chain it easily together to prevent theft.

“There’s one more thing you can use it for,” Mr P quips, motioning with an upside down gesture. “Put a plastic bag and you get a portable trash can!”

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and I left a little wiser about the design machinations of Singapore, and how it has shaped this very young but progressive nation.

The NDC doesn’t get as much hype as some of the republic’s more popular attractions, like Marina Bay Sands or Sentosa, but if you’re ever in the Bugis area and you enjoy learning about design, history and culture, I suggest a visit. 🙂

National Design Center Singapore 

111 Middle Road
National Design Centre
Singapore 188969

Opening hours: 9AM – 9PM (daily)

designsingapore.org

My Rimowa Story: Designer Edit

Avid travelers and luggage enthusiasts will have heard of German brand Rimowa, which specializes in bags made from aluminium and poly-carbonate. Light but sturdy, they have a signature look and distinctive design that is easily recognizable anywhere.

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The brand recently launched My Rimowa Story: Designer Edit for Pavilion Pitstop, which saw four Malaysian designers putting their own touch to the bags – namely Khoon Hooi, Sereni and Shentel, Izrin Ismail and Johnathan Liang. Pavilion KL’s main atrium was transformed into a runway-cum-exhibition space, while guests mingled with cocktails and canapes.

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Khoon Hooi is a well known name in the local fashion industry. He won the 1997 Asian Young Designer Award in Japan, and even back in my teens, I used to read about him alot in the newspaper.

His Rimowa collection gathers inspiration from his grandmother’s Peranakan heritage. One of the bags features his trademark feathers, while the other is inspired by the idea of trendy luggage stickers, but in the form of detailed, handcrafted badges.

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Rimowa bags in different colours and sizes. Simple and classy! I imagine they are pretty easy to spot among the dozens of luggage bags while at the conveyor belt.

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Design duo Sereni and Shentel’s collection is a colourful medley of fun and quirkiness. The pair runs a successful Sarawak-based headband boutique and has incorporated their funky style into the Rimowa edit. On the outside, big cartoon eyes, ribbons and bows give it a girly touch.

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A showcase of rainbow headbands!

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Giant bunny ear headbands and fluffy pompoms on the side.

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Paris-based Jonathan Liang brings a dreamy, ethereal look to the Rimowa bags with feminine French lace and handcrafted blossoms, inspired by photographers Henry Gruyaert and Diana Thate.

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Last but not least, Izrin Ismail‘s collection brings batik to the forefront with a simple but elegant design on the outside, and full colours on the inside. The exterior is painstakingly hand painted, while the silk-lined interior bears her signature ‘cloud scallop’ motif.

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Models parading the Rimowa bags.

Check out the collection at myrimowastory.com, or get the Rimowa bags at their stores in Pavilion KL, Suria KLCC and The Gardens Mid Valley.

Piala Seri Endon 2016: Malaysia’s Premiere Batik Contest

What is Batik? If you’ve traveled around South East Asia, chances are you have seen it in souvenir or clothing shops.

Batik refers to a technique of wax-resist dyeing cloth to make beautiful, often intricate patterns and figures. Although several cultures around the world are known for it, few are as popular as Indonesia (Javanese batik, in particular, is famed for its beauty and craftsmanship).

Meanwhile in neighbouring Malaysia, batik has been recorded in history as early as the 17th century. It has evolved into its own, distinct art form, making waves in the international fashion/fabric industry.

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The Piala Seri Endon is a nationwide Batik contest for aspiring batik designers and blooming talents. It was initiated by the late Tun Endon Mahmood, wife of a former Malaysian prime minister. This marks the 13th year since its inception, but the entries keep coming.

At the press conference to launch PSE, I got to see last year’s winning entries from three different categories: Clothing, soft furnishing (curtains, pillow cases, sofa covers, etc) and handicrafts (toys, book covers, wallets, etc). Here are some examples of the work!

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Batik predominantly features patterns and flowers, but it can be applied to anything (animal images like zebras, for instance) as long as the wax-dye technique is used.

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Winner of last year’s Soft Furnishing category. Now that would be something I’d like in my living room!

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Fashion category winners.

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Sequins on flowy batik material. This is so commercially viable, I can see Datins ordering it for their functions and stuff.

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I went gaga over the Handicraft winners. I mean, who wouldn’t want a kewl notebook like the one at the bottom to tote around and show off to your friends?

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Think you have what it takes to be Malaysia’s  top Batik designer? If you’re Malaysian and over 18 years old, you too can try out for the title and prize money (a cool RM30,000!). Download the form at penyayang.org.my!