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Picking Up A New Hobby: Embroidery

I think I’ve mentioned this many times before on my blog, but i’m not exactly good with my hands. There are people out there who have a natural affinity for this sort of thing (painting, pottery, fixing lightbulbs, cooking, etc.) — I, sadly, am not one of them.

As a kid, I always had my nose in a book, and while I could spout obscure trivia about ancient Egyptian religions, theories on evolution and how dinosaurs could have gone extinct, I couldn’t make or fix anything to save my life. I also sucked at sports. In short, I was (and still am), a big nerd. In an RPG, I’d probably be the wizard or some sort of priestess; all brains and no brawn. INT5, AGI, STR and DEX 0.

The hobbies I enjoy (and can stick to) tend to involve pursuits of the mind, like reading and blogging. Also, being an INTP with the attention span of a goldfish, I tend to flit from one hobby to another — usually whatever catches my fancy at the moment (I dabbled in drawing comics, making figurines, soap making, candle making). My interest usually fizzles out if:

a) I don’t get the hang of it within 2 sessions, or

b) I find that it’s actually pretty easy, and I get bored lol (I do sound like a fickle and hard-to-please person, don’t I?)

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So when I ordered an embroidery kit a couple of months ago, I surprised even myself. The idea of repeatedly poking a needle and thread through a piece of cloth didn’t exactly scream excitement, but I was bored of being stuck at home (thanks, COVID!) and wanted to do something different.

A couple of weeks prior, I had ordered some air-dried clay in a horribly misguided attempt at making polymer clay jewellery. After the first few pieces ended up looking like they came out of Satan’s butthole, I promptly gave up. My embroidery kit seemed set to end up in the same place; at the bottom of a box in a corner, together with the rest of my failed ‘projects’.

But then…

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I actually found stitching to be… oddly satisfying. And it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be, even for my sausage fingers. Sure, I couldn’t pull off dainty, tiny stitches, but the ones I made seemed good enough for ‘everyday use’, so to speak. It was challenging enough to keep my interest, but not difficult to the point where I’d give up.

One of my biggest weaknesses is wanting fast and easy results — if I don’t pick up something immediately (or within a few tries), I tend to get discouraged and lose interest. To prevent this from happening, I chose a piece with an easy pattern: one that used basic, easy stitches even beginners could follow, but would still look nice enough for display.

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The first piece came together nicely, and although I messed up some parts, it still looked pretty good. Knowing how bad I am usually with handicrafts, and seeing that it was my first time, I felt a tiny surge of pride at the results.

Which prompted me to order another kit. And another.

At the time of this writing, I have completed three pieces, with three more to go. Not counting all the equipment and thread I bought separately.

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My second piece had a bit more colour, and I learned a few different stitching techniques.

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While I enjoy embroidery as an activity for relaxation – there are a couple of takeaways from this new hobby of mine, which I think are good to reflect on.

It’s okay not to be perfect

I am a perfectionist, and I often think that whatever I make doesn’t match up to the standards that I have in mind (A lifetime of being told you’re not good enough will do that to you). As a result, I often miss opportunities to showcase what I have, because of my pervasive fear of rejection and failure. That, and I refuse to present anything short of (what I think is) perfection. I miss out on a lot of things because my lack of self confidence holds me back; even if I have a great idea, I overthink things and end up not voicing them out at all. It’s true what they say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

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That’s just it though – in the real world, perfection rarely exists. Even when I was posting my second embroidery piece, I kept criticising my own stitching, despite other people telling me that it looked okay. It’s a bad habit, but being more aware of it means that I can actively take steps to prevent myself from getting into that head space. So yeah, it’s okay for that stitch to not be completely straight; I shouldn’t beat myself up about it. If anything, it adds character to the piece and shows that it’s made by a human, not a machine.

Practice

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As mentioned earlier, I have a short attention span and little patience. Unlike people who feel a sense of accomplishment when they reach a milestone after months (or even years) of hard work, the same concept when applied to me would just make me feel stupid and incompetent. I like to be able to grasp something quickly – which is why many of my projects have a great head start but run out of steam eventually. The reality is, many things require practice – Rome wasn’t built in a day. I have to constantly remind myself that it took years for masters to reach the pinnacle of their art, if ever.

You do You

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I follow many artists on Instagram, and it can be daunting to see how amazingly talented some people are. It can also feel like no matter how hard I work, or what I do (channeling some Rock Lee from Naruto here), I’ll never catch up to their level of genius – so why bother? This kind of apathy can be dangerous and soul crushing for aspiring creatives. Again, I have to constantly remind myself that I, too, can make good art and contribute useful ideas. Art is subjective, really – and there’s beauty in just the act of creating. Even if you’re the only person who admires your own art, as long as you’re working to create something and improving on your skills, then there is no such thing as ‘wasted’ effort. And that applies for things besides art. Like life, in general.

Currently, I’m looking to work on more pieces and if I’m comfortable enough, open up for commissions. Embroidery is a pretty expensive hobby when you count in the cost of materials and time, so I’m hoping that by doing so I can offset some of the costs. And who knows? Maybe this’ll be one of those things that will keep my interest as long as blogging has.

What are some of the projects that you’re currently working on? Have you picked up a new hobby during the pandemic? Let me know in the comments! I’d love to hear about them.

And if you enjoyed reading this, please consider supporting my website by buying me a cup of coffee through Paypal. This will go towards hosting fees and ensuring that I can continue to deliver authentic content for your reading pleasure. You can also support me on Patreon. Thanks for stopping by!

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DIY Scented Candles Even A Noob Can Make

Like most of my ‘projects’, my first time making DIY scented candles started with a whim: I had a long Christmas break and thought it would be fun to make my own candles at home. Lazada sells convenient candle making kits, most of which are from China. I ordered them in early December, and they came just in time for Christmas!

Although I like artsy stuff, I am not someone who is skillful with my hands – I’m clumsy af, so I suck at things like sewing, weaving, painting, crocheting, embroidery, etc. Fortunately, making candles is relatively easy, or at least easy enough that even I couldn’t mess it up too badly.

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The kit cost me RM65, and came with everything I needed to make eight medium-sized candles, including metal containers (they sported bright, colourful designs), cotton wicks, four packets of soy wax (200g each), a stainless steel jug for melting, sticky tape to fasten the wick to the bottom, wick holders to keep them in place, a stirring spoon, dye blocks as well as four bottles of 10ml fragrances. I think it’s a reasonable price, as after making the candles I still had a lot of wicks left over, and I since I can reuse the equipment, I’d only need to buy wax and fragrances the next time I want to make candles.

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I didn’t want the kitchen smelling like fragrances, so I used the portable butane stove we usually reserve for hotpots. Didn’t have a big stainless steel pot either, so I used a clay pot (necessity is the mother of invention) to double as my boiler. The jug should not be heated directly over the flame as the heat would be too intense for the wax, which would cause it to scorch. Using another pot filled with water helps to ensure a low and steady temperature.

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While waiting for the water to boil, I trimmed the cotton wick and fixed it to the bottom of the container using the included sticky tape. The wick holder can be placed across the top to hold the wick in position when you pour.

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Using the spoon, I stirred the wax until it was completely melted.

Professionals who make candles to sell usually use a thermometer while making their candles, since different types of wax (beeswax, soy wax, paraffin) have different melting points. As I didn’t have one, I just winged it (ie making sure the pot wasn’t bubbling too much).

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Once everything had melted, I added my desired dye and stirred it until the colour was even. Once it had cooled down a little (but not to the point of solidifying, I poured the mix into the containers.

I made a couple of mistakes here.

  1. I added the fragrance right after the dye had melted. The temperature must have been too hot, which caused the fragrance to evaporate (?), so the result was that the throw (how far the scent carries across the room) was pretty weak.
  2. I poured everything in one go, which caused the candles to ‘sink’ in the middle once the wax had cooled. Apparently this is because the wax cools down faster at the sides, since the container is cooler. To avoid this, you’ll either have to keep the containers at a warmer temperature, or use the double pour method, where you first pour 3/4 of your mixture, allow it to cool, then top up with more wax to make the surface more even. I think this is quite a hassle though, as it means you’ll have to keep some of the wax. In my case, I couldn’t do that as I had a bunch of different colours and scents to work on, and only one jug.
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Despite the flaws, I was pretty happy with the end results!

I had four scents: lavender, vanilla, rose and lemon. The scents were actually quite pleasing when I held the candle up to my nose, but as I mentioned, I think I put them in too early so when I lit the candles I couldn’t smell much of the fragrances.

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Gifted a few to a friend as a Christmas present!
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Making my own candles was surprisingly fun (although it did take me three hours and my back felt extremely sore from having to sit on a low stool – sorry lah I’m old lol) , and I did feel a sense of accomplishment even if they didn’t turn out perfect. Maybe once I’ve had a couple more practice runs, I can start making more luxurious candles – like those pretty ones with flowers and stuff.

My candle making kit from Lazada : link

Have you tried making your own candles? Share your tips with me below!

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Stir-Fried Longevity Noodles

Hey good people!

It’s Day 4 of the Restricted Movement Order in Malaysia. Things have been pretty uneventful in the house – been spending it working on stories, doing some part-time writing gigs, catching up on games (playing Shin Megami Tensei Devil Survivor rn) and sorting out some old photos. It’s difficult to keep away from negative news when my dad has been tuning in to the TV 24/7. Of course everyone is feeling worried about the recession hitting (which I’m sure it will with how things are going), but there’s nothing we can do about it now except play our part and hope that things resume some normalcy in the coming months.

But enough doom and gloom. I made some food! 😀

PS: I’m not the best cook, but I survived living on my own while I was at uni in the UK, so it’s not like I’m terrible at it or anything lol. But don’t expect gourmet-level recipes.

STIR-FRIED LONGEVITY NOODLES 

Longevity noodles, also known as e-fu noodles, are soft and silky wheat noodles that are often eaten at celebrations such as birthdays and weddings, since they symbolise longevity and prosperity. The strands are long and thick with a slightly chewy texture. You can easily get them at most Asian grocery stores. We had some leftover roast chicken from lunch, so I thought of tossing some ingredients together to make stir-fried noodles.

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Ingredients: 

  • 1 packet of longevity noodles
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 3 squid, cleaned and sliced into small pieces. Marinade with salt, pepper and sesame oil to taste
  • 4 pieces back bacon, sliced into strips
  • 1 bunch choy sum
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce + 1 tbsp concentrated chicken stock, mixed with 3 tbsp water
  • PS: we had roast chicken from lunch earlier, but you can replace it with a protein of your choice)

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Method: 

  1. Bring water to boil.
  2. Boil noodles for 8 minutes. Remove and blanch in cool water. This is to halt the cooking process and keep the noodles bouncy and al dente.
  3. Fry the back bacon until crisp. Set aside.
  4. Stir-fry garlic. Add in squid and stir fry quickly. Then add in vegetables, roast chicken and oyster sauce mix. `
  5. Add noodles in and toss everything evenly. Add water as needed if noodles look too dry.
  6. Garnish with back bacon. Serve.

 

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Tada!

It was quite tasty, if I do say so myself. lol

Getting fresh ingredients might be harder if the restricted movement order keeps up (some wet markets have been ordered to close since they can’t implement crowd control), so we’re trying to make fresh and healthy meals while we can, before resorting to canned / instant food.

I hope everyone is holding up well, wherever you are. If you do have access to fresh ingredients, then this is a great time to hone your cooking skills. Stay safe and healthy!

I Joined A Handmade Soap Making Class @ Natural Wellbeing, Publika KL

So I finally joined a soap making class!

I’ve wanted to go for the longest time, but always found some excuse ie no time/lazy/classes are expensive. Recently work has been stressing me out so much, I needed some activity (that didn’t involve eating, lol) to take my mind off things – and a soap making class sounded about right.

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The class was conducted at Natural Wellbeing, a soap and cosmetics retailer in Publika KL, on a Sunday. If you’ve been to Publika you’ll know the place is like a maze, so the store can be a bit hard to find. Just look for Nando’s, go past the escalators, turn left and walk outside. The shop faces the main road.

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Soap making classes are held as and when, but their core business is selling products, from handmade soaps and essential oils, to bath products and cosmetics. They also supply raw materials for students and small/medium businesses.

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Decorative soaps in the shape of cupcakes and teddybears. The cake ones looked especially realistic!

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Essential oils and fragrances, for personal use as well as for making soaps.

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Our class was held in a spacious back room with Miss Angel, a certified instructor hailing from Taiwan, but who has been living in Malaysia for over 20 years.

There are different classes available, but the one I signed up for was handmade cold process soap, aka CP soap. CP soap allows for better control over the ingredients and does not require heat, where as hot process, or ‘melt and pour’, has to be cooked over a heat source. Some people like hot process because it can be used right away, whereas CP takes four to six weeks of curing  – but it’s all down to your preference.

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All materials were provided, including two soap molds for the two soaps we would be making, stainless steel bowls for mixing, spatula, whisk and thermometer, as well as class notes.

The notes were very helpful, with easy to understand formulas and instructions on how to perform calculations. I had always been intimidated by this aspect (Chemistry was not my strong suit in high school), but after reviewing the notes + teacher’s explanation, it sounds like something I’d be able to do at home without blowing my house up.

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The first recipe was for a 300gm block of Marseille soap, a traditional French soap dating back 600 years. Made primarily with olive oil, it is said to be good for oily skin, owing to its natural ingredients and properties.

We started off by adding lye into water to create lye water. This has to be done slowly and carefully, because lye heats up when reacting to water. After the lye water has cooled down, we added it to olive oil.

The next step would be to stir until it forms a ‘trace’, or in laymen terms, looks ‘creamy and buttery’. After trace is achieved is also when you add any essential oils and fragrances, although the teacher discouraged us from putting in the latter, if you really want a ‘natural’ bar of soap. We also added natural colourants made from ingredients such as clay and charcoal powder.

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The second bar of soap was a 300g block of Goat’s Milk soap, which I blended with charcoal powder- hence the colour. The teacher sprinkled a bit of glitter on it at the end, which added to the aesthetics. We had to mix the goat’s milk in a bucket of ice because the lye reaction would cause it to overheat, thereby destroying any nutrients or goodness in the milk.

We had some time left over, so we also made a natural lip balm from the leftover oils, a small block of melt and pour soap and a mosquito spray solution.

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At the end of the session, this is what I took home. We were each given a soap making certificate as well. 😀

The soap batter has to be left for a day or several days to harden, after which it can be cut into usable chunks. Because I wasn’t going to be home the week after, I left my mom instructions to cut it up. She did this…

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Looks okay from the side but

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rofl. I told her she could use the plastic cake cutter, which was what the teacher recommended, but I don’t know why everything turned out so uneven? lmao

The soap has to be cured for 30-45 days, after which I can test it with a pH paper to make sure it’s safe to use.

The soap making class at Natural Wellbeing, Publika is held as and when, so make sure to follow them on Facebook for announcements.

The class I attended was RM310, inclusive of all materials. You get to take all the stuff home as well.

NATURAL WELLBEING

Publika A4-UG1-02, Solaris Dutamas, No.1, Jalan Dutamas 1,50480 Kuala Lumpur

Phone: 03-61432279

facebook.com/naturalwellbeing.my/