Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Making of a Rag Doll

Sometime in early June I became obsessed with the idea of making a rag doll. For as long as I can remember, I've wanted to be a doll maker. I wanted to be a doll maker waay before I could sew two seams together. But it was all talk and thought. Like all things and many of my ambitions, I soon realised I'm no doll maker. I mean, it's a lot of work. Pfft! Plus, I have sensitive noses and the polyfil gets everywhere. So to date, I've made ONE doll which coincidentally was made in June 6 years ago. I still have the same bag of polyfil I used for that doll, for god's sake. I know I'm more comfortable as a doll collector. Wait, let me rethink that. I'm too lazy to even be a doll collector. I just like looking at photos of dolls. There! That's how lazy a human being I am. But it being June and doll making ambitions tend to rear its ugly head so I dived into my fabric stash to bring a doll into being.

I have this book The Making of a Rag Doll by Jess Brown. How many of you had the same thought as me? How deceptively easy to make. Man, I could churn out thousands and make tons of $ like the Jess Brown dolls.

Guess how many Jess Brownish doll I made? ONE. And just barely.

First of all, the pattern that comes in the book is not the same pattern that makes the famous Jess Brown dolls. It's a dumb down version. I'm okay with the dumb down version although the armpits are a sewing nightmare. What? You mean I have to sew a sharp pivot and then turn it right side out? I don't understand. That's sew madness. Also, I don't know what happened with the legs. Mine came out fat. Totally different from the book version. But I couldn't be arsed to find out why.

The patterns include outfits and accessories for the doll which is really the fun part. You get to make a pair of knickers, a newspaper hat, a sundress, a tote bag, an overcoat, a quilt (a doll size), a drawstring dress, a sweater scrap hat and an apron. And I was going to make them all. All. All. All.

The less scary version
Of course I ran out of steam. Firstly, the doll's face just wouldn't happen. My first version - my daughter said made her scared. The eyes were pinched and the mouth was pinched. So I unpicked the embroidery and did a unpinched version. It's less scary but still nothing close to a Jess Brown doll.

The hair was my biggest mistake. The book gave a very vague explanation on how to do it. Like remember the bad old days when you borrow a book on how to make a bag and it shows you every damn detailed step except the most important and crucial step which comes with no photo and a long freaking essay. Well, I did my best to fake it. My mistake was to use a cheap $2 Daiso felt for the hair. Who knew a $2 felt would shed felt dust everywhere. The moral of the story? You buy cheap felt you get felt shit everywhere.

In total I made one dress and one pair of knickers. Much to my horror, there is total disregard for hiding of raw seams. I didn't want to impose my own raw seams snobbishness on a Jess Brown doll so I went with the flow. I've always felt imprisoned by my own inflexibility when it comes to raw seams. Maybe this will teach me something. Or maybe it will kill me...

Anyway, I ended up sick as a dog for 2 weeks and that effectively ended my ambition to make any more dolls or doll clothes. Really, otherwise I would have made all the projects. All. All. All.

So the illness that felled me - I had gone to Chinatown for a supply run. Well, it was literally to buy 2 yards of webbing. While on the way home, I had to transfer train to another train line and entered a train compartment that was incredibly cold never mind that it felt like 40 deg outside. Being thoroughly unprepared for the polar vortex for that 2/3 min train ride, I became incredibly sick, sneezing my head off. By the time I had pulled out my cardigan and covered my head with a hoodie, I had reached the point of no return. Body aches, fever, sore throat the whole nine yards followed for a week.

The doctor said it was sinus infection. No biggie, right? I've had that before. The medication - augmentin (antibiotics) is also something I've taken before. No biggie, right? Except this time, I diarrhead (verb) my head off. Not the little bit of watery shit one gets now and then. The big, unstoppable kind. At first I was just annoyed. Then I got frightened. Because it was coming out of my rear end like tap water. Finally with 1 more day of augmentin to go, I called it quits. Looking back, I wished I had the good sense to stop earlier. I hadn't been eating and was subsisting on apple juice and yakult.

In my browser history, you'll see my most popular searches are How to stop diarrhea and Can you die from diarrhea? As I discovered the hard way, the medicine to stop diarrhea does not work immediately. Nope. It takes its own sweet time.

Eventually it stopped. As hubs said to me when I was in the depth of despair: all things come to pass. Yah, just shaddup. I hate to listen to wise nonsense when I'm "in my mind" one foot in the grave. I want a cure - a magic wand. Not blah blah blah.

And once the diarrhea stopped I had other problems. Getting food down my throat. For a few days I went around wanting to puke at the very thought of eating. Isn't that the worst part? You're better and starving and you. can. not. eat. So back to apple juice.

Today I had one whole bowl of quinoa noodles. So I think I'm on the mend. Once I'm able to run 5km round the canal without collapsing, I'll declare myself fully recovered. And you never know, I might even make another Jess Brown doll. No, I'm kidding. One is enough.

Before my illness completely overtook my every waking moment, I had cobbled together a similar dress and knickers for my tiny doll Neve. I think I made it when I was having a fever and quite possibly hallucinating. Look how careless I was with the seams and all! I've always felt very apologetic towards Neve because she had literally nothing to wear. Ready to do some serious twinning?

p.s. if you don't own the book and wants to attempt the doll, try this version or that version.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

A Moment In Time

Recently, one of my siblings shared a photo of my mother in her teens with her family. It was a family portrait taken in 1940.

I was very excited to see this photo because I've always wondered what my mother looked like when she was young. My mother has zero photos of herself before marriage. Fyi, she's the hot babe top right.

Having a photo taken in those days must have been a big occasion. Note all the girls were wearing lipstick, ear rings, bangles, a big necklace and pendant. These are very likely made of gold and jade. It's a typical "show how rich I am" kind of Chinese thing. Check out the women's outfits - all were dressed in samfu which is a 2-piece outfit comprising of the blouse and pants. I remember my mother wearing these when I was young. Sometimes the samfu was sleeveless. The blouse had a front overlap which was secured either with toggles or snaps. I remember playing with my mother's blouse  because I was fascinated by the closure.

I'm rather surprised by how dressed up Grandpa was. The jacket, the tie and he was wearing some kind of a pin with chain. I mean, dude! All I've ever seen him in were regular garments men of his generation wore. What my grandma wore raised some questions. Her black and white samfu was what Amahs (maids) wore back in the days. My mother said she doesn't remember her mother dressed in black and white. So maybe it was her take photo clothes. Her regular samfu were a blue top with black pants.

Anyway, later it surfaced that my grandma was a "charbohkan". In Cantonese, it's called mui tsai. Essentially a "charborkan" was a young female sold as a domestic servant to a wealthier family usually because her family was too poor to raise her and mostly due to a deep rooted gender bias. This was a custom which originated in China and migrated to Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore. A "charborkan" had no salary, no rights except a lifetime of servitude. When she reached marriageable age, she technically could attain her "freedom" through marriage. Or she may have to marry the son of the family she was sold to which is kinda convenient for everyone - maid with benefits. So my grandma is considered "lucky" to marry her young master? Considering that some mui tsai were sold into prostitution...

According to my mother, grandma lived her life silently. She rarely spoke. She did not play with her numerous children. She did not scold her children. She did not share her opinion. She did not speak her mind. Another thing. She always stayed home. She did not go to the market. Grandpa did the marketing. Grandpa went to the bank. Grandpa took care of stuff. Was it by choice or was it grandpa's way of controlling his wife? She had nine children and no helpers. That alone would tie her to the house. Grandpa did not hire any helpers despite his wealth. Another thing. Grandpa had to do all the ancestor worship stuff himself as well. Haha. This one made me laugh. Methinks grandma was a rebel. She made her husband do all the ancestor worship stuff because it's a freaking amount of endless work. (psst, they weren't her ancestors)

When I was young, I painted this fairy tale that my grandparents were regular Chinese folks who were match made like regular folks back then. They were scary, stern looking people I see once a year during Chinese New Year. The only words they spoke to me were "whose child are you?" I never saw them as real people. When it was suggested that that my grandma was a "charbohkan", I felt quite sick. Because that would mean my grandma was a child slave, a person who had no choice and no voice. My heart breaks a little thinking how hard it must have been for her. How did she find the strength to embrace her fate and live?

My grandpa gave away 2 of his daughters. Mind you, not to wealthier people but very poor folks. I don't know the reason why both daughters were given away but the funny thing is both knew who their real parents were and continued to acknowledge my grandparents as parents. I saw both of these aunts during Chinese New Year. Both continued to have relationships with their siblings. The practice of giving away daughters continued during my parents generation. I asked my mother if she ever considered giving away her daughters since she had 5 daughters and 4 sons herself and lived in poverty. She acknowledged that there was one time when my father raised the option. I won't tell you which of my sisters was targeted. (it wasn't me) My mother said she did the big big cry thing and the idea was aborted. Big win for my mother.

Nowadays you can't sell your children anymore or leave them with random strangers. We have laws. But the gender bias is still around. Boys over girls. For me my first born was a boy and the second a girl. So I was spared the pressure to make a boy baby. I know some people who had to keep popping them out until a boy was produced.

One year my mother was summoned back to her parents home. Her father was about to divi up his fortune and since daughters were excluded from his fortune, he wanted to give his daughters a token. My mother received $1,000 and a long gold chain. She later sold it for over 1k so she got a little over 2k from her miserly father. It is peanuts compared to what her brothers received. I too received a small token - a gold ring which turned rusty later. I joked with my mother to return it. Haha. Anyway, the interesting thing is my grandma quietly slipped her daughters an extra $500 from what little money stash she had. I told you she was a rebel. Thankfully she died waaay before her husband. She did not have to nurse the old man when he turned senile in his old age. Ironically, one of my aunts who was given away took up the challenge to take care of my grandpa. Certainly she was paid a fee but I really marvel at how she could find it in her heart to nurse the person who discarded her. I would be full of vengeful thoughts and plotting some sort of revenge.

The photo was taken in 1940 which was 2 years before the Japanese Occupation. This means that 2 years later in 1942 or possibly late 1941, my mother was match made with my father. She was 13 or maybe 12. The marriage was to "protect" my mother. That's a nice way to put it. In any case, my mother who despite all the crap life threw her managed to live a not too bad life and she is now 90. Or 91 in Chinese age.

In 1932 the Mui Tsai Ordinance was passed to legislate mui tsai in Singapore. Was it successful? I'm not sure. (it probably wasn't) Anyway, the Japanese Occupation changed everything.
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