Stitch by stitch

Needle­work is Jac­quita Gon­za­les' most calm­ing ther­apy as she faces the up­heavals of the MH370 tragedy, and can­cer.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Front Page - By SHEELA CHANDRAN star2@thes­tar.com.my

THE in­ten­sity of in­ter­est in the MH370 tragedy in 2014 has waned tremen­dously, but its mys­te­ri­ous end will for­ever haunt the loved ones of the miss­ing passengers and crew.

The en­su­ing years have been most dif­fi­cult and tur­bu­lent for MH370’s in-flight su­per­vi­sor Pa­trick Gomes’ wife, Jac­quita Gon­za­les, and their four chil­dren, aged be­tween 18 and 31.

“Life’s been an emo­tional roller­coaster for us. While there are many news re­ports, books and count­less the­o­ries on MH370, no one can pro­vide me with con­crete an­swers on how the plane van­ished,” shares Gon­za­les.

Amid all the up­heaval, Gon­za­les has slowly worked through her tur­moil stitch by stitch, turn­ing to needle­work to make beau­ti­ful hand­i­work and undo the tan­gles.

“To find peace, I fre­quented book­shops and craft shops. Dur­ing a visit to a hab­er­dash­ery store, I was fas­ci­nated by in­tri­cate quilts ap­pliquéed with flo­ral and an­i­mal motifs, as well as block de­signs. It sparked my in­ter­est to stitch a quilt,” says the 55-year-old kinder­garten owner, who signed up for quilt­ing lessons a year after the plane’s dis­ap­pear­ance.

She has gone on to at­tend other sewing cour­ses, such as dress­mak­ing and bag stitch­ing.

In the span of two years, the grand­mother-of-one has proudly com­pleted var­i­ous projects. She has made quilts, ta­ble run­ners, chil­dren’s skirts, draw­string bags and tote bags.

One of her sewing mile­stones is mak­ing over 40 tote bags for stu­dents.

“Sewing al­lows me to get lost in the world of creativ­ity. I feel more calm and there’s a sense of sat­is­fac­tion after each project is com­pleted,” says the for­mer Sin­ga­pore Air­lines air stew­ardess.

Re­search has found that sewing helps de­velop eye and hand co-or­di­na­tion and keep our fin­gers ag­ile. Stud­ies dis­cover that craft­ing helps ease stress and in­crease hap­pi­ness too. Craft­ing can help those who suf­fer from anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion or chronic pain – whether it be through art, mu­sic, quilt­ing or sewing.

There’s a sense of com­mit­ment and de­ter­mi­na­tion as Gon­za­les speaks about her labour of love.

Sewing has also helped Gon­za­les cope with her breast can­cer re­lapse last year. She was first di­ag­nosed with breast can­cer in 2006.

“With all the chaos hap­pen­ing in my life, sewing keeps me at peace. It kept me fo­cused even when I was bat­tling against can­cer,” says

Gon­za­les, who un­der­went mas­te­cyear. tomy last

Due to her busy work com­mit­ments, Gon­za­les is only able to work on her needle­work projects at night. On av­er­age, she spends be­tween two and six hours on her craft each day.

Her sewing room – a cov­ered up air well in her home – may not be very spa­cious but it’s her tran­qui space.

She calls it “Jac­qui’s Cor­ner” and it is where she stores her sewing books, cot­ton fab­ric in var­i­ous hues and dress pat­terns – all neatly dis­played in racks.

Other sewing es­sen­tials such as but­tons, threads, scis­sors and mea­sur­ing rulers are stacked on her sewing ta­ble. Her trusty Juki elec­tric sewing ma­chine has been her faith­ful com­pan­ion through­out her strug­gles.

Sewing, she says, has given more mean­ing to her life. “After the plane went miss­ing, I felt help­less and lost. Thanks to sewing, I’m do­ing some­thing con­struc­tive while wait­ing for Pa­trick’s re­turn. It’s keeps me oc­cu­pied when­ever my chil­dren aren’t at home,” says Gon­za­les, who hones her craft­ing skills by watch­ing YouTube ori­als.

The ed­u­ca­tor, who stitched a lap quilt over the Hari Raya week­end, is al­ready think­ing about her next project – a mem­ory quilt (fea­tur­ing a col­lage of baby pho­to­graphs) for her grand­niece. With the Yule­tide a few months down the road, she has also started stock­ing up on ma­te­ri­als for Christ­mas.

“I’m look­ing for­ward to stitch­ing more bags, ta­ble run­ners and skirts as Christ­mas gifts. Even my sis­ter, who’s based in Sin­ga­pore, has been very en­cour­ag­ing and in­tends to place or­ders for ta­ble run­ners,” says Gon­za­les, who used to hand­stitch her three daugh­when ters’ dresses they were tod­for dlers.

Her ad­vice those want­ing to pick up needle­craft is to sim­ply be pa­tient and per­se­vere. “I en­joy us­ing my imag­i­na­tion to cre­ate new de­signs, es­pe­cially for quilts and tote bags. Plus, in sewing, you don’t have to panic after a mis­take. All you need to do is un­pick and patch it up,” she says.

Fel­low sewing en­thu­si­ast Chong See Ming has also learnt and ac­cepted that un­pick­ing stitches is part and par­cel of learn­ing how to sew. Get­ting her fin­ger pricked by nee­dles and re­do­ing stitches are part and par­cel of needle­work.

“When I first picked up the craft, it was a chal­lenge to sew in a straight line. The se­cret is to start slow and learn how to con­trol the speed of the foot pedal. My sewing jour­ney has been in­ter­est­ing, once I un­der­stood the nuts and bolts of my elec­tric sewing ma­chine,” says the 45-year-old home­maker who signed up for sewing lessons a month ago.

Chong is proof that it is never too late to pick up a new craft. She was in­spired to learn how to sew to upcycle her old clothes, ma­te­rial and vin­tage dresses pur­chased from se­cond-hand shops.

“In­stead of throw­ing out my old clothes, I de­cided to rein­vent them to give them a fresh look. Plus, up­cy­cling helps the en­vi­ron­ment as it re­duces wastage and saves en­ergy,” says Chong, a mem­ber of the Malaysian Na­ture So­ci­ety.

After a few sewing lessons, Chong is most proud of the first beach bag she made her­self. Although she has a large col­lec­tion of hand­bags, her bright cot­ton beach bag is now her favourite carry-on.

“I love the bag be­cause it’s unique. It gives me a sense of hap­pi­ness to carry this bag be­cause I stitched it. Plus it’s one-of-a- kind,” says the for­mer SK Con­vent Teluk In­tan stu­dent who learnt nee­dle work as part of her school syl­labus.

Although a new­bie at­sewing, she’s fu­elled with pas­sion for her next project – a quilt project us­ing 30 vin­tage tea tow­els, in­spired by projects she found on the In­ter­net.

Sewing has given her the medium to ex­press her creativ­ity, and right now she is most taken up with the ex­cite­ment of ex­plor­ing de­signs and colours with tea tow­els.

“I picked up these beau­ti­ful tea tow­els from the flea mar­ket in Am­corp Mall, Petaling Jaya. I found the quilt project in­ter­est­ing as it breathes new life into old items with a dash of creativ­ity,” says Chong, who also plans to make pil­low cases us­ing cot­ton ma­te­rial she bought from se­cond-hand stores.

Next up, the mother-of-one in­tends to start a sewing cir­cle in her neigh­bour­hood. Ac­cord­ing to her, such ac­tiv­i­ties are im­por­tant as it en­ables the neigh­bours to con­nect with each other while learn­ing a craft.

“Some of my neigh­bours are house­wives and others are empty nesters. A gath­er­ing of this sort en­ables us to learn from each other and im­prove our skills. We can also work to­gether to com­plete projects for char­ity,” says Chong, who is a fol­lower of the Maker Move­ment, a so­cial move­ment where in­di­vid­u­als or groups cre­ate prod­ucts us­ing un­wanted and dis­carded items. The move­ment is or­gan­ised by

Make, an Amer­i­can bi-monthly mag­a­zine.

Once Chong has mas­tered her sewing skills, she in­tends to cre­ate a mixed me­dia in­stal­la­tion (a com­bi­na­tion of dis­tinct vis­ual art me­dia) with her new found ma­chine sewing skills.

She hopes to dis­play it at a Maker Faire, a pub­lic event ex­hibit­ing hands-on work­shops, demon­stra­tions and do-it-your­self com­pe­ti­tions.

“I have been an ar­dent fan of

Make mag­a­zine and its Maker move­ment and Maker Faires since I vis­ited my first Maker Faire in Sin­ga­pore a few years ago. Maybe I will be able to join the next Maker Faire as a full maker,” fledged says Chong, who is brim­ming with ideas and ex­cited at the end­less pos­si­bil­i­ties in needle­work.

Photo: P. NATHAN/The Star

— P. NATHAN/The Star

Gon­za­les found com­fort in quilt­ing at the most tur­bu­lent time of her life.

— FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Gon­za­les’ labour of love - a tote bag for her stu­dents.

— FAIHAN GHANI/ The Star

This is Chong’s favourite bag be­cause she made it.

— FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Chong still has her first needle­work project, an em­broi­dered pil­low­case she made when she was 10.

— FAIHAN GHANI/The Star

Chong hopes to make a quilt us­ing tea tow­els sourced from the flea mar­ket.

— P. NATHAN/The Star

Gon­za­les’ sewing room is her refuge.

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