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NONYA BEADWORK & EMBROIDERY

Nonya Beadwork is a very complicated process. It involves time and effort to stitch an entire repertoire of beading accessories. The most popular of all beadwork is the beading involved to make the kasot manek or beaded shoes. Beaded shoes and purses are the only forms of old nonya beadwork to have survived the passge of time. The nonyas of old were taught to sew, bead and embroider all of their accessories that were needed in the household. They had to make bed tapestries, bridal hangings, panels, knee pads, shoes, kebaya laces, articles of decoration such as beaded vases, beaded purses, bags, letter holders, decorative motifs, pillow ends and a whole list of other needed household items of art. It was part and parcel for nonyas in the past to stay at home and be cultivated in cooking, sewing, embroidery and adat or culture. Peranakan Culture of old was very similar to old malay adat, the parctice of the sembah for example for respecting and honoring one's elders was also very Malay.

The picture above shows you what an old Peranakan wedding slipper would look like. Such slippers were only worn on wedding days and reserved for special occasions after that. Such slippers took months to complete and involved much painstaking hard work and artistry. In the past nonyas of old used to make everything themselves. They would embroider ankle pads, purses, containers, sireh covers, food covers, accesories f0r the wedding bed, bags, cloth hangings, pillow ends, decorative ornaments,religious cloth decorations, hankerchiefs for every object imanaginable.

As with much of Peranakan beadwork the only items left that are still known by nonyas of today is the beading of shoes and purses. The old embroidery called the kasut sulam which used gold thread has been lost forever. Notice that nonyas of old used to embroider their shoes with the use of thread and velvet. Therefore the beadwork that originated in old nonya embroidery must have been more of a recent invention coming mostly from Victorian Britain and Continental Europe. This therefore shows European influence on Peranakan culture itself. Contrast the above photo with the one below which is made entirely of beads. Such beadwork took on European motifs and patterns such as the english rose, the swan and also consisted of more traditional chinese emblems such as the peony, goldfish, chi ling, flowers, pictures of children, crysanthemums and other chinese symbols. It is also interesting to note that the Peranakan manek beads & potong beads were all imported from Vienna, Germany and Venice.

As we can see this kasot or shoe is made entirely of beads of different colors and that the use of threads is no longer present. The english rose and chinese peony is clearly seen on this modern day beaded slipper. Peranakan beading is a complicated process and takes a lot of skill and patience it is not for the impatient neither is it for the uninitiated. The picture below shows you how the beaded slippers are made:

As you can see from the above photograph, peranakan beading is done a bead at a time. Beads are stiched into the fabricusing a needle that is strecthed on a frame. It is then taken out after the entire beading process is completed and taken to a cobbler to be mended into a beautiful beaded slipper, just like the one similar to the above picture. Below are more pictures of the modern day nonya in her elegant and beautiful sarung kebaya. These photos were taken for a Peranakan Showcase on nonya kebayas in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia.

Nonya kebayas have a way of hugging to your figure, it makes a very good modern fashion statement We can see from the above and below photos that Peranakan sulam or embroidery work is a very elaborate and complicated affair. In days gone by such kebayas were delicately hand sewn but nowadays they are usually made with the help of the modern day sewing machine. As such many modern day kebayas look rough and stiff compared to the older kebayas that still have that beautifully hand made and graceful look.

Notice that nonya kebayas are very floral and that the major theme of most kebayas is always flowers , flowers and more flowers. Not to mention that they are very colorful as well. What an array of color and design.

This picture here shows us the middle part of the kebaya. 3 brooches called the kerosang are used to fasten this middle area of the kebaya. Looks splendid doesnt it? The embroidery on the kebaya is called kebaya sulam, kebayas used to be entirely made by hand using different kinds and colors of thread. The most popular motif on kebayas above seem to be colorful flowers and leaves.

The above Peranakan Kebaya Showcase was to commerate the book launch entitled "nonya kebayas" by a Malaysian Datin. The book is available in all major bookstores in Malaysia and Singapore. The photos below were taken for a Photo shoot on Peranakan culture in Singapore. It was taken over at Katong Antique House in Singapore.

As we have seen in the pictures above, the nonya kebaya is currently undergoing a cultural revival as more and more younger nonyas themselves start using the kebaya as a symbol of their renewed pride in their heritage and realisation that peranakan culture is in fact still relevant for today's modern world.

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