If the Fall/Winter 2016 and Resort 2017 collections are anything to go by, the idea of needlework as frumpy and old-fashioned is getting passe. Cue the intricately embroidered patches emblazoned across dresses, sweatshirts and box bags at Dolce & Gabbana last season, or the way Chanel, Valentino and Alexander McQueen are experimenting with crochet now. Couple this with the slow movement – where conscious consumption and all things handmade are becoming increasingly trendy – and it’s little wonder that needlework has become an It pastime, with some of the industry’s coolest creatives entering the fray (yes, pun totally intended).
“It’s not just about cutesy things anymore,” says Adeline Loo (above), who launched It Takes Balls last year. The platform for knitting enthusiasts is also a retail store selling brightly coloured bags, clutches, chokers and scarves. Plus, it hosts free weekly lessons at its Club Street space for anyone up to the challenge of crafting their own accessories such as a Peruvian wool beanie – all you have to do is purchase one of its DIY kits ($140), which comes with all the necessary tools and materials.
Since starting the business, Loo has seen an influx of attendees, mostly young professionals who are after the tactile pleasure of making something by hand. The rise of Instagram, she says, has contributed to the explosion of creative talents exploring taking needlework beyond traditional homey, cartoony or saccharine sweet patterns, stitching up some statement textile art instead. “People are also realising that they can buy a bag at a certain price, or they can make something on their own for far less – and which comes with its own bragging rights,” says Loo.
With her half-shaven head and tattoo-covered arms, the 32-year-old is the antithesis of the stereotypical “auntie” knitter – and she’s not alone in changing the face of the genre. Joining her are names like crochet artist and graphic designer Kelly Lim (above), who goes by the moniker Kelly Limerick (@kllylmrck) on Instagram and picked up the skill as a child from her mother.
Recognisable by her electric-coloured dreadlocks – they’re add-ons made of braided yarn – she infuses her work with the same high-octane irreverence. Resembling precious gold filigree jewellery, her intricate latticework crochet chokers ($40-$68, www.kllylmrck.com) are inspired by crowns and vintage lace patterns, while her monster-themed iPhone covers, quirky knit vegetable toys and Uchi (or “home” in Japanese) line possess a Harajuku-ness – weird yet wonderful.
The approach has earned her tie-ups with names ranging from emerging indie photographer Lenne Chai to the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Singapore, which got her to swathe an entire bicycle and four ottomans in hot pink yarn as part of its car-free Sunday event at the National Gallery in June.
Adding a fashion spin to the craft are some of the best-known names in the local fashion scene. Cue fashion designer Daniela Monasterios Tan (above), who co-founded the rambunctious, DIY-crazy Singapore streetwear label Mash-Up. Currently based in London, where she’s pursuing a master’s degree in fashion curation, she’s been dabbling in textile art as a hobby by way of embroidery.
Drawing references from her travels and bi-cultural heritage (she’s Chinese-Bolivian), she stitches up quaint embroidered wall decorations in glorious colours and – like at her label – the same mishmash of materials including upcycled denim and sequins.
Here, at Lasalle College of the Arts, the multi-hyphenate Ginette Chittick (rock musician/ designer/DJ/programme leader of the school’s fashion diploma course) sets her loom next to the office iMac, and dedicates breaks to her latest obsession: tapestry weaving. With her fashion-trained eye, she plays with various textures, contrasting neutral-coloured and neon-hued yarn to create graphic wall hangings with a neo-tribal feel.
While she only learnt the craft about a year ago at the now defunct Bloesem design studio in Tiong Bahru, she’s already received requests for lessons and commissions via Instagram, though she doesn’t plan to make a business out of it. “It’s really about the love of making things,” she says. In fact, that passion has led to her biggest commission yet (to be revealed this month): a tapestry wide enough to cover at least an entire archway in the National Gallery.
Her former student Teresa Lim (above), aka @teeteeheehee on Instagram, explains it best. The illustrator-turned-embroidery artist (who was among the international names tasked by Gucci to reinterpret its Chinese landscape-inspired Tian motif earlier this year) says: “Needlework is a slow process. It takes me much less time to draw, but when I embroider, I feel that there’s more life to my work because I’ve spent more time on it.”
An adapted version first appeared in Female’s November 2016 issue.
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