Singapore mum turns her daughter’s drawings into amazing works of embroidery art

May 03, 2018
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    As in most family homes, family portraits map the white walls of Inez Tan’s three-bedroom apartment, where she lives with her video-director husband, Benjamin Siow, 41, and their two children, Miya, six, and Tyler, three.

    But unlike most family portraits – smiling selfies or studio set-ups – theirs are created by Tan with needle and thread, based off her daughter’s doodles. Decidedly artisanal – and if you like the idea, she can do the same for you too.

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    Tan, 41, is an embroidery artist with her own label, Inez Designs. She spends up to seven hours a day at a makeshift workstation in her bedroom, producing what she calls “colourful, bohemian, eclectic, with a touch of kitsch” embroidered works.

    She first sketches them – they are either customised projects or one-of-a-kind designs. Then, she hand-stitches them onto fabric, and fashions them into necklaces, brooches, and badges, or embroidered art hoops. These she sells at – hoops for $150 to $300; brooches and necklaces for $59 to $169.

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    When Tan started her label in 2010, she wasn’t selling her embroidered works, she sold handmade jewellery on the side while working full-time as a fashion merchandiser.

    She sold her first embroidered piece only in late 2016 – a piece commissioned by a friend of a friend. She had picked up cross-stitch, then other forms of embroidery, while pregnant with her son. “I enjoyed cross-stitch, but it got mundane,” she says. “So I decided to learn other kinds of embroidery. Video tutorials online helped. It was difficult when I first started, but I practiced incessantly till I got the hang of it.”

    Before long, Tan was incorporating threadwork into her jewellery, and creating embroidered hoops for herself and her friends.

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    The tools of her trade are simple. For her hoop pieces, she uses medium-weight quilting cotton as the base fabric – it’s thin enough to trace her designs over before she begins stitching. For necklaces and brooches, she uses felt and tulle, and suede as backing. For threads, she is partial to those by US brand DMC for their softness and vibrancy.

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    Tan also recommends browsing DMC’s website for free patterns and instructions. A fan of mixing media, she incorporates beads, sequins and crystals into her designs.

    She is now experimenting with different fabrics and incorporating paint. The materials are easy to find, she says. “Spotlight and craft stores in Chinatown sell all the basic materials you need. Fabrics are also easily available at any local craft store.”

    Related: Singapore mumpreneurs: She holds a PhD in medicine but became an accidental fashion designer

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    On top of her daily output, Tan has themed collections of hoop embroidery and accessories, released every three to six months. Her first was Secret Garden; the second was Loteria, inspired by a book on the Mexican card game she had picked up during a library excursion with avid doodler Miya – the inspiration for Tan’s favourite personal project.

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    Titled “She Draws I Thread”, it is a series of whimsical works ranging from stick-figure family portraits (which Miya draws every week) to mini stories involving princesses, animals, and strange, magical lands. These are not for sale, although Tan can create similar customised ones.

    Related: This is how Elaine Kim juggles being a mother, doctor and mumpreneur – and still has time for charity work

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    “Miya draws daily, and it’s a special time we have together when we sit down and share jokes, and she explains to me the stories behind doodles. Occasionally, she requests that I work on a specific work of hers.”

    What she does is creative and challenging, and the embroidery process repetitive, but Tan appreciates its meditative aspect. “It clears my mind, and I always feel better after that.”

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    How to get your own customised hoop

    1. E-mail your order or fill in a form at Describe what you want – a specific style, colour palette, text, or particular elements. Provide reference pictures if necessary. Do say if you want the back stitches hidden or not.

    2. Tan will make contact for an e-mail discussion.

    3. She will then send a design for sketch for your approval. Work commences when the design is finalised.

    4. Your personal hoop will be ready in one to six weeks.

    5. From $150 for a six-inch piece to $250 for a more complex work.

    A version of this article first appeared on Her World.

    (Photos: Darren Chang)

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