She took up sewing to cope with her loss in the MH370 tragedy

  • People
  • Friday, 07 Jul 2017

This is Chong’s favourite bag because she made it. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

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 appliquéd 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.

Gonzales’ labour of love - a tote bag for her students. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

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 mastectomy last year.

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 tranquil 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.

Jacquita Gonzales enjoys stitching tote bags as gifts for her friends.

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 keeps me occupied whenever my children aren’t at home,” says Gonzales, who hones her crafting skills by watching YouTube tutorials.

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 hand-stitch her three daughters’ dresses when they were toddlers.

Her advice for 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.

Chong See Ming learnt how to sew a beach bag within a few sewing classes.

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 needlework as part of her school syllabus.

Although a newbie at sewing, 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.

Chong hopes to make a quilt using tea towels sourced from the flea market. Photo: The Star/Faihan Ghani

“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-fledged maker,” says Chong, who is brimming with ideas and excited at the endless possibilities in needlework.

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