Malaysian great-grandma sews floor mats from fabric scraps to keep active


Chua runs a small business sewing door mats from old cloth. Photos: Sheela Chandran

Most senior citizens prefer to spend their retirement reading the newspapers, watching television or looking after their grandkids.

But not Johor-based septuagenarian Chua Sen Swee, 78.

Chua stitches floor mats using clothing overruns, leftover cloth from her textile business and material given by friends. Chua stitches floor mats using clothing overruns, leftover cloth from her textile business and material given by friends.To keep active, the great-grandmother of nine stitches door mats and pot holders using recycled cloth.

She operates her business at her daughter Teo Ngee Fang’s trinket shop at a hypermarket in Taman Muhibbah in Kluang, Johor.

“I’ve been selling floor mats for a year. Although my business is slow, I am happy because I enjoy sewing.

And I get to earn a small income. In addition, I get to meet customers from all walks of life,” Chua said during an interview recently.

Chua is among many senior citizens who are active in their old age. The elderly need to stay active to prevent boredom and depression.

According to a 2010 online article of The Telegraph, researchers at University College London found that people who complain of “high levels” of boredom in their lives face a double risk of dying from heart disease or stroke compared to those who find life entertaining.

For 45 years, Chua ran a textile and clothing alteration business at Jalan Panggung in Kluang. She gave up the business in 2021 due to the pandemic.

“My three children didn’t like the idea of me running the business during Covid-19. They were concerned about my health, and worried I could contract respiratory diseases during the pandemic. So I reluctantly gave up the business,” shared the grandmother of 11.

Chua is happy to breathe new life into old fabric. Chua is happy to breathe new life into old fabric.

But Chua grew bored during retirement. What she missed most was interacting with her old customers and the freedom of running a business.

“I almost ran into depression during the movement control order. I dislike being confined at home and unable to do anything. So my daughter Ngee Fang suggested I re-start my business, focusing on my handmade floor mats,” said Chua, who has been a widow for nearly 50 years.

Chua learned sewing from her mother-in-law in the 1960s. She stitches floor mats using clothing overruns, leftover cloth from her textile business and material given by friends. She is happy to breathe new life into old fabric.

“I have at least 10 bags of old fabric, including satin, cotton and rayon. There are different types of designs ranging from batik, floral and abstract. I enjoy mixing and matching the colours that complement each other.

Teo (right) is supportive of her mother's business. Teo (right) is supportive of her mother's business.

“By reusing these material, I am doing my part to lessen wastage,” said Chua, adding that Teo orders clothing overruns from online platforms.

At her workspace, she has her trusty Raleigh electric sewing machine, bags of clothing overruns and a table where she displays her colourful creations. There’s also a little velvet sofa at the side of the sewing machine, where Chua takes short naps when she feels tired.

 Emelia Chandrani Surenthran admiring Chua's handmade floor mats. Emelia Chandrani Surenthran admiring Chua's handmade floor mats.“Even though the space is small, I have everything I need to operate my business. Plus my daughter is also here so I am comfortable. Each day, I can sew at least two floor mats. It takes me about three hours to sew one item,” said Chua, who charges RM4 and RM8 for a handstitched pot holder and floor mat respectively.

In the last few months, Teo, 53, has noticed a positive change in her mother, who is more upbeat, positive and happy.

“Mum lives with me, and she enjoys running her little business. She doesn’t mind sitting here from 10am till 5pm each day. On average, she sells about two or three pieces a day. On weekends, she can make about RM50 in sales. It’s not about the money she earns, but more about keeping active and staying happy.”

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