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Last updateWed, 11 Nov 2015 11am

Sunday, 29 May 2016 00:00

Adding Human Touch in Sewing

Written by  Tan Kim Hion, KL & Selangor / Translated by Tan Heang Shin

Tan Kim Nio, who is skilful in making Malay costumes, has for the first time made three costumes (a purple long dress and two orange outfits) for free for a Tzu Chi care recipient. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Tan Kim Nio, who is good in making Malay traditional costumes, had never made any clothes for free. But she took the unprecedented step of making free “baju kurung” and “baju Melayu” for single mother, Nurbaiti bte Mohamad, and her two sons respectively.


Sixty-six-year-old volunteer, Tan Kim Nio, is truly an expert in sewing Malay traditional costumes. She became an apprentice tailor at 13 years of age and since then has been associated with sewing machines for more than 50 years. She has customers from as far as Kelantan and Johor, who travel to Kuala Lumpur for her service.

“I ran a moderate tailoring shop before with nine sewing machines and seven to eight workers. I had been in this business for over 40 years; and it was two years ago that I stopped the tailoring business when the Government acquired the land for a highway project,” Kim Nio proudly said.

Kim Nio recalled that her busiest period was the Muslim festival in which she would sleep only two to three hours a day for the sake of making more money. Working day in and day out, she successfully earned herself a good name in the industry.

“A traditional lady’s costume would cost about RM100 for labour whereas the gentleman’s outfit costs about RM80. A new costume, including material, would usually cost more than RM100 or RM200 plus. Although there are ready-made outfits sold at shops for approximately RM40, many customers would still look for me for tailor-made ones,” Kim Nio informed.

Although she stopped her tailoring business two years ago and has been living a comfortable life, Kim Nio never thought of retiring. She continued running a home business and customers continue to visit her at her home.

She came to know about Tzu Chi about ten years ago. Since then, she has been involved in recycling activities, became a volunteer and joined other volunteers in home visits and promotion of Jing Si products.

Besides participating happily in Tzu Chi’s activities, she was still running her tailoring business as she wanted to make more money! It was not until her eldest 32-year-old son died suddenly in Singapore five years ago that she realized the impermanent nature of life.

Grieving over the loss

“I would have gone mad if I have not joined Tzu Chi. During that period, I read Master’s publication, ‘Being at Peace: Lessons on Living and Dying’ and listened to Master’s sermon to calm myself and learn to let go,” Kim Nio shared.

Contemplating on Master’s teaching about life and death had helped her to reflect on the purpose and meaning of life.

She had a fall in her kitchen a year ago and had a fracture. As a result, she had to stop working for a month. The fall had caused tremendous suffering as she was unable to lie down and had to sleep in a sitting position. She was extremely fearful of not being able to work, walk and partake in Tzu Chi’s activities. Luckily, she recovered slowly with physiotherapy.

She again realized how fragile life is and knew that she should not wait to do good in life. Hence, when volunteer Tan Chuan Xiong asked her to sew some new clothes for single mother, Nurbaiti bte Mohamad, she agreed immediately after learning about Nurbaiti’s story. She even offered to make the family’s clothes for free.

Fulfilling a small wish of single mother

Chuan Xiong learnt of Nurbaiti’s situation in 2015 when he conducted a home visit for Tzu Chi Study Grant. The husband of 37-year-old Nurbaiti died two years ago after a serious brain haemorrhage and she was left to care for her two sons who suffer from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) single-handedly. She then moved to stay with her parents.

Her sons, Muhammad, 14, and Aiman, 13, are not independent. She has to accompany them to school where she will stay with the younger son. At noon, they would join the elder son to have meals at the school canteen before returning home. This way, she could save money with the relatively cheaper food.

Nurbaiti received a monthly allowance of RM400 plus from a Muslim charitable organization but the money was barely enough to pay the sons’ transportation and food. Nurbaiti would always feed her children first while she herself would cook something simple or eat the dishes from her mum. It pained Chuan Xiong and other volunteers to see this thus they decided to provide subsistence to Nurbaiti after assessment.

In April this year, and with the Muslim festival around the corner, Chuan Xiong asked Nurbaiti if she was going to get some new clothes for the children. She then told him that for two years the children had no new clothes as she could not afford them. Besides she could no longer bring the children out since they are all grown up and have become more active. She then asked if they could get some used clothes from the recycling centre.

Not giving up on her children

On May 2, 2016, Chuan Xiong accompanied Kim Nio to Nurbaiti’s house to take measurements for the family’s outfits. This was the first time Kim Nio had dropped by at a customer’s house as previously, it was the clients who visited her and not vice versa.

Nurbaiti was so surprised and overwhelmed when Chuan Xiong brought a tailor to her house as she and her sons had not made any new clothes for the past ten years.

It was not easy for Kim Nio to take Aiman’s measurements as he kept jumping up and down, screaming at the top of his voice and gripping Chuan Xiong’s hands. In trying to control her son, Nurbaiti nearly tripped over.

“He would be moving around non-stop from morning till night. Muhammad is slightly better but not easy to handle too. Muhammad would be running around every morning before boarding the school bus and I have to try everything to lure them up the bus,” a tired Nurbaiti smiled bitterly. Due to the pulling and dragging of her two sons, she could feel a dull pain from her injured shoulder ligament.

Nurbaiti told Kim Nio she never thought of abandoning her children and she had no qualms about her children’s hyperactivity. She said, “They were born this way; I must carry out the duty as a mother to take care of them.” Kim Nio was so touched with Nurbaiti’s love and determination.

To make it easy for Nurbaiti, Kim Nio decided to make a dress with no buttons and zip for Nurbaiti. Normally, it would take half a day to make a Malay dress but it took two days to finish off the dress for Nurbaiti as Kim Nio specially made some floral embroideries on the dress.

Both Muhammad and Aiman are about the same size with only an inch difference so Kim Nio had chosen the same cloth for the two brothers and made the two costumes in the same measurements. This was to make Nurbaiti’s life easier as she could just pick any one suit for any of the boys to put on.

Warming hearts with limited edition

On May 25, and upon completion of the three costumes, Kim Nio visited Nurbaiti for the second time. She took out the orange “baju Melayu” for Aiman and Muhammad to try on. Aiman was so excited and happy that he kept on shouting in joy; and he did not even allow Nurbaiti to take it off. Looking at the ecstatic children, Nurbaiti also laughed happily.

Kim Nio shared with Nurbaiti that the cloth used for the boys came with imprinted shiny design and the colours would not fade even after two to three years.

After learning about the sponsorship of cloth by volunteers and Kim Nio’s free tailoring, Nurbaiti was deeply moved. When it was her turn to try on the “baju kurung”, Kim Nio noticed the slightly loose waistline but Nurbaiti did not mind at all. She would not want to trouble Kim Nio as the latter would then have to make another trip. But being very particular about her workmanship, Kim Nio insisted on making the alteration.

Four days later, Kim Nio returned with the altered dress and this time it looked perfect on a very happy Nurbaiti. Kim Nio jokingly told Nurbaiti, “The dress is a limited edition and the same with the two ‘baju Melayu’ as you cannot get them elsewhere.”

Touching the new clothes, Nurbaiti could feel the warmth and care embedded in them. With teary eyes, she gave Kim Nio a big hug and kept thanking her.



Kim Nio felt blessed to have seized the opportunity to help Nurbaiti and see for herself the strong determination and kind love of a single mother. It was an unforgettable moment for Kim Nio when Nurbaiti adopted a bamboo bank from Chuan Xiong on her first visit to Nurbaiti’s house. The latter had expressed her wish to save up and do something good upon learning that 50 cents could also help the unfortunate ones.

To be able to give is such a great joy. Even Nurbaiti has the same realization. Kim Nio was thus thankful to be able to reach out to this needy family, and she wished to do more in future.

Previously, she had never imagined she could bring joy to the sorrowful hearts with her expertise. Although she has sewn thousands of clothes, she has never felt so happy and fulfilling before and what’s more, by making new clothes for free.

Kim Nio made a vow at the very moment that she would get more involved in Tzu Chi moving forward. She hopes to continue using her expertise to help more people in need.

 

For the first time, Tan Kim Nio visited a client to take measurements for the costumes. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   In order to choose the best material, Tan Kim Nio (left) and volunteer Ong Saw Tin (right) made a trip to the shop to carefully select the most suitable cloth. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

For the first time, Tan Kim Nio visited a client to take measurements for the costumes. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
In order to choose the best material, Tan Kim Nio (left) and volunteer Ong Saw Tin (right) made a trip to the shop to carefully select the most suitable cloth. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Nurbaiti (left) helped the younger son to try on the costumes with Tan Kim Nio (right) looking from the side. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Volunteer gently held Nurbaiti’s (left) hands which were injured by her younger son. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Nurbaiti (left) helped the younger son to try on the costumes with Tan Kim Nio (right) looking from the side. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
Volunteer gently held Nurbaiti’s (left) hands which were injured by her younger son. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
Nurbaiti adopted a bamboo bank from Tan Chuan Xiong (2nd right) after learning that 50 cents could help save lives. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]   Nurbaiti gave Tan Kim Nio a big hug and made Kim Nio feel that her efforts for the past three weeks had been worthwhile. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]

Nurbaiti adopted a bamboo bank from Tan Chuan Xiong (2nd right) after learning that 50 cents could help save lives. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]
 
 
Nurbaiti gave Tan Kim Nio a big hug and made Kim Nio feel that her efforts for the past three weeks had been worthwhile. [Photograph by Yong Mun Fei]