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Monday, 12 June 2017 00:00

Patchwork Quilt, Threading Hope with Love

Written by  Tan Kim Hion / Translated by Chai Soo Ai

Moo Swee Fong (right), Lee Fook Lin (left) and Dao Siew Gaik are volunteers of the same group sewing quilts for the “A Quilt for a Lotus” project for the Tzu Chi International School. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]

“I am just a tailor and I know nothing other than sewing. What can I do for the Tzu Chi International School fundraising?” Volunteer Moo Swee Fong thought over it and decided that the best she could do to help is by sewing quilts for charity sale. Hopefully, love will evoke and bloom on the school grounds like flowers on the quilts.


“I did not put much thought to it when I decided to put my sewing skills to a good cause for the Tzu Chi International School (TCIS) fundraising as I only thought of seizing the moment,” said 61-year-old Moo Swee Fong.

She recalled her memories back to the groundbreaking ceremony of KL Tzu-Chi Jing Si Hall in September 2010, where she managed to solicit only five “Lotus Flowers” (see Note) worth RM5,000 in total. Having regrets for her small contribution, she made a vow to solicit 20 “Lotus Flowers” for the TCIS this time to make up for it.

A “Lotus Flower” means a donation of RM1,000, so 20 “Lotus Flowers” would mean RM20,000. How could she raise such a large amount of money? Swee Fong thought over the possibilities and since her only expertise was tailoring, a skill that she had picked up since young, she decided to make full use of it to sew quilts for charity sale.

In order to fully concentrate on sewing the quilts, she informed her customers that she would not take any orders for clothes from January until September 2017. She shared, “I knew it is not easy and is time-consuming to sew 20 quilts, thus I invited another two volunteers, Sister Lee Fook Lin and Sister Dao Siew Gaik to help.”

Initially, when Siew Gaik managed to sell a child-sized quilt for RM70 to a fellow volunteer, they were greatly encouraged even though it was not a huge amount.

In the midst of busyness, Swee Fong received the bad news that her elder sister, Moo Choi Peng, in Bidor, Perak, had a fall and hurt herself. Since her sister was alone there, she had to rush to Bidor to look after her. After the check-up in the hospital, they were informed that her sister was diagnosed with uterine cancer and the whole uterus had to be removed.

Two days after her sister’s surgery, Swee Fong was surprised to see her hand-sewing cloth patches for the quilts. She insisted that her sister should be resting, however, the latter said that she wished to help in the fundraising.

Love and warmth for over two decades

Swee Fong was deeply moved by her sister for giving her full support, albeit she was not a Tzu Chi volunteer. She was reminded that when Choi Peng had a stroke seven years ago, in order to help her practise her hand movements, she used to bring pieces of fabric for her to sew pillowcases and other handicrafts by hand.

Since then, Choi Peng would do some small sewing. Due to weak legs after the stroke and having no sewing machine at home, Choi Peng could only sew the fabric pieces by hand, stitch by stitch. Early this year, when Swee Fong told her of her decision to stop taking customers’ orders for several months, she teased Swee Fong for neglecting her source of income, yet silently learnt to sew quilt, hoping that she could also chip in for the good cause.

Even though she had not fully recovered from her surgery, Choi Peng was very persistent in completing the quilts under Swee Fong’s guidance. She managed to complete a full-sized quilt with flower designs. Although her sewing was not precise, it was sewn with love and hope. When Swee Fong shared a picture of the quilt on her Facebook page, a volunteer saw it and offered to buy it for the price of a “Lotus Flower”.

Swee Fong had never thought that a quilt could be sold for RM1,000. With this good news, they became more confident and were encouraged to promote “A Quilt for a Lotus” to raise funds for TCIS.

Swee Fong revealed, “My sister was lost for words. She felt that for a person with disability like her to be able to raise a ‘Lotus Flower’ was proof that nothing was impossible.”

Thanks to an overwhelming demand, they have now over 40 orders to fulfil, far exceeding their initial target of 20 “Lotus Flowers”. Swee Fong and her team are very happy with the support they received. Swee Fong would personally customize each quilt’s design with different patterns and themes so that each one of them is a couture piece. She also emphasizes on the sewing quality, which should be sewn neatly and accordingly. If they encountered any slight defect on the patched fabric, they would immediately replace it. Quality of the patched quilts is their main priority to ensure that their customers are satisfied with the quilts.

“All the Tzu Chi volunteers and customers are kind-hearted and sincere in purchasing the quilts. Thus, we must ensure that the fabric colour does not fade easily and is durable for decades.”

Swee Fong acknowledged that the sale of patched quilts is not only to raise funds for TCIS, but more importantly, it is to bring warmth to those who use the quilts. She has a quilt which her mother made for her 20 years ago. It is a precious piece in memory of her mother. Although there are some small tears on the quilt, she has never thought of throwing it away as it is a symbol of her mother’s love and warmth. With a smile, she said, without it, she could not fall asleep at night.

Every time she covers herself with the quilt, she would recall how she taught her mother to sew quilts so that she would also be occupied and nag less. As a result, her mother fell in love with this handicraft. She would often sew quilts and present them to relatives and friends as birthday gifts and as a symbol of blessings to them. Relatives and friends who received her mother’s quilts would be very happy and they cherished them a lot. With her mother’s demise seven years ago, she continued her mother’s spirit by presenting quilts as birthday or wedding gifts. A hand-sewn quilt is the best gift she can give.

“Mum formed good affinities with others through her hand-sewn quilts. They are also a symbol of blessing. I am sure the receivers will not forget mum’s affection towards them. Therefore, we would do the same with these quilts; we create good affinity, spread love and warmth to all...”

In appreciation of everyone’s support, Swee Fong would record in detail their names and order descriptions. She and her team agreed that each donation would be made under the names of those who purchased the quilts. When the customers received a receipt under their names, they were very grateful to her and her team, for giving them the chance to cultivate blessings.

However, Swee Fong would always reply smilingly that she should be grateful to Tzu Chi for giving her and her team that opportunity. She said, “Without Tzu Chi, I would not have a platform to do such a meaningful act. It is Tzu Chi that enriches my life.”

The best quality of fabric even at own expense

As for Siew Gaik, she admitted that she is not adept at sewing, but since Swee Fong has been a good partner of hers in carrying out Tzu Chi’s missions in their community, she braved herself to learn and sew with the team.

Siew Gaik expressed, “I first started sewing quilts last year for my granddaughter. I was then told that sewing a quilt is a good blessing to the newborn. So I asked for some fabric remnants from Sister Swee Fong and Sister Fook Lin, and also sought guidance from the former on how to sew a quilt for my granddaughter.”

Having learnt basic sewing from Swee Fong, and with the latter’s assurance to guide her along the way, Siew Gaik is pleased to learn and help out.

She shared, “It is very fortunate that when we decided to sew quilts for the fundraising, we managed to purchase fabric remnants from a textile shop at a very reasonable price. Without hesitation, we bought two boxes full of fabric.”

Swee Fong explained that they purchased new fabric at their own expense with the intention of ensuring the quality of the quilts. Fabrics from the recycling centre are mostly worn-out clothes and no longer durable. By using new fabrics, the quilts could be used for a longer period of time. Besides that, the finished quilts will be more beautiful and attractive too.

Siew Gaik agreed with Swee Fong’s decision to provide the best and durable quality quilts so that they would be appreciated by all and would last for a longer time as a token of remembrance of their love towards the TCIS.

For Siew Gaik, her biggest challenge is time as she is unfamiliar with sewing and has to spend more time sewing repeatedly. In addition to that, her schedule is also packed with Tzu Chi’s community activities and taking care of her young granddaughter. She felt that she has been running against time every day to complete the quilts.

“There is not much space at home and I do not have a long table to cut the fabrics. Therefore, I have to squat on the floor to cut the fabrics into small pieces and sew them together. After sewing, I would have to spread them on the floor again, and this process is repeated many times ...”

Even though the whole process is difficult, it is not a barrier to her. She is grateful to Swee Fong for her guidance and encouragement. She would also browse the Internet to look for new patterns and share them with Swee Fong. She would only start her sewing after getting Swee Fong’s agreement. Everyone in the team would often share her knowledge and experience with one another. They would also discuss their problems and solve them together to improve the quality of their quilts.

Siew Gaik was extremely delighted to see their completed quilts, each unique and beautiful in its own way, being shared in their mobile chat groups. She felt that this sharing has brought more positive energy and confidence. When her second quilt was sold for a “Lotus Flower”, she was very happy and felt that her hard work was worth it.

Promoting patchwork quilt, spreading love

As for the inarticulate and rather shy Fook Lin, she was not satisfied with some of her sewing. Each time after Swee Fong’s guidance, she realized there was room for her to improve. Although she is also a tailor, Swee Fong is still better than her when it comes to sewing quilts.

Fook Lin had sewn quilts for her own children, but it was done in a simple and random manner. After seeing Swee Fong’s finished piece, she admired her work. The edges of the fabric were precise and neat. The sewing is not difficult but attention should be paid to the neatness and preciseness.

“Although I have to look after my sick mother-in-law and race against time to complete my sewing, I feel it is all worth it. I remind myself of the love and support we receive. It is a blessing.” Fook Lin expressed that even though she did not know of any great life philosophy, she knew that she should do the right thing.

Thong Yee Moy is a regular customer of Swee Fong. She initially wanted to ask Swee Fong to sew a new pair of clothes. However, when she was told that Swee Fong had stopped taking new orders for the time being to complete her quilts, she gave her support for the good cause. Upon seeing a piece of blue quilt, she immediately fell for it and decided to purchase it. She also purchased another four pieces of quilts for her grandchildren to use when they visit her.

“I have 15 grandchildren, who would often visit us and stay overnight during the holidays. They would be very curious with these quilts which I have prepared for them as they have never seen such special blankets in their life.”

Yee Moy happily said that her grandchildren would definitely pick her brain with questions on these quilts. Nevertheless, she would be very happy to share with them on how Swee Fong and her team worked hard for the TCIS fundraising. She wanted them to know that these quilts were made by Tzu Chi volunteers wholeheartedly and with Great Love.

“I could not recall if I had ever had a quilt when I was young, but when I see these, I feel very happy. By purchasing them, not only could I do kind deeds, but my grandchildren would also be able to feel the warmth and love from these quilts.”

Yee Moy stressed that it is important to always do kind deeds, especially in supporting education for the future generations. She even promised Swee Fong that she would introduce the quilts to her family and friends with the hope that they would support the TCIS fundraising. Yee Moy hoped that more “Lotus Flowers” would be bought for the benefit of the TCIS.

Note: In 1986, Song Jinyuan of Losheng Sanatorium, a nursing home in Taiwan, initiated the “Lotus Flower” charity fundraising for the construction of Hualien Tzu Chi Hospital. The “Lotus Flower” represented the love of its contributors and was not viewed for its monetary value alone. Tzu Chi KL & Selangor adopts the same concept, with a “Lotus Flower” priced at RM1,000 to evoke kindness from the public while raising funds for the TCIS.

 

 

Lee Fook Lin (left), would often seek Moo Swee Fong’s (right) advice on the quilts. She would immediately re-sew if any modification was needed. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]   Dao Siew Gaik (left) was not skilled in sewing the quilts. She sought the guidance of Moo Swee Fong (right) so that she could also chip in to the good cause. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]

Lee Fook Lin (left), would often seek Moo Swee Fong’s (right) advice on the quilts. She would immediately re-sew if any modification was needed. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
Dao Siew Gaik (left) was not skilled in sewing the quilts. She sought the guidance of Moo Swee Fong (right) so that she could also chip in to the good cause. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
“I am grateful and happy to be able to contribute to the Tzu Chi International School fundraising while I am still healthy and strong.” Moo Swee Fong, who is a tailor, stops taking customers’ orders for clothes for nine months to concentrate on sewing the quilts, giving her full support to the mission of education. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]   Moo Swee Fong’s sister, Moo Choi Peng, had a stroke attack seven years ago, leaving her with a weak left leg. She was determined to complete her quilt by hand as she was unable to use the sewing machine. [Photograph provided by Moo Swee Fong]

“I am grateful and happy to be able to contribute to the Tzu Chi International School fundraising while I am still healthy and strong.” Moo Swee Fong, who is a tailor, stops taking customers’ orders for clothes for nine months to concentrate on sewing the quilts, giving her full support to the mission of education. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
 
Moo Swee Fong’s sister, Moo Choi Peng, had a stroke attack seven years ago, leaving her with a weak left leg. She was determined to complete her quilt by hand as she was unable to use the sewing machine. [Photograph provided by Moo Swee Fong]
 
Moo Swee Fong records all the customers’ orders and descriptions in detail. For every “Lotus Flower” sold, a receipt is issued in the buyer’s name. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]   Upon knowing about the quilts for the Tzu Chi International School fundraising charity sale, Thong Yee Moi (left), a regular customer of Moo Swee Fong, instantly purchased a blue quilt sewn by Lee Fook Lin (right), which she has fallen in love with at first sight. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]

Moo Swee Fong records all the customers’ orders and descriptions in detail. For every “Lotus Flower” sold, a receipt is issued in the buyer’s name. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]
 
 
Upon knowing about the quilts for the Tzu Chi International School fundraising charity sale, Thong Yee Moi (left), a regular customer of Moo Swee Fong, instantly purchased a blue quilt sewn by Lee Fook Lin (right), which she has fallen in love with at first sight. [Photograph by Lim Kar Guan]