Offbeat workshops

Offbeat workshops
Founder of Shoe Artistry Kit Lee, together with co-founder and husband Jeff Wan, own a workshop in Hong Kong which makes and sells made-to-measure and bespoke shoes.

Sewing your own dress in this age of instant retail gratification? This and other workshops, surprisingly, are drawing participants who see value in getting crafty.

Shoe Artistry

Ever bought a pair of shoes only to realise that the fit is not right? If you could make your own shoes, that problem wouldn't occur.

"Shoes sold off the shelf are made in standard sizes and shapes, but your feet are not," says Kit Lee, co-founder of Shoe Artistry. The bespoke shoe company is based in Hong Kong, but Ms Lee and her husband, Jeff Wan, are expanding the business to Singapore and Indonesia.

The couple started out offering bespoke shoes, but soon received requests from customers asking if they could make a pair themselves. "That's when we realised that there is a market of consumers that we could target," says Mr Wan. "These consumers love the idea of 'experience buying' their products, where they can experience and enjoy the process of making their products."

In Singapore, the couple work with The General Company which helps organise their shoe-making workshops.

Ms Lee, 36, is trained as a fashion and jewellery designer, while Mr Wan, 36, is a product designer. Both only learnt shoe-making when Ms Lee took over Ming Kee Shoes, a bespoke shoe shop in Jordan, Hong Kong, which was forced to close due to high rental costs.

Ms Lee gave Ming Kee Shoes a new identity, building up its customer service, business operations and shoe designers. "The objective was to revitalise this heritage of shoe-making and pass it on to the next generation," she says. She recruited several shoe-maker masters to join Shoe Artistry, and learnt the craft from them.

The couple conduct several shoe-making workshops at The General Company. There is the Shoe Design and Pattern Making Workshop for beginners, where students learn how to design shoes from both a creative and a technical point of view.

Students learn how to transform their 2D shoe designs into 3D designs onto the shoe last (which is a mechanical form that has a shape similar to that of a human foot) and then turning them into 2D patterns. This is actually the first and most crucial step of shoe-making. This course focuses heavily on designing shoes on a given foot template, drawing on the shoe last, cutting out and flattening the shell and pattern-making. In this workshop, no shoes will be made, and a course is priced at S$150.

From there, students can then proceed to the other workshops, learning how to make ballet flats, baby shoes, slip-ons and tie-string shoes. Such workshops cost from S$250. Regardless of workshop, students are given an appropriate shoe template, which they can customise with their own choice of materials.

Students will cut and piece together the patterns they have already cut out on leather and also work with the shoe lasts to take the shape of the shoes. Depending on the complexity, it can be a two-day course, but students get to go home with their very own pair of shoes.

Each class comprises about five to six students. "As shoe-making involves many steps and processes, we prefer to keep the class small so that students get our full attention," says Ms Lee.

Mr Wan says that the biggest challenge for shoe-making students, is that "they get to build muscles on their hands. Most of us use only our fingers, but through shoe-making, they maximise the full potential of their hands."

To book a workshop, visit Beauty, writ large


Modern Calligraphy

Ruth Tan is one crafty person, but we mean that in a good way. Since young, she began beading, sketching, painting and sewing. And now, she teaches crafts such as bookbinding, printmaking, rubber-stamping, sewing and modern calligraphy at her Bukit Timah studio, The Workroom.

Seven years ago, Ms Tan started an online store, "The Little Happyshop" selling paper products and accessories. She always had the idea to start crafting classes, and she did so when she opened a retail brick-and-mortar shop in 2011. Every Saturday, she would transform a little corner in the shop, with about five participants learning to do crafts. "Back then, it was really novel because people didn't learn practical crafts such as bookbinding, embroidery and rubber stamp-carving," she recalls. The sign-ups were so positive that she had to scout for a bigger space.

Later she started The Workroom, and also "devoted time to schools, corporate and private bookings to cater to bigger crowds," she says.

At the Workroom, there are also fine art classes, woodcraft, dressmaking and floral workshops. Ms Tan decides what classes to teach. She also invites instructors to teach as well. She currently teaches Modern Calligraphy, which very simply put, stems from a traditional script called Copperplate calligraphy. She explains that this refers to using the pointed nib to mimic Copperplate, in which there are hairlines or thin strokes, as well as swells, otherwise known as thick strokes.

She learnt the art of Modern Calligraphy through books, and also attended classes for Copperplate Calligraphy taught by a published calligraphist and teacher of 30 years.

Ms Tan says that Modern Calligraphy is trending now, because of the freedom it appears to promise its writers. "It celebrates self-expression with very few rules", she says. She explains that it is common in a Modern Calligraphy class to hear a teacher saying something like this, "This is the way I write, but you can write it in your own way eventually, when you get the hang of using the pointed nib."

She also feels that some modern calligraphy writing is more beautiful than others. As a teacher, she will advise and make recommendations; "but for the student, all that matters should be whether she enjoys the process and her own end-product, rather than what I personally think of it," says Ms Tan.

She enjoys teaching Modern Calligraphy because it is rewarding for her to equip her students with the know-how to create their own beautiful writing. They learn the strokes, how to vary the size of the letterings, and also how to use paint to create borders.

Some pick up the skill for relaxation, some do it to discover their creative side, while many others do it for their own design work. "I have a student who attended just one class with me,and went on to design her own set of wedding invites that complemented her really beautiful wedding at the Maldives, plus she had written all the guests' names on the envelopes in calligraphy. That made me really happy," she says with pride.

Depending on the level, workshops can last three to four hours, and are always sold out. Each lesson costs from S$120. To book, visit category.php?category_id=114 Fabric, pattern and voila! - a dress.



In this day and age, when it is so easy to head to the shops, or with a few clicks of a mouse, to buy a new top or a dress, Fiona Lee, 38, still prefers to make her own.

The full-time mum of four began making clothes when her youngest child, Lucy, was born, about 51/2 years ago. "I think it was just part of my nesting instinct," she says.

Her other kids are Joshua, 11, Emma, 9 and Noah, 7. She sewed clothes for her kids rather than for herself because, "kids' clothes are a lot more forgiving in terms of fit," says Ms Lee. "I suppose it was for me, a way to show how I love my kids, by wanting to make things for them."

When she eventually began making her own clothes, she began with skirts, as they are easiest to get right. "Skirts are usually a good starting point for beginners," she adds. She has since moved onto making almost everything, from tops, to dresses, shorts, trousers and even T-shirts.

Ms Lee does her sewing when the kids are at school, setting up two sewing machines in her study for this. One is a Brother sewing machine and the other, a Singer overlocker, which is different from a sewing machine in that it is used to finish seams neatly, resulting in a more professional-looking garment.

She doesn't draft her own patterns,which is too tedious. Instead, she buys sewing patterns online, which she prints out at home, before laying on the fabric. "I'd much rather get to the sewing part, which is why I buy sewing patterns," she adds.

She gets design ideas from sewing blogs or Instagram. "Or sometimes, I see something I might like in the shops, then I'd try to find a similar pattern or fabric."

Most of her fabrics are from People's Park or at Spotlight. "I might get some from overseas suppliers because they have more variety or some specific fabric that may be difficult to get or is too expensive to purchase in Singapore. I usually try to squeeze in some fabric shopping on our family vacations too," she says.

About a year ago, she began teaching sewing classes. "I like teaching. It's a break from my regular job as full-time mum, and it is satisfying to see someone else learn what may seem like a complicated technique, like inserting an invisible zipper for example," says Ms Lee.

Each class is kept to around three to six participants, as there is a lot of hands-on teaching involved, from tracing the patterns, cutting the fabric and to the actual sewing. She teaches at The Workroom, and has conducted classes on sewing skirts, tops and dresses. Courses cost from S$190.

"It's gratifying to be able to take a piece of fabric and a pattern, and then a few hours later have a piece of clothing that you can wear that's comfortable and unique to you," she says.

Ms Lee will be conducting classes on making tops and culottes in June. To book a class, visit


Rush to Hush

For many city folk, sitting in silence and being reflective is pretty unthinkable. Anthea Ong wants to change that.

She's the founder of Hush Tea Bar, whose aim is to promote the practice of embracing silence, while creating employment for the hearing impaired.

Ms Ong, 46, previously a managing director of a consulting group, set up Hush Tea Bar last year. She doesn't have a permanent space for her tea bar as yet, but instead, brings the experience to corporate offices, such as to banks.

Next Saturday, she will be holding workshops at The Working Capitol, so that the public can experience the tea bar as well.

"Hush Tea Bar came about because tea is associated with calming," says Ms Ong. "And I wanted to bring together the hearing impaired and the hearing world."

She has three hearing impaired staff who work with her on a project basis. "They are the TeaRistas," she says.

Each Rush to Hush session, is split into four sections. The first is the Intention Zone, where participants understand the social movement's mission, "To encourage silence and awareness for the modern/busy lifestyle and creating employment opportunities for the deaf in an inclusive and integrative environment," says Ms Ong.

Next, participants choose a blend of tea that they feel best represents their current or desired state of mind, from 12 tea blends made of flowers, herbs and fruit.

For example, there is the Freshly Tranquil blend which is made of mint, lemongrass, and lemon balm, or Positively Composed, made from lavender, rosehip and lime tree flowers.

"Participants interact with the TeaRistas, by picking up the tea leaves. Later, the TeaRista will identify the participant using the tea leaves and serve them the tea," explains Ms Ong.

She hopes to be able to teach participants to sign their desired tea blend in the future.

The next bit, Ms Ong quips, is the most difficult as they are have to surrender their mobile devices. "Some people ask if they can have their phones with them, but no, they cannot," she says.

At the next stage, TeaRistas will perform tea rituals using sign language, gestures or flash cards. Participants will then be served tea and they will do the tea rituals on their own as well.

After which, participants reflect and express their thoughts through what Ms Ong calls TeaArt. This is much like finger painting, but instead of using paint, participants draw using tea.

The session, which can last from about 30 to 45 minutes ends with participants sharing aloud their experience. This is also the time when they can purchase the tea blends, and create their own Hush moments at home if they wish.

About 50 people have signed up for the Rush to Hush Workshop. "This shows that people do want to have moments for reflection, where they can withdraw from the hectic pace of life," she says.

Rush to Hush is priced at S$38 per person, and it will be held at The Working Capitol at 1 Keong Saik Road, from 2pm to 7pm. To book a session, visit

This article was first published on May 16, 2015.
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