Hobby lobby

Want to pick up a new hobby but cannot find someone to do it with you? Join an interest group.

There are no official figures but there are likely thousands of such informal groups in Singapore, where like-minded people enjoy their hobbies in a social setting.

They cover a wide range of topics and activities, from arts and crafts to sustainable living, which teaches you how to do your bit for the environment.

To locate an interest group, contact a store which caters to that particular community, such as asking a model aeroplane shop to put you in touch with model aeroplane enthusiasts. Or visit your nearest community centre, where notices about interest groups can usually be found on bulletin boards.

You can also search for interest groups on the People's Association website (one.pa.gov.sg), where more than 11,000 interest groups are registered. This is an 18 per cent increase every year from 2010, says PA. The best part is, interest groups are typically free to join and most simply ask that you pay for your own materials.

To get you started, Life!Weekend rounds up eight such groups.

vlydia@sph.com.sg

BAKING

Brought together by their love for baking, two neighbours started an interest group through the Kampong Chai Chee Linear Green residents' committee in August. The two, Ms Lily Suzana, 47, and Ms Rayniyati Sikin, 54, have been baking for about 20 years and make everything from fruit tarts to cookies to cakes.

"Baking is our hobby and we are always sharing recipes with each other. We wanted to share our recipes and techniques with other members of the community too and find a reason to get together," says Ms Lily, an electrical parts trader.

Ms Rayniyati, a housewife, adds: "I like to try new things and I bake whenever there is an occasion, such as a school meeting or a family function. I love to watch everyone enjoy what I make, but I don't like to eat. I bake to give the food away."

The interest group, she adds, is a way to indulge her passion without having baked goods pile up at home.

The group, comprising about 15 men and women aged from their early 20s to the mid-60s, usually meets on the last Saturday of the month in the residents' committee office.

During the two-hour session, the two women will lead them through a recipe, which can be anything from a pandan chiffon cake to a fruit tart.

As the room where they meet has only two ovens, Ms Lily and Ms Rayniyati will meet earlier to prepare and bake enough cakes so that everyone has a treat to take home.

The members, meanwhile, contribute $3 to $5 each for the cost of the ingredients.

Ms Jennifer Khoo, 55, a health-care executive, says she failed at many baking attempts before she joined the class.

"My cakes would collapse. In the class, I learnt what techniques to use, such as how to fold in the flour and how to tell if the butter is soft enough to start adding other ingredients," she says.

She attends the class with her seven-year-old niece, who likes to bake and decorate cakes. The pair have since repeated some of the group's recipes at home with success.

"We've made a chiffon cake and a marble cake. They are much better than before," she says.

When: Last Saturday of the month, usually 4 to 6pm

Where: Kampong Chai Chee Linear Green residents' committee office, Block 221A Bedok Central 01-70

Cost: $3 to $5 for ingredients, depending on the recipe

Info: Call 6483-2021 or go to one.pa.gov.sg

HOME GARDENING

During dry weather, you can see more than 100 butterflies flitting about in the Tampines-Changkat Butterfly Garden.

Most of the butterflies were reared by the garden's interest group: Members pick up eggs in the garden, take them home where caterpillars are hatched and cocooned, then release the butterflies in the garden.

The interest group, which started three years ago, has about 30 active members, aged six to 60, who visit the 200sq m garden daily

Ms Suzana Ahmed, 55, a conference delegate for an oil and gas company who runs the group, says members see one another every day while helping to prune and plant flowers and trees and care for butterflies.

"The group shares a strong sense of camaraderie. We become friends and also get to know some of the other residents and the elderly who come to the garden to relax," she says. "The butterfly garden is our focal point. It's something different. When you are here, you do not feel like you are in an HDB estate. It is like being in nature and is very relaxing."

The group holds weekly meetings, either on Saturday mornings or Sunday evenings, to pick up various methods of gardening which they can apply at home.

So far, they have learnt techniques such as aeroponics, which is the growing of plants with minimal soil; terrarium building, miniature gardens within a vase or glass bowl; and kokaedama, a bonsai-style technique where a plant's roots and surrounding soil are encased in moss. This forms a solid ball and allows the plant to be hung from the ceiling or placed on a planter.

"People learn that there are many ways of growing a garden in the house without the need for lots of soil. Whole families will do it together," she adds.

When: Once a week, on Saturday morning or Sunday evening, depending on members' schedules

Where: Tampines-Changkat Butterfly Garden, Block 124, Tampines Street 11

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/pages/Tampines-Changkat-Butterfly-Garden

LEGO

To bond with their kids, three parents living in NorthOaks condominium in Sembawang formed a Lego interest group in August.

Mr Tay Kar Poh, 43, Ms Annie Tan, 45, and Ms Esther Tay, 40, attend monthly Lego clinics in community centres around Singapore to pick up Lego-building techniques. Before each clinic, they spend about 10 hours preparing for the lesson, studying the pieces, building plans and online instructions.

Then they share what they have learnt with fellow residents of NorthOaks and the neighbouring Woodsvale condominiums.

Ms Tay, a clinical life science researcher and mother of one, says: "It's a very good bonding activity. Sometimes, the children are better at building and counting and being creative with the pieces than their parents. The kids end up coaching them."

About 30 parents and children attend the monthly sessions, which are held in NorthOaks' function room. The sessions are free as the Lego sets are donated by the People's Association, and the pieces are not meant to be taken home.

They have held three sessions since the group started officially, and aim to hold them twice a month when the school exams are over.

Each session starts with a revision of Lego terms, to remind participants about the names of different Lego block shapes and colours. Then they begin building. The group is starting with basic 2-D shapes, such as words and letters on a flat Lego base, but will eventually move on to more complicated 3-D structures.

Sometimes, they are taught to build specific shapes, such as the neighbourhood committee's logo. Other times, they are free to exercise their creativity.

"I like that you can be very creative with Lego and form anything you want. It's up to your imagination," says Ms Tan, a housewife with three children.

Lego-building is also an educational activity, she adds. "It teaches you to be patient and to focus. You have to listen to instructions, pay attention to details and learn how to communicate and build something from scratch," she explains.

Ms Tay adds: "Even if everyone has created the same thing, people are still proud of their work and want to take pictures of it."

When: Monthly on Tuesdays or Fridays, 8 to 10pm

Where: NorthOaks condominium function room, 20 Woodlands Crescent

Info: This group is limited to NorthOaks and Woodsvale condo residents. Call 6340-5078 to find out about other Lego interest groups in your neighbourhood

PORTRAITS AFTER DARK

Once a month, the Organisation Of Illustrators Council holds a session called Portraits After Dark at the Red Dot Museum in Maxwell Road.

Started in 2006 by three Singaporean illustrators, who go by the monikers Mindflyer, Fleacircus, and Drewscape, the group is made up of more than 200 Singapore-based illustrators.

At each sesion, at least 40 illustrators will gather to draw portraits of about 20 volunteers, who sign up in advance via the organisation's website.

While all illustrators are free to join, their subjects pay $25 to pose for 30-minute sessions. Each illustrator will draw portraits in their own style, from the realistic to funky caricatures.

Volunteers pick two favourite portraits to take home. Members of the public can buy the portraits for $10 each. All proceeds go to the illustrators.

The organisation is a platform for professional and aspiring illustrators to meet, share ideas, collaborate and inspire one another, says its co-founder Michael Ng, 49, who is better known as Mindflyer.

"It is one of the few places where professional illustrators and hobbyists can mingle and draw together," he adds.

When: Nov 1, 7.30 to 10.30pm

Where: Red Dot Museum, 28 Maxwell Road

Info: Go to www.oicsingapore.com

MAKER NITE, SUSTAINABLE LIVING LAB

The Sustainable Living Lab is a social enterprise which promotes green living by re-thinking the way people make consumer goods.

Formed in 2011 by National University Singapore graduates Muhammad Ibnur Rashad Zainal Abidin, 29, Veerappan Swaminathan, 27, and Tan Huei Ming, 26, the 1,300 sq m lab in Bottle Tree Park in Yishun encourages its six full-time staff and more than 200 "makers" to develop products out of waste materials such as scraps of wood, metal and plastic.

"Makers" is what the group calls the enthusiasts who regularly stop by the lab to attend events and learn to make products. The founders hope to revive what they call the "kampung-maker spirit", when Singaporeans in the past would use what they had around them to create what they needed.

Guided by this ethos, the lab has made items such as wallets from recycled firehose as well as furniture out of discarded cardboard. Its most popular product is iBam, or iPhone speakers made of bamboo.

An iBam costs $39 to $59 each and more than 1,000 units have been sold since the lab began mass producing it in October last year. They engaged the help of village craftsmen in Indonesia. The bamboo used is harvested from sustainable bamboo farms, and the pouches which hold the speakers are sewn by stay-at-home mums in Singapore. Proceeds go to the Lab.

Last year, the lab hosted its first Maker Nite to encourage and celebrate the "kampung-maker spirit".

"We wanted to provide an opportunity for our kampung makers to shine and share their designs. It is also a way to introduce the public to the world of 'making'," says Mr Swaminathan.

At Maker Nite, 15 to 30 people spend the night creating new products such as cardboard lamps and glass lampshades from discarded materials. The monthly, three-hour-long sessions are led by a rotation of in-house "makers", who help the participants make their own versions.

You have to be at least 18 to attend Maker Nite, but younger participants are allowed in when accompanied by an older participant. Each Maker Nite costs $20 to $40, depending on the materials needed, and includes a light dinner.

At the next Maker Nite, participants will make a gravity-powered cold water coffee dripper.

When: Nov 7, from 7.30 to 10.30pm

Where: Bottle Tree Park, 81 Lorong Chencharu, next to the race car track

Admission: $30

Info: Go to sl2exchange.com/products/maker-nite-caffeinator or e-mail info@sl2square.org

POPIN

The craft collective was formed in 2010 by two friends, Betty Susiarjo, 33, an Indonesian artist based here, and Japanese craft artist Noriko Suzuki Bosco, 46.

"We realised that crafting here is mostly done at home, alone, and people see one another only at fairs or markets when they sell their pieces," says Susiarjo, who is also a part-time lecturer at Lasalle College of the Arts. "There was no sense of gathering or community of crafters in Singapore."

The idea for Popin was to offer a platform for people to meet and mingle. "We don't sell our crafts, we don't teach. We simply create an experience where people can get together and craft together."

The meetings started among friends on an ad hoc basis, when about 10 people would gather at a friend's house once a month for a potluck crafting session. Soon, people started showing up with their friends and the group doubled in size.

Now, up to 50 people attend these crafting sessions, called UFO (Unfinished Objects) Parties, which are held a few times a year at cafes around Singapore. They are free, but crafters are expected to order a drink or a snack at the venue.

The next session, to be held at SPR MRKT cafemarket in McCallum Street on Oct 27, is expected to be its biggest as more than 50 people are expected to attend.

Ms Priscilla Chua, 25, a sales executive who was introduced to the Popin UFO sessions by a friend a few months ago, plans to take her jewellery-making project to the next gathering.

"It's fun to have like-minded people get together. We see other people's crafts and projects, share ideas and learn something new, which doesn't happen when you are crafting alone. You start bouncing ideas off one another," she says.

When: Oct 27, 4 to 7pm

Where: SPR MRKT cafe-market, 2 McCallum Street

Info: Go to popincraft.weebly.com

BALLOON SCULPTING

Ms Penny Ang was intrigued when she attended an event 10 years ago during which someone fashioned assorted shapes and figures from balloons.

"It made everyone very happy, and I thought if I could make them, I would make my children and other people in the community happy too," recalls the 55-year-old security agency director.

But the mother of three did not know how or where to learn the art of balloon sculpting. When she did find a class, she discovered to her dismay that it cost hundreds of dollars a session.

It was not until early last year that she finally got her chance. She started a balloon sculpting interest group at the Nee Soon Central community centre. With the centre's financial support, she did not have to pay to attend balloon sculpting classes at the People's Association headquarters in King George's Avenue.

In return, she teaches people in her neighbourhood how to make balloon sculptures. Her creations range from simple flowers with leaves to more complicated butterflies and clowns.

A group of about 20 people, aged eight to more than 60 years old, meet at the Nee Soon Central Community Centre once a month to learn the craft from her.

She also holds classes at the centres of nearby residents' and neighbourhood committees. She does not charge for her classes but participants pay $3 to $5 for materials.

To advertise her classes, she usually leaves balloon sculptures at the reception counters of community centres and posts notices on their bulletin boards.

It was one of these balloon sculptures that caught the eye of Mr Stanley Thoo, 49, an engineer who has been attending Ms Ang's group meetings for about five months.

"I like that something small and simple can be made into so many different shapes, such as animals, flowers and lanterns," he says. "When children ask for shapes and you can make one for them, it makes me happy to make them happy."

When: First Tuesday of the month, 7.30 to 10.30pm

Where: Nee Soon Central Community Centre, Block 749 Yishun Street 72

Cost: $3 to $5 for materials

Info: Call the community centre on 6752-7687 or go to one.pa.gov.sg

ANCHORVALE CHURCHFIELD FLYERS

A group of model aeroplane and helicopter enthusiasts began meeting every evening at a field along Anchorvale Road in 2009. While construction works have led them to move flying locations to nearby fields, they continue to meet daily.

If weather permits, 10 to 20 enthusiasts gather every day, from 5 to 7pm, to fly, build, programme and repair their model planes.

Mostly males aged 16 to 40, they also share flying tricks and techniques, such as backwards somersaults, and learn to upgrade their models with new equipment.

Mr Dave Tan, 39, an IT retail salesman, has been an avid builder and collector of plane models for almost 10 years. He has more than 80 models in his collection and is at the field almost every day.

"It is fun to be around people with the same interests. We talk about the models and share a sense of camaraderie," he says.

While anyone is free to join the flyers on the field, the hobby is an expensive one. Prices range from $60 to $80 for a simple, 25cm-long model aeroplane, to $2,500 or more for a sophisticated 1.5m-long helicopter.

The speeds of model planes can go up to 250kmh, while model helicopters can travel at up to about 200kmh. Children are advised to fly the smaller models and only under adult supervision because of the razor-sharp blades.

"It takes time to learn how to manoeuvre the planes and helicopters correctly. They crash very easily.You have to start small and build your way up by practising on a computer simulator and then on the field," says Mr Tan.

When: Weekdays, 5 to 7pm; weekends, 3 to 7pm

Where: Weekdays at 82 Punggol Road, by the Sun Huan Construction site; weekends at the junction between Tampines Industrial Avenue 5 and Tampines Industrial Crescent

Info: Go to www.facebook.com/anchorvalechurchfield


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