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#KajoAsks: Turning memories into embroidery portraits with Olumis Thread

Looking back at the historical applications of embroidery, this form of needlework was often seen as a mark of wealth and status.

For example during 18th century England, embroidery was a way for women to convey rank and social standing.

It was also a sign of high social status during the 17th century in cities such as Damascus, Cairo and Istanbul.

However, when machine embroidery and its mass production started to become famous, the need and skill of hand embroidery became rare.

Thanks to visual media such as Pinterest and Instagram, there is a brand new interest in hand embroidery

These contemporary embroidery artists have given this art once a breath of fresh air by allowing the younger generation to appreciate this particular art form.

Embroidery is no longer just a pastime for grandmothers to kill time between chores.

One of these young embroidery artist is 23-year-old Judith Liow Su Mie.

She is the brain and hands behind Olumis Thread, an Instagram account showcasing embroidery work and offering customised services.

This Sandakan-based embroiderer turns human portraits into embroidery, giving people a fresh and unique way to preserve their memories.

Let Olumis Thread helps you to preserve your graduation memories.

She is also an inspiring example of how young people nowadays creating their own paths when there is no opportunity available for them.

Recently, KajoMag had the opportunity to ask Liow a few questions about her work on Olumis Thread.

KajoMag: How and when did you learn embroidery?

Liow: I started sewing since I was 13 through cross stitch. After that, I continued my studies in fashion design at a vocational college.

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From there, I learned the basic ways of sewing embroidery like french knots, backstitch, bullion and so on.

Unfortunately, I had to drop out of school and go back to normal schooling until after SPM.

I stopped sewing embroidery until I decided to continue my study in fashion design again.

Throughout my journey as a fashion design student,I learned basic sewing embroidery again.

However, I didn’t think of being an embroidery artist at that time until I graduated and returned to my hometown.

It was difficult for me to find a job in fashion here in my hometown, Sandakan.

This made me decide to start my career as an embroiderer so I started sewing full time since November 2019 to this day.

KajoMag: How would you describe your embroidery style?

Liow: My style of embroidery is more to design texture. I’m more interested in making embroidery that involves texture so I use french knot technique.

However, I also want to make my designs different from other embroiderers.

I was thinking besides using my skills in Photoshop and editing, I want to try out in portrait embroidery.

At the same time, I didn’t want my portrait embroidery to be ’empty’. So, I added a little floral design to it to make it look more attractive and unique.

Besides that, I make sure that none of my clients will have the same flower designs. Hence, my every creation is specifically designed to each client.

KajoMag: Walk us through the process of making a commissioned work from a client? How long does it take you to finish one project on, let’s say, a 23cm hoop?

Liow: I will first edit the pictures that the client wants me to sew.

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When they are happy with my edited picture, I will ask them what type of frame and design decoration they want.

This is also subject to availability of the frame or threads. For the design decoration, the majority of my clients gave me permission to use my own design.

However, there are clients who provide their own designs that they like.

If they want to follow my design, I will do a review first before making a mock-up for their reference.

After they agree, I will provide a price as well as the payment process. I start sketching on the fabric only after the client makes the payment.

To start, I will trace the portrait I edited on the fabric and begin sewing the outline.

Usually, it takes me 150 hours to make a 23cm diameter hoop. If the design is complicated, it will take a little longer.

KajoMag: Tell us about your most favourite embroidery work you have done for a client so far?

Liow: My most favorite embroidery work is of course the portrait embroidery.

This is because the different combinations of textures make me feel excited to get the work done. Even though, editing client photos is one of the challenges I face because each of their pictures is different in terms of light and the picture they provide.

KajoMag: Are there any embroidery artists you look up to in particular?

Liow: Yes. I’m interested in Shimunia who does scenery embroidery. Her work is amazing with different textures by using very striking colours.

I also look for Charles Henry’s Instagram because of his very inspiring works. The portrait embroidery that I made today was inspired by him.

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KajoMag: Do you have any dream embroidery project you want to do in the future?

Liow: Yes. I would like to have workshops for children between the ages of 6 and older who do not have enough money to learn sewing especially in the rural areas.

But before that happens, I plan on doing workshops in a few different places to further my brand and recruit some people to help me reach my goals.

KajoMag: Any advice for those who want to earn income through embroidery? 

Liow: It is not easy to make money from doing embroidery business, but at the same time it is not hard to do it. Try to find your own style and identity. Yes, it does take years to achieve your goals and it is okay if your sewing is not perfect as a beginner. Keep practicing and you’ll get there one day.

Follow Liow on her Instagram Olumis Thread and Facebook Junni-lynne.
Check out other stories for KajoAsks here.

Patricia Hului
Patricia Hului is a Kayan who wants to live in a world where you can eat whatever you want and not gain weight. She grew up in Bintulu, Sarawak and graduated from the University Malaysia Sabah with a degree in Marine Science. She worked for The Borneo Post SEEDS, which is now defunct. When she's not writing, you can find her in a studio taking belly dance classes, hiking up a hill or browsing through Pinterest. Follow her on Instagram at @patriciahului, Facebook at Patricia Hului at Kajomag.com or Twitter at @patriciahului.

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