Silk thread embroidery is perhaps the most versatile of Peranakan needlework techniques – it comprises variations on stitches and knots reminiscent of traditional Chinese embroidery styles. So if you’re enamoured of the silk shawl given to Michelle Obama by Ho Ching during the recent Singapore state visit to the US, you’re in luck. Take tips from embroidery maestro Raymond Wong at the Perankan Museum’s embroidery workshop, part of the Nyonya Needlework programmes. Wong has perfected kebayas for over a decade, and counts Mary Tan, wife of President Tony Tan, among his happy clientele.
These embroidered pieces reflect influences from Singapore, Malacca, Penang and West Sumatra. Study the 19th-century ceremonial handkerchief from Malacca on display at the exhibition, and you’ll find a horseshoe crab or two stitched into its design, alongside Chinese motifs such as phoenixes and deities. Horseshoe crabs are an uncommon motif to see in art from pretty much anywhere in the world, but they were often featured in the embroidery of Peranakan Nyonyas in Malacca (where the crabs are also still enjoyed as a dish) as a symbol of marital fidelity and bliss.
TRY THIS Make your own silk embroidered bookmark – horseshoe crab motifs optional – at the Peranakan Museum’s Embroidery Workshop (September 17 and 24, 2-5pm. $50 per session), helmed by Raymond Wong. The signature vivid colours and patterns of Peranakan silk embroidery will definitely make your embroidered handiwork Instagram-worthy, no filter needed.
Pictured: Ceremonial handkerchief. Malacca, late 19th century. Silk, metal beads, glass beads, cordonnet, 34.2 x 20 cm. Peranakan Museum.