Passing on the art of Peranakan beaded slippers

Passing on the art of Peranakan beaded slippers

They might not be haute couture shoes or limited-edition sneakers, but a pair of bespoke beaded footwear by Peranakan beading expert Angeline Kong commands no less than a few hundred dollars.

Ms Kong, 53, has some 20 years of experience making kasut manek, traditional Peranakan beaded slippers worn by Nyonyas. A finely stitched kasut manek takes an average of three to four months to complete, and it demands an artistic flair, great skill, and patience. Her mastery of the craft is the result of years of dedication, but it was by chance that she got into this Peranakan art form.

The sixth-generation Peranakan had picked up Peranakan beading because she was unable to get her hands on a pair of kasut manek for her wedding in 1997. She had searched high and low for a pair of beaded wedding slippers to no avail; she married in her traditional Chinese kua outfit instead of the kebaya as she did not have the right pair of shoes to match her outfit. But in an ironic twist of fate, she came upon a Peranakan heritage boutique at East Coast six months after her big day and the owner was willing to teach her Peranakan beading.

Ms Kong spent a few months learning the craft, and it took her three pairs of slippers to be satisfied with the foundation of her work. Although her custom-designed kasut manek is not for saleat the moment,she says that the price of a well-stitched pair can vary from a few hundred dollars to more than a thousand dollars, depending on the intricacy of the patterns and the quality of beads used.

However, because of her love for the Peranakan heritage, she has since turned her passion towards teaching others the craft of Peranakan beading in hopes of preserving the craft for future generations. She says: “It is important for me to keep this craft going because there is so much history woven into these items.”

She holds workshops once every few weeks at the private Peranakan museum Straits Enclave in Joo Chiat, and she offers not just instructions on the technique of Peranakan beading, but also stories about the craft and culture. She peppers her lessons with details about the kinds of auspicious motifs used in Peranakan beading – flowers, birds, fruits and butterflies – and anecdotes about how a Peranakan girl’s beadwork would be used by a prospective mother-in-law to judge if she was of marriage material.

Ms Kong’s students come from all walks of life and they include people of different ethnicities who are keen to learn more about Peranakan culture. They also range in age – from nine to 73. In Ms Kong’s view, neither age nor dexterity is a barrier to learning the art of Peranakan beading. She says: “As with most things in life, what matters is commitment and discipline, patience and passion.”

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