Pelaburan

Asmah is ‘weaving’ her craft through the generations

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Third-generation weaver Asmah Ismail has more than 50 years’ experience and is passing her talents on to her children and grandchildren.

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Asmah Ismail (far left) and her daughter, Nurul Mardhiah A Razak (far right) guide participants during a recent weaving workshop at Intermark Mall, KL. (Muhammad Rabbani @ FMT Lifestyle)

KUALA LUMPUR: The art of weaving has long been a part of Malaysia’s rich cultural heritage, with skilful weavers passing on their talents to the next generation for centuries.

One such example is Asmah Ismail, a third-generation weaver from Marang, Terengganu. She was only 10 years old when she learned how to weave from her grandmother and mother.

“I am the youngest of nine siblings, and we all know how to weave,” the 61-year-old told FMT.

Even from that young age, she knew that ‘practice makes perfect’, and spent as much time as she could spare weaving after school.

She first started weaving with banana and coconut leaves before moving on to mengkuang (screwpine) as only products made with these leaves could be sold.

Later, her mother taught her how to process and dye the mengkuang leaves meant for weaving. “When I was about 15 years old, I sold woven pouches to my friend for five cents,” she recalled with a laugh.

Among the different types of mengkuang weaving that she has mastered over the years include the “kelarai” (a periodic or repeated pattern).

In fact, her “kelarai” mats have earned her the “Seal of Excellence for Handicrafts 2007” (Southeast Asia programme) by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco). She was recognised for her “excellence and standard-setting quality in craftsmanship, authenticity, and innovation”.

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Asmah is a third-generation weaver who is now teaching the craft to her grandchildren. (Muhammad Rabbani @ FMT Lifestyle)

Despite her talent, it was only 20 years ago that she started her business, “Kraftangan Mama”. “Before that, I sold my handicrafts to commercial traders because I lacked the confidence to operate my own business,” she recalled.

However, at the encouragement of a friend, she set up a booth at a crafts fair in Kuala Lumpur and was delighted at the overwhelming response to her products.

It was just the boost she needed to start her own business and today, she sells a variety of products such as pouches, bags, and baskets.

Learning and teaching

More than five decades later, her passion for the craft is still strong and she believes that it is important to keep learning. To that end, she has enrolled in numerous workshops over the years to upskill herself.

“I am always learning how to make new products. I will never say ‘I can’t”. Instead, I always say ‘I will try’.”

Her commitment to the craft shows in more ways than one – Asmah has won 10 weaving competitions in Malaysia over these past years, including bagging a gold award in a competition organised by the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex in 2013.

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Asmah businessm ‘Kraftangan Mama’ sells various types of woven products such as pouches. (Muhammad Rabbani @ FMT Lifestyle)

Asmah also loves passing her skills on to others, teaching especially women looking for a source of income.

“After all, one can do it at home in their free time,” she shared, adding that a combination of “interest, dedication, and patience” was what made a weaver good at her craft.

She also said that passing her knowledge to others helped keep the craft alive. To that end, she has conducted classes in Terengganu, Johor, Perak, Melaka, and Langkawi.

She has also taught her five children how to weave and this proud grandmother of eight is now passing on her knowledge to her grandchildren as well.

On March 29, she conducted a workshop during the launch of the “Weaving Raya” campaign at Intermark Mall, Kuala Lumpur with her daughter, Nurul Mardhiah A Razak.

The FMT team joined the workshop and participants weaved a coaster under the duo’s guidance. It was educational and fun, thanks to Asmah and Nurul who are friendly and engaging.

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Asmah says a good weaver must possess a genuine interest in the craft, dedication and patience. (Muhammad Rabbani @ FMT Lifestyle)

Weaving leaves one with a greater sense of appreciation for this traditional craft. Although it has survived the test of time, it is hard not to wonder about its future – making Asmah’s efforts to pass on her knowledge all the more meaningful.

For more information about her products, contact Asmah at 013-983 2644.

“Weaving Raya” campaign at Intermark Mall (till April 30) includes the following highlights:

  •  1,000 ribbon ketupat woven by students of Taylor’s International School Kuala Lumpur to raise funds for Rumah Anak-Anak Yatim dan Asnaf Qaseh Ibu.
  • Free workshop by local business, “Bear It” on ketupat weaving on April 8, 14, and 20 at 12pm.

Follow Intermark Mall on Facebook, Instagram, or visit their website.

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