Embroidered memories

Aqilah Rahman

Meet Judy. During the day, she works as a quantity surveyor, crunching numbers in the office and inspecting construction sites. At night, she sits down with an embroidery hoop and some strings, falling into the soothing rhythm of stitching.

“I find it very therapeutic and I love the sense of achievement whenever I complete a piece,” she said.

Judy’s stitching journey began two years ago when she attended a hand embroidery workshop with her friends. She’s been stitching nonstop ever since, and with the support of her sisters, eventually went on to set up an Instagram page (@hoopsandstrings) to share her work online.

“I use a hoop and some strings to create each piece hence the name Hoops & Strings,” Judy explained.

If you browse through her works, you’ll see that most of them are commissions. Judy wasn’t actively looking for clients when she got her first order – it just happened.

One of Judy’s embroidery works. PHOTO: AQILAH RAHMAN

“My sister came to me one day asking if she could have a commission piece made for her friend’s birthday gift,” she said.

Judy accepted the commission, and to her surprise, received another client not long after that. Her ex-colleague had seen some of Judy’s works online and asked if she could have a custom piece.

“That’s when I realised people are appreciating my work,” she said.

On average, Judy takes about one to two weeks to finish a piece depending on the size and complexity of the design. She usually gets her inspiration from Pinterest and her clients.

“Some clients already know what they want, so I just have to put their ideas together and come up with a design,” she said.

Her sisters have been a huge help throughout her journey, and she often asks them for their opinion on her designs and colours. Judy said she tries to be as creative as she can, but she thinks her sisters are still the most creative.

For Judy, all her embroidery pieces are a labour of love and she sometimes finds it difficult to let them go to their new home.

Two of her pieces have made it outside Brunei – namely Singapore and San Francisco. The Singapore piece was commissioned by her friend’s sister who stumbled on Judy’s works on Instagram. The San Francisco piece, on the other hand, was ordered by a customer in Brunei for her long-distance boyfriend in San Francisco.

“My most memorable piece would probably be the one when I incorporated my client’s favourite memories at their favourite travel destinations. I call this my Travel Series,” she said. This idea came to her when a client said she wanted an embroidered gift for her husband as an anniversary gift.

The husband and wife love to travel together, so Judy thought of embroidering their fondest memories from their travels, such as hiking in Switzerland and visiting the Harry Potter World in London.

Taking inspiration from Judy’s Travel Series, another client requested for a similar piece. This time, however, it was for a piece based on Brunei landmarks, a farewell gift for the client’s colleague who will be relocating to another country.

For this piece, Judy included iconic local landmarks such as Kampong Ayer, Sultan Haji Omar ‘Ali Saifuddien Bridge, and the Billionth Barrel Monument. She also included a mosque on the embroidery hoop to accompany its new owner on the other side of the world.

Looking back, when she first started Hoops & Strings, Judy had no idea where her journey would lead. Now a year has passed and Hoops & Strings is turning one this August. “I kept wanting to create more and more.”

In addition to her commissions, Judy also has personal projects that she wants to work on. “I try to squeeze in time in between commissioned work for my personal projects but there’s only so much time and I’ve only got two hands,” she said.

To keep up with the commission pieces, Judy makes sure to accept a reasonable number of orders and to always have enough rest.

Her clients have understood whenever Judy has told them she could only finish their pieces at a later date, and she’s been very thankful for that.

Excited to see what the future holds, Judy said she’s grateful for everyone’s support and promises to create more beautiful pieces.