If there’s one thing that Puan Sri Rathi Khoo takes pride in, it must be wearing outfits she has designed and stitched. Some months ago, the needlework enthusiast decided to further hone her stitching skills by signing up for a dressmaking course.

The lessons have been fruitful, as the mother-of-three has proudly stitched several items such as skirts, pants and blouses.

“It’s really nice to be able to stitch my own outfits. There’s a sense of achievement knowing that I can sew and design clothes to my liking. The best part is, I am my own fashion designer,” said Rathi, with a warm smile.

The last eight months have been an eye-opener for the retired teacher who has to learn the fundamentals of sewing such as measurement, darting, interlining and under-stitching. Rathi took an interest in dressmaking after her seamstress of four decades decided to call it a day.

“My tailor fell ill and could no longer cope with orders. As it’s hard to find a good tailor these days, I had to learn how to sew my own clothes,” said Rathi.

Although Rathi has sewn clothes for children, she said it pales in comparison to stitching fitted blouses and dresses.

“It is more difficult to stitch fitted outfits as there are measurements, dart allowances and calculations involved. Precise measurement is essential to ensure the right cut for the perfect fit. During lessons, I jot down notes on helpful tips that can be applied when working on other sewing projects,” said Rathi who attends classes twice a week at a tailoring school in Petaling Jaya. Whenever she runs into any problems, she surfs the Internet for a solution.

“The Internet is a one-stop information hub for sewing enthusiasts. You can find sewing tips, sign up for online dressmaking courses, and buy sewing accessories, books and supplies with just a few clicks of the mouse,” explained Rathi, whose online purchases included materials, books and sewing tools.

Rathis home is adorned with beautiful quilt pieces appliqued with floral motifs.

Rathi’s home is adorned with beautiful quilt pieces appliqued with floral motifs.

“Due to my age, it may take longer for me to grasp the nuts and bolts of sewing. It’s not easy dealing with measurements, calculations and formulas. Sometimes I spend an hour reading up on sewing techniques such as invisible zips, hand-picked zips and stitching underlining fabric. While the hours are long, I enjoy it as it keeps my mind active,” said Rathi, 70, who is married to historian Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Khoo Kay Kim.

Dressmaking may seem like a new ball game for Rathi who has carved a name for herself as one of the most creative quilters around.

“I come from a family of artistic individuals. From young, my mother taught me how to appreciate the arts and creative works. She introduced me to needlework when I was 10 and I’ve been captivated since,” says the nifty crafter who is adept at quilting, cross-stitch, tapestry, needlepoint and patchwork.

Rathi considers needlework a therapeutic hobby that keeps her mind active and at peace.

“Needlework requires a lot of patience and passion. Among all the various forms of needlework, I love quilting the most as it allows me to explore my creativity in planning the patterns, piecing the material and creating the final product. It is time-consuming, but I love it,” said Rathi, who can spend about four to five hours a day working on her quilts. It helps that she has a cutting-edge Bernina sewing machine to make her labour of love all the more enjoyable.

Rathis hand-stitched quilt makes a lovely bedspread. - SIA HONG KIAU

Rathi’s hand-stitched quilt makes a lovely bedspread.

The walls in her tastefully decorated home are adorned with intricate quilt pieces appliqued with floral motifs. On the sofa, there are throw cushions featuring her patchwork pieces.

She has also created a memory quilt, featuring a collage of family photographs. In the bedrooms, her hand-stitched quilt make lovely covers.

Occasionally, she goes to a quilting school in Petaling Jaya to learn new quilting patterns. It also provides her with an opportunity to socialise with others who are interested in quilting.

“I look forward to these classes as I get to catch up with my new-found sewing buddies. We chat, joke and laugh and it adds more fun to each session. It’s always nice to have friends together to discuss things as we work on our respective sewing projects.”

Rathi encourages seniors to stay active to keep mentally alert.

“Everyone must have a hobby. Without a hobby, it is difficult to pass time. Find a hobby that suits you. It can be anything – gardening, reading or sewing. For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than reaping the rewards of my labour after completing my quilt pieces or sewing projects,” added Rathi.