“We all have our favourite ruler,” explains Kang, as he suddenly pauses in the middle of a demonstration, gives up the steel slide-rule in his hand to pick up another, seemingly identical piece on the table, then restarts the lesson. And I get a glimpse as to the differences between me – a mere layman, and him – an artisan. I’ve been picky about shoes, grammatical errors, movie logic and and many, many, other things… but handcraft tools? That has yet to enter my agenda!
But I don’t correct Kang in his mistaking me for a fellow toolsman. The task at hand is interesting, innovative, and who knows, I may just get hooked on to hand-crafting myself and get finicky over stencils and compasses! Already, with little effort, my single piece of a Cold Storage plastic bag is starting to look rather fetching in its afterlife… perhaps there does hide an artist in me!
But let me rewind to how I first connected with KangYong Heng. Team Secondsguru was curating a list of artisans for the post Junk to Funk | Here’s how some people are rocking recycling. That’s when Kang’s androgynous and edgy accessories at his label theKANG caught our eye. The self-taught designer works using unconventional materials ranging from chainmail, to nuts and bolts, to vinyl records. He made the list, and we, much to our delight, got an invite to his fused plastic workshop.
And that’s why last weekend I ended up walking down the the Arab quarter around Sultan Mosque. It’s Saturday morning 9 a.m. and all is unusually quiet and tourist-free. I easily locate workshop organiser Itchy Fingers‘s studio-workshop at the crossing and walk up narrow shophouse stairs, where the first person to meet me is Kang himself.
Kang is rather tall, and his necklace made of cable-ties in a bunch of bright hues is almost at my eye-level. He sports a big good-natured smile, and a hard-to-describe hair-do which is a jigsaw of short-crop, ponytail and braid. His hands, as they shake mine, display a gorgeous chain-mail ring, and as I process this burst of visual cues, I get a reassuring premonition – I’ll definitely be leaving this workshop with a keepsake that stands out!
The studio itself is a well-lit, modern, clutter-free space where Sarah and Schooling run their graphic design firm and host handicraft workshops. I and other participants sit around a table with just enough work space to maneuver the tools of this workshop. Here, in brief, is what we do:
Step 1. Choose from a pile of plastic bags.
Thin plastic bags, the sort that grocery stores hand out, are the building blocks of fused “leather”. Kang provides all materials, including bags in this workshop. We pick up various prints and patterns, and learn to judge them for their thickness and suitability for fusing.
Steps 2 & 3. Heat and fuse. Thicken as desired.
We sandwich the plastic bags within tracing paper. Then we use hot iron to fuse them together, two folds at a time. We iron out several samples, learning with practice to apply the correct pressure and manage the heat. As we experiment and get more comfortable with working the material, we start building towards the “leather” we will finally use for our pouches.
Step 4 & 5. Embellish.
As a final step, some of us fuse atop a final layer of pattern. Then we all start shaping and folding the “leather” into a pouch. This is where Kang teaches us to use some basic setting and marking tools (and displays his possessiveness of them!), and we fashion out the eyelets and buttons to create the final piece.
Step 6. Sit back and admire!
For more detailed tutorials on Kang’s method, you can attend his next fused plastic workshop on 14 November, Saturday, 1pm to 4pm, hosted by Naiise at their Central Clarke Quay store. Tickets available online for S$89, or over-the-counter at the store itself.
To explore more handcraft workshops conducted by Singaporean artisans, visit Itchy fingers.