‘Do it out of love. Because beading is a very laborious craft and it takes weeks, sometimes even months, to finish a piece of sewing. It is a waste of time and effort if one doesn’t love the craft because the creation will not come alive’ – May Lim Siew Seng
Ms Lim’s maternal family has a long Chinese Peranakan lineage from the time of her great-grandparents. Her great-grandfather was a Khoo while her great-grandmother was a Yeoh, both were very old families that belonged to the Big Five Hokkien Clans in Penang. Ms Lim’s father came from Hockchew, China. He married her mother and they had six children – two sons and four daughters. Ms Lim’s mother brought along her Peranakan heritage into the family and brought up her children in the same way.
Ms Lim was first exposed to the manik craft at the tender age of six by her grand-aunties who made fine manik shoes and hemmed batik sarongs. As a child, she and her siblings enjoyed going to her grandmother’s house to climb trees and pick tapioca from the garden. Before the children could go out to play, they had to first assist the grand-aunties in manik work. Their tasks as ‘little apprentices’ included threading the needles, choosing manik beads and waxing the thread. However, this early exposure did not inspire Ms Lim to further pursue the craft. She was more interested in less laborious handwork such as crocheting and knitting. Nonetheless, she admitted she did not enjoy doing handiwork during her school days. It was a chose for her and her sisters because they had to make presents and gifts for the many family occasions such as weddings. These occasions were used by mothers to compete and advertise the skills of their daughters.
Ms Lim explains that the passion for making manik shoes were constantly fuelled by the urge to make something for herself. At first, her creations were based on a template of ‘commercial patterns’ bought from the shoe maker. Her desire to create something unique drove her to mixing and matching, modifying and simplifying different traditional motifs. The outcomes were some ‘original designs’ that quickly became her signature. Ms Lim is proud to claim that she is the first and only beader in Penang (if not Malaysia) who produces original manik shoe designs. The most obvious difference is the quirkiness in her designs which do not conform to any fixed composition or traditional symbolism.