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Bead artist Helena Tang-Lim
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My name is Helena Tang-Lim, I'm hailing from the sunny island nation of Singapore, the eldest of 3 children in my family and the only one that has crafty inclinations. I remember, when I was young my Mother would always be making flowers from velvet material and intricate Chinese knotted buttons and sold them to handicraft shops for pin money. I suppose it was from her that I inherited my love of working with my hands to create beautiful things. I would beg her to teach me how to knit and crochet. I still remember my first knitting effort - a scarf that unfortunately did not have very straight or neat edges!

I have always dabbled in various craft all my life. I have taken up knitting, crochet, cross-stitch, and embroidery at some point or other in my life. I had always found it very relaxing to work with my hands. As I reach adulthood, working and making a living and later bringing up children took up a very large amount of my time. Even then I continued with my crafty pursuits.

It was during this time that I discovered the beauty of traditional Straits Chinese bead embroidered shoes or "kasut manek" as they are called. These shoes were beaded and worn by the ladies that came from China and settled in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore many years ago. These shoes are done in bead tapestry style using tiny Size 13 Czech charlottes and reflect the love of flora and fauna and colors that these women have. The shoes are usually worn only for special occasions and are made especially for the wedding trousseau.

Bead artwork by Helena Tang-Lim
click to see gallery

At that time I was just starting out in my career and to invest hundreds of dollars in a pair of shoes was not something I could afford. But covet those shoes I did. So I set about making a pair for myself. Needless to say after taking the lessons and buying the supplies, my first pair of "kasut manek" worked out more expensive than if I had bought a pair off the shelf. But I did learn a new craft, which then became my obsession in later years.

During those days it was not very easy to find supplies to make the shoes and when you did, they were really expensive as well. So I began hunting on the Internet for my supplies. And it was from there that I discovered other forms of beading. Locally there were actually no teachers or supplies for the "Western" style of beading so I had to learn everything on my own. I started buying books and I still remember my first book, Suzanne Cooper's Second Looks. I was so enamored by the necklace on the cover I made one. But I was really greedy. My necklace is so long and it weighed a ton that I hardly ever wore it. But I had fun making it and I was thoroughly hooked after that.

Bead artwork by Helena Tang-Lim
click to see gallery

Beading in the beginning had always been a hobby for me. On and off, friends would bug me to make or sell them a piece but I never really took it seriously as a business. Then as fate would have it, earlier this decade, there were some structural changes within the company that I worked for and the owners of the company decided to downsize their operations and close the company. At a loose end for a while, I taught beading at a local bead store for a bit and generally lived the life of a retired lady all the while driving my husband nuts because I didn't know what to do with myself to keep occupied.

Then he said why don't you open the bead store you kept going on about? And so "Manek-Manek Beads" became a business. It wasn't the brick and mortar storefront that I had originally planned but a virtual one. I now work from home and work when I want to. I wanted to be able to travel with my husband and generally enjoy life without too much of the rat race.

My inspiration
Many things around me influence me in my beading. But I find the greatest influence for me comes from a love of the local culture and color. Ethnically I grew up with Chinese, Malay and Indian influences. So many bits of these cultures find their way into my beadwork.

Bead artwork by Helena Tang-Lim
click to see gallery

Maharani Necklace, which won the 1st place in the British Bead Award in October 2012, is an example of how the heydays of the Indian empire influenced my beading. And the Love & Longevity Necklace with the 3D Chinese character for longevity shows how my Chinese roots exert themselves in my beading.

Although culture is great inspiration for me, very often I find that a particular bead will "speak" to me and designs will positively flow non-stop from it. Like when the spike beads were introduced. I couldn't get enough of them. I used the big ones, the small ones, and the itsy-bitsy ones. They became focal and also part of the weaving.

Sometimes a color will also influence me. When I created the piece for the Battle of the BeadSmith, it was the beauty and color of the beetle wings that I used which caused the piece into being. Together with a supplier who egged me on with spikes and daggers in similar color sheen, it was too hard to resist.

Bead artwork by Helena Tang-Lim
click to see gallery

I make jewelry predominantly. I want the designs I make to be wearable and comfortable. I want to make jewelry that a woman can wear every day and not just on special occasions only. I also love the designs of fine jewelry and I always try to make my beadwork have the look and feel of fine jewelry. So although I do make larger pieces for competitions, my favorite pieces are the ones that a woman can wear to the office, to the mall or a walk in the park.

What do I do besides beading?
I love reading, travel and eating. Not necessarily in that order. Now that I have more time, not working in the corporate world, I spend more time cooking and baking for my family. In the past when my husband and I both worked and traveled for work, we were hardly in the same country at the same time. So now I try to travel with him a bit so that we can experience the country at the same time. And of course, reading has been very much a part of my life even from young. When my friends asked their parents for clothes and makeup, I was always asking for books. This has not changed. The only difference is that with my trusty iPad, I have my entire library with me all the time. My current favorite genre is now crime novels and mysteries.

The future
I just want to continue creating beautiful beadwork. I would like to find the time to enter a couple of competitions. And when I finally can no longer see to bead, I would love to publish a book of my designs.

My gallery on

About author:

Helena Tang-Lim, Singapore

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