By Nurul Halawati Mohamad Azhari
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) -- When the announcer proclaimed Azizah Mohamad Yusof as the recipient of the 2018 National Craftsman award, the octogenarian found herself registering the gamut of human emotions.
Of course, she was very happy, and touched, grateful and proud as well, to receive the award that was given to her in recognition of her efforts in keeping the traditional Malay art of gold thread embroidery alive.
"Who won't be grateful when given such recognition? However, with this award I feel more burdened because my responsibility to preserve this art has become heavier," said Azizah, 80, who has developed the art into a cottage industry in her hometown Kuala Kangsar, Perak.
The award was presented to her in conjunction with the National Craft Day 2018 celebrations at the Kuala Lumpur Craft Complex on March 26.
Cheerfully consenting to this writer's request for an interview, it is obvious that age has not dampened this talented artisan's enthusiasm for embroidering.
She still is every inch the meticulous craftsman. When busy stitching the fine embroidery, she takes great care to ensure her fingers do not brush against the gold thread as the skin\'s dampness can soil the thread's quality and colour.
To thread the needle, she uses another needle to insert the gold thread, which itself is a skill that takes years to hone.
Having picked up the art at the age of 12, Azizah has since then been pursuing the family tradition that was passed down from one generation to another. The art of gold thread embroidery is recognised as a heritage of the state of Perak.
HAPPY TO SHARE HER KNOWLEDGE
Azizah's expertise in producing intricate gold thread embroidered designs has even attracted the attention of royal families as she was commissioned to embellish the decorations that were used for the installation ceremony of the 13th Yang di-Pertuan Agong, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, on April 26, 2007 and the wedding ceremony of the then Raja Muda of Perak, Raja Dr Nazrin Shah to Tuanku Zara Salim in May 2007.
Azizah's high level of commitment to developing and perpetuating her art and willingness to share her knowledge with others have earned the mother-of-nine various awards, including being appointed a master craftsman in the art of embroidery stitching by the Malaysian Handicraft Development Corporation (Kraftangan Malaysia) in 1995.
She first learnt the skill while she was still at school from her late mother and grandmother, who used to receive orders for embroidered works from the Perak royal family and dignitaries during the 1920s and 30s.
"It was my mother and grandmother who sparked my interest in embroidery. From my childhood till I got married and had children, I have been producing embroidered pieces to commemorate important events in my life," said Azizah, who started offering classes in gold thread embroidery in 1980.
She is pleased that four of her children Mardziah, Marshitah, Maizirah and Haris are continuing the family legacy, adding that her late husband Abu Kassim Shahid was very supportive of her work.
She and her family own an embroidery workshop and showroom near their house at Kampung Padang Changkat in Bukit Chandan, here.
NO SIGN OF RETIREMENT
Although she now has access to machines that can stitch embroidery to cater to the commercial market, Azizah prefers the more painstaking mode - sewing by hand. Nowadays, however, she only produces hand-stitched embroidered works as and when she receives an order.
She may not be as energetic as she used to be but her passion for gold thread embroidery has not diminished one bit.
Needles and gold thread have become part and parcel of her life and she has yet to show any sign of retiring. Her fingers are still deft although the smooth skin has become wrinkled with the passage of time.
Azizah believes in reinventing her embroidery motifs and she is now producing contemporary designs depicting bamboo shoots, orchids, frangipani flowers, roses and calligraphy, among others.
The Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage and Kraftangan Malaysia have included Azizah\'s works in their exhibitions held in Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Brunei and France.
This National Craftsman's proudest moment to date is having her collection of exquisite hand-stitched gold thread embroidery works displayed at the Craft Museum, here in conjunction with National Craft Day 2018.
Among the prized items were bridal accessories like hand fans and cushions, and bedroom furnishings, costumes, shoes, handbags and headdress worth more than RM100,000.