Fabricate founder Anita Varma (above) gives old fabrics new life, by turning them into things such as bags and cushion covers.ST PHOTOS: KELVIN CHNG

Fabric artist Anita Varma repurposes old fabrics – with a twist.

From cushion covers fashioned from the drapes of a family home to aprons stitched from old shirts, her customers' personal memories are entwined in the warp and woof of the products she makes for them.

These bespoke items are not just created from any old fabric, but from pieces that have some sentimental value to the user.

"A stranger's things just don't have that emotional angle," says Ms Varma, 52.

Last June, she founded Fabricate, a small business that converts old fabrics into new products.

They may be "souvenirs", but they also serve a practical function.

"The idea is that these things should be part of your daily life," says Ms Varma.

She once converted a threadbare wedding sari – dating back to 1946 and belonging to a customer's mother – into placemats and wall art to celebrate the latter's 90th birthday.

These were then distributed to the grandchildren as gifts.

"Whenever they look at it, they will remember their grandmother.

"Indian women are very sentimental about their saris… If you can use the saris again, you get a lot of respect," says Ms Varma, who finds the "use-and-throw" culture more prevalent in Singapore than her native India.

The repurposed items undergo a "metamorphosis", but there is no attempt to disguise what the object was before, says Ms Varma.

For example, a handbag she made retains the neckline of a traditional Indian tunic and cushion covers bear the trimmings of old saris.

Ms Varma, who used to work in marketing research, sometimes gets inspiration from websites such as Pinterest, Etsy and YouTube.

The origins of Fabricate can be traced to the time she spent in Texas, United States, where her husband was based from 2008 to 2014. They have a son, aged 26.

She struggled to find a job there, not least because 2008 was the year the economy crashed.

"I found myself isolated, with very little to do and very little interaction with people outside."

In search of a creative outlet, she helped one of her friends, a realtor, with home staging. This rekindled her interest in crafts.

But it was only after she returned to Singapore in 2014 that she turned her interest into a business.

At the moment, Fabricate is still a one-woman show, although Ms Varma hopes to expand it in future.

While she declines to reveal how much her products cost as every piece is different, she adds that her works "don't come cheap".

The cost of craft materials is one of the challenges she has faced, says Ms Varma.

As her goods are not mass-produced, there are no economies of scale, she adds.

Most of her customers are Caucasians or well-travelled, environmentally conscious Singaporeans.

One project she is working on is a "memory blanket", which involves stitching together the shirts and onesies of a customer's child to create an "album" of memories.

"Memories and emotions – these do not have a dollar value," she says.


This story was first published on The Straits Times. Click here to read the original story.