Meeting Nora Zaidel, a Keringkam artisan

What exactly is Keringkam?

a closeup at the RM20K Keringkam

This heavily-embroidered Keringkam (made by Nora Zaidel) costs RM 20,000.00

Tudung Keringkam is a traditional head scarf / veil / shawl unique to the Malay women of Sarawak. It is embroidered (by hand) with botanical motifs in gold-plated or silver threads. Often, the Sarawak Malay girls and women would put on the Keringkam head scarfs to complete their attires. The shorter veil is called selayah while the longer shawl is called selendang.

Keringkam is worn during weddings and significant ceremonies, and because they are pricey, they’re usually spotted adorning the heads of the upper class and women of royalty.

The Sarawakiana Series – Culture & Heritage – Tudung Keringkam“, produced and published by Pustaka Negeri Sarawak, provides a detailed explanation on Keringkam and I would highly recommend all interested parties to check it out.

Keringkam is a luxurious headscarf that becomes a priceless heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next.

The traditional Keringkam is quite short, measuring about 54 cm by 95 cm. Meanwhile, the size of the Keringkam shown in the picture above is 20″ x 40′. The fabric used is Kasa Rubiah (kain bawal no.2) and these are always in solid colors. According to Keringkam artisan Nora Zaidel, Georgette fabric can also be used to make Keringkam. The artisans always use non-slippery, soft, and thin fabric to make Keringkam. Cotton is not recommended at all.

Meeting Nora Zaidel

There are not many young, skillful Keringkam artisans these days. I feel lucky to have the opportunity to meet a Keringkam craftswoman Nora Zaidel; she is younger than me, yet she has achieved much in her chosen field.

The first time I saw Nora Zaidel, we were at Datin Juriah’s residence in my hometown Miri on a pleasant afternoon of October 23rd. Nora had flew in from Kuching to  Miri with the purpose of showing Datin Juriah an exquisite, heavily-embroidered Keringkam. It took Nora 55 weeks to finish that particular Keringkam.

My first impression of Nora Zaidel? She exuded an aura of elegance and gentility.

Many thanks to Datin Juriah for inviting me, together with madam Cecilia Sman and her husband Mr. Brian Parker, and madam Jamila Bibi, to her home to admire the intricate work done on a Keringkam that costs Twenty Thousand Ringgit!

Nora Zaidel hails from Kampung Sourabaya Hilir, Kuching. She first learned the art of making Keringkam in the year 2007 from a craft program organized by the government in Kuching. She received her first customer in 2008. By 2013, she has taken the art of Keringkam very seriously and made a profession out of her passion. She used to serve Pos Malaysia (Miri) in 2001.

Nora Zaidel came to Miri on 23rd October 2017

Depending on motifs or designs, the cost of Keringkam varies from RM 1,500 to RM 20,000 or beyond.

The motifs often found on a Keringkam include pucuk rebung (Bamboo shoots), tali air (chain stitch), Gunung Tiga (Three Mountains), kacang-kacang (legume / beans / lentils), bunga ros kuncup (Rose buds), bunga ros mekar (blooming Roses), bunga raya (Hibiscus), bunga cakar ayam (snake-needle grass), tampok pedada (mangrove apple), bunga tabur kerang (shells motifs), and bunga orkid (Orchids)I tried my best to translate the Malay names into English, somehow if you find mistakes in them, I’d appreciate it very much if you drop me a comment or email.

I guess I’m not Bangsawan (aristocratic) enough to purchase a heavily-embroidered Keringkam, but I am definitely keh poh enough to try it on. :D

Nora putting the RM 20 K shawl on my head

Pictured above, Nora putting on the RM 20,000 Keringkam on my head. It’s not light, you know; some crowns might be lighter than this Keringkam.

Nora was recently featured in the news:- Sarawak Museum holds talk on Sarawak Keringkam

a portfolio of Nora Z masterpieces

Nora’s Keringkam portfolio

If you ask me, I’d say that the Keringkam is a priceless heirloom which your future generation deserves to own. Regardless of race and religion, I think that Keringkam is a great way to make statement with. I love it when clothes make cultural statement. Also, you don’t have to be a celebrity to make a fashion statement.

The art of making Keringkam is possibly a dying art as not many youngsters these days are interested to learn it. No doubt, making Keringkam requires a great deal of patience, great eyesight, and much more.

Nora also teaches the art of making Keringkam in her spare time, so if you are interested to learn, do send her a request.

I quietly asked Nora whether there is any prerequisite to begin the art of making Keringkam (manalah tahu, kot-kot kena mandi bunga dulu), she laughed and said one needs only the passion and strong will to learn.

Of course, you’ll need a few things (she could provide you with those equipment / tools) such as silver threads (beginners are advised to use this as they are cheaper than the golden threads), frame (we call it pemidang kecil or pedangan), and special needles (as shown in the image below).

special needles used by Nora to make Keringkam

That picture above was snapped from one of Nora’s portfolio pages as she did not bring along the tools with her in this brief trip. Nora also showed me an image from her cellphone gallery; it’s a partial view of the frame that she used to make the heavily-embroidered Keringkam.

partial image of the frame on where the Keringkam was made

When asked about her hectic schedule, Nora revealed she put aside all distractions (example: the cell phone) and concentrates on her art – usually between 4 am to 10 am daily.

Aside from making Keringkam, she is also an aerobic instructor. No wonder she is very slender!

I heard that she is moving to Singapore next year as she is getting married; her fiancee is a Singaporean working for Mediacorp. If you prefer to see her in Kuching, Sarawak, then you better get in touch with her, like – NOW, before she moves to the Lion City.

Some images courtesy of Nora Zaidel

Below are photos courtesy of Nora Zaidel. She personally sent me these images via Whatsapp after I requested for more pictures on the other Keringkam that she had made:-

1953 and 2017 - Photo Courtesy of Nora ZaidelNora’s grandmother’s a gifted Keringkam artisan. Pictured above, her grandma’s work is the one marked 1953, while Nora’s work is marked 2017. We could say that Nora inherited the gift from her grandmother.

A light green Keringkam - photo courtesy of Nora ZaidelPictured above, a light-green Keringkam by Nora Zaidel. I call this green hijau daun pisang (as green as the leaf of a banana tree).

closer look at the green Keringkam - photo courtesy of Nora Zaidel

Turquiose and red Keringkams - photo courtesy of Nora Zaidel

Red and turquoise (with golden threads) are popular colors. However, you can request Nora to do any color or design of your choice. Hence, no two Keringkam are the same. Each one is unique, unless of course if someone does a pretty good copycat job.

A simple but beautiful red Keringkam - photo courtesy of Nora ZaidelSome like their Keringkam laden with embroidery, some like it simple and nice.

dark blue Keringkam - photo courtesy of Nora ZaidelThat dark blue Keringkam with golden threads is lovely too.

a heavily embroidered Keringkam - photo courtesy of Nora Zaidel

Forget about wanting to own this exquisite, heavily-embroidered Keringkam (pictured above), at the time of writing – Datin Juriah has already purchased it. All hope is not lost however, if you still want a Keringkam similar to this, you can always request Nora to custom-made one for you.

If you are interested to have one custom-made for yourself, or planning to gift some to family members and friends, or maybe to me =p, you may contact Nora directly. Below is her Instagram’s account:

Nora Zaidel Instagram

Thank you for reading. Have a nice day!

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