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Bean Dolls of the Old Trades

— these bean dolls are designed for comfort and play. 


part of singapore culture & design research project


Hand-sewn and filled with bean sprout husks, these Bean Dolls of symbolic Chinatown figures (Towkay, Kopi Uncle, Samsui Woman & MaJie) are designed for comfort and play-it can be used as a mouse wrist rest and comfortable plush Toys or information pieces about the old trade-in Singapore’s Chinatown. These bean dolls combine old and new; modern illustrations meet the ancient tradition of bean sprout husks. It is a joint effort of young designers, and senior residents in Chinatown-the young designers designed the dolls and created illustrations while the old folks dried the bean sprout husks and hand-sewn the dolls. These Bean Dolls are a modern way of documenting the old Chinese trades of Singapore.


The illustration style of the Bean Doll is a simple line work to illustrate the modern and approachable character of the symbolic Chinatown figures. It aims to attract the attention of the younger generations, act as an educational piece for history discovery, and encourage young people to probe further into the past of Singapore.


Towkay – is the traditional name of the first generation of Chinese business owners who arrived in Singapore. As natural businessmen, they demonstrated their talents in different businesses by trading goods with Indians and British.


Kopi Uncle – highly skilled in roasting coffee, these old-school baristas pour pippin’ hot cuppas that kick starts a beautiful day for many Singaporeans.


Samsui Woman – is a construction worker who fetches materials for construction sites. Dressed in dark blue samfoos paired with a distinct red headgear, they toiled with a vow to live a life without marriage.


MaJie – usually appears in long braids and black and white samfoos, MaJies dedicated their lives to servanthood.


Doll making process

With the charitable help of Kreta Ayer Elderly Activity Center elders, sacks of bean sprout husks were collected, washed, and dried in the sun until the husks became dry and solidified. After the dried husks are allowed to cool, the elders will carefully select the husks for production. They filled canvas fabrics with dried bean sprout husks and then hand-sewn them together to form a doll.



Click on the video below to watch the doll making process:

Bean Dolls of the Old Trades is supported by National Heritage Board Singapore, 
Singapore Tourism Board and Chinatown Business Association, Singapore.

Research period: 2009-2011

Production period: 2012-2013

Second Version: 2017


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