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 acted as a mouse wrist rest, comfort stuffed toy, or an information piece of the old trade of Singapore Chinatown. These Bean Dolls are a combination of old and new; modern illustration meets the old tradition of bean sprout husks, and a combine effort of the young designers and the old folks of Chinatown – the young designers designed the doll and created the illustrations,

while the old folks dried the bean sprout husks, cut the fabric 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 simple line work to illustrate a modern and approachable character of the symbolic Chinatown figures. It aims to attract the attention of the younger generation and act as an educational piece for history discovery, and encourage the young people to probe further into the past of Singapore. Towkay – was the traditional name for the first generation of Chinese business owners to arrive in Singapore. As natural born merchants, they demonstrated their talents in different businesses through the trading of goods with the Indians and British. Kopi Uncle – Highly skilled in roasting coffee, these old school baristas would pour pippin' hot cuppas that would kick start the days of many Singaporeans. Samsui Woman – was a construction worker who fetched 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 – Traditionally seen in long plaited hair with black and white samfoos, Ma Jies dedicated their lives to servant hood.


Process of doll making 

With charity help from the elderly of Kreta Ayer Senior Activity Centre, sacks of bean sprout husks are collected and are washed and dried in the sun, till the husks are dried and solidified. The dried husks are then collected and left for cooling in a dry and cool place, and will be carefully handpicked. Canvas clothes are then filled with the dried bean sprout husks and are hand-sewed together to form the doll.
Click the video below to watch the process of doll making.  




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