When we go on holidays, we are often busy whipping out our phones (or cameras) to capture all sorts of travel shots – from the breathtaking sceneries, to the indulgent local food.
But Teresa Lim, better known by the moniker Teeteeheehee, chooses to capture her memories with a needle and thread instead.
The 27-year-old would always bring along her sewing kit to her travels so she could encapsulate her impressions of famous landmarks and various sights worldwide on canvas.
Instead of taking a quick photo, she prefers basking in the view and would spend an average of two hours embroidering the landscape.
Some famous landmarks she has embroidered include the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London, and the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin.
These embroidered travel souvenirs are then added to her ever-growing Sew Wanderlust series, which has over 40 pieces in the collection now.
According to Teresa, this hobby started when she traveled to Perth in 2014.
“I wanted to take a photo of a sunset by the beach, but my phone conked out. Since I had my thread supplies with me, the only thing that made sense was to capture it with what I had,” she told Catalog Magazine.
“I realised I really enjoyed the process because visually, my eyes took in so much more information than if I were just snapping a photo of it. When I embroider a scene live, I am completely present with my five senses and that feeling is really something.”
But being an embroidery artist was never part of her career game plan.
Wiped Out Her Savings In A Year
Unlike her peers, the fashion design and textiles graduate from LASALLE College of the Arts did not embark on a job hunt after graduation.
While she was unsure of what she wanted to do next, she was adamant about one thing: she did not want a corporate 9-to-5 job.
“I would rather suffer doing something I like than being safe and not enjoying what I do,” she lamented to Channel NewsAsia.
So she ended up taking a one-year hiatus to focus on embroidery, sewing endlessly in her own workroom housed in her family’s HDB maisonette.
But her parents frowned upon her decision because they felt that it’s hard to pursue art as a career, and that she should just stick to a more conventional job that is more ‘secure’.
True enough, her parents’ words rang true – it really wasn’t easy making ends meet as an artist.
The first year was especially tough and she financially struggled without a monthly paycheck.
When her savings finally dwindled to just $50, Teresa decided to make use of one of her many other talents and gave violin lessons to tide her over.
“Ultimately, art in Singapore is not mainstream. There is no fixed income. We don’t know when we will get a big project, and [we usually earn] nothing for three months,” she said in an interview with Channel NewsAsia.
Scoring Clients Like Gucci, Netflix
After various media caught wind of her novel embroidery hobby, she gained a considerable amount of attention and many brands started engaging her for commissioned works.
Previously, she only did commissioned portraits.
A basic piece is priced at $320, while more elaborate pieces can cost up to $650.
She also regularly publishes a portfolio of her work on her Instagram account (@teeteeheehee), which has garnered a following of over 78,000 fans (and counting) today.
Within three years, she has worked on various campaigns for renowned companies such as Gucci, Swarovski, Uniqlo, Melissa Shoes, Singapore Airlines, Changi Airport and Netflix.
Due to the outpouring number of engagements, Teresa now earns a “comfortable income”, according to Channel NewsAsia.
With the financial burden lifted off her shoulders now, she feels that she has the “space and mental capacity to create”.
But the end goal for her was never about the money or fame.
Sew Many Projects
For Teresa, she sees embroidery as a way for her to “[tell] stories” or “[capture] moments through thread”.
Her first personal project, the Sad Girls Club, was a series of embroidered illustrations that conveyed the sadness she felt when she went through a breakup.
Her next series, The Twelve Rooms, depicted the unrealistic expectations of body images portrayed in the media.
“I started this series as a conversation with my younger self. When you’re young, you think nobody understands you, so you don’t share much and in the whole process, you feel very alone,” she told Channel NewsAsia.
“What I hope to do is encourage discussion. There is power in knowing that someone who has been through all that is looking back and saying ‘It’s okay to feel this way’.”
Sharing more about her projects, Teresa said that she’s now working on a personal project that tackles the issue of excessive plastic use – a rather timely project considering the rise of the #NoPlastic movement today.
As part of the project, Teresa has been collecting random plastic items that she has consumed to be incorporated in her masterpiece.
She said that the final product would be an embroidered piece that depicts the ocean, which would be completed by year-end.
Ultimately, Teresa is a shining example who debunks the misconception that artists, especially in Singapore, make for a (literally) poor career choice.
Besides scoring big-name clients, she has also had her work exhibited in shows in Hong Kong, Bangkok and Tokyo, among others.
Truly proud of this local creative who has made waves overseas – she definitely deserves to be featured in this year’s National Day video!
Featured Image Credit: Pazzion / Teresa Lim