On a roll

QUILLING is the art of rolling strips of paper and pinching it into the desired shapes – and there is no right or wrong; after all, our hands are unique to us allowing each of us to come up with something different.

Lecturer Najmiyyah Adnan started quilling in 2005 when it was almost unheard of in Malaysia and has since become obsessed with it that she sees everything in quilling form. She would look at leaves and flowers, and start thinking if she could transform it into paper form.

"It is not difficult because you are just using paper, and that was what attracted me to quilling because the material is basic and simple. It is my hobby and passion, but I can only do it during weekends because my weekdays are occupied doing research for my PhD," she said.

Najmiyyah experimented quite a bit on this hobby to find out what works and what doesn't. She said her somewhat unstable hands couldn't handle normal quilling paper which shapes beautifully and is usually between 70gsm and 80gsm.

Instead, she uses scrapbook paper between 120gsm and 150gsm which is thicker so each piece doesn't get squished easily. The paper has to also be acid-free so it doesn't lose its colour over time.

"I like experimenting and researching for new things. For a long time, I was experimenting on flowers. I wanted to do something different that had my personality in it so I came up with the idea of shaping strips of paper into petals and arranging it into a flower. When I started, it took me roughly 15 minutes to complete one flower but today, it only takes me five minutes," she said.

Najmiyyah is so used to quilling that she can multi-task between quilling and watching television. She can also do it with her hands, without a quilling tool.

When she started, it was difficult to find quilling tools so she made her own using a needle, and even the ones she owns now are bought online.

"I like to play with colours and tiny details. I find satisfaction in doing tiny details that are difficult to copy, and it became my trademark. I have had my work being copied by others, but I didn't really mind because you won't have an exact copycat. I started by copying as well. It is a way to learn and improve yourself," she said.

Najmiyyah is inspired by doodling because with doodles, you don't plan what you do and she doesn't plan her work nor sketch beforehand. It is also one of the reasons why she takes a long time to finish a piece.

The process is long and tedious, and most times, she takes one weekend to find the idea, another to cut the paper, another to do the shapes and another to design. She doesn't repeat her designs, even if the same person wants the same design.

"The one thing that many do not have when it comes to quilling is patience because it requires a lot of concentration and time. It also requires a lot of practise to get better," she said.

One of the challenges Najmiyyah encounters is to have people appreciate her work. There are often people who don't see the value of quilling and would say things like "Why is it so expensive? It is just paper".

"I always tell myself that at the end of the day, it is not about the money and there are other people who appreciate my work. Those who appreciate my work came all the way from Johor, Seremban and even from Dubai and Indonesia to attend my classes in Kuala Lumpur. When they want to learn, they go all the way," she said.

In time to come, Najmiyyah wants to do a research on quilling. She has done it once at an international conference where she presented on how quilling can develop cognitive skills among children.

"I have done many classes with children and they always surprise me with their creativity. You would think children can only focus on a task for 30 minutes, but children aged seven to 12 can do quilling for up to two, even three hours. I have had children aged seven, eight and 10 who didn't want to stop quilling," she said.

When asked to choose between teaching and quilling, Najmiyyah said she wouldn't give up either. "Why should I choose? Love what you do, and do what you love."