Successful ageing

Lifelong learning for seniors

Ms Florence Chek, 68, nows makes clothes for herself after learning to sew at a National Silver Academy course

•This series is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.


There are five tops and five pairs of shorts in Ms Florence Chek's wardrobe that hold special meaning for the retiree.

They represent a childhood wish come true, as the 68-year-old made them after attending a short course on pattern-making and sewing at Lasalle College of the Arts.

She says: "Learning sewing techniques to make my own clothes gives me great joy. I gain knowledge and also save money as I spend less on clothes."

Prior to this, her sewing skills were limited to making bags that she picked up from magazines and books.

Ms Chek visited the National Silver Academy (NSA) website and signed up for the Fashion Design and Textiles Pattern Making and Sewing: Techniques of Top Making course.

Launched in June 2016, NSA is a network of post-secondary education institutions and community-based organisations offering a wide range of learning opportunities for seniors. There are more than 900 courses and 21,000 learning places available.

Eligible seniors can enjoy subsidies when taking short courses under the NSA. Singaporean seniors who want to participate in examination-free modules at the institutions need to pay only a token fee, which varies with each course.

Ms Chek received a subsidy for the course and used her SkillsFuture credits to pay for the course fees.

The course comprised eight sessions. Participants learnt the different types of seams and necklines and had to sew a blouse each.

At first, Ms Chek felt intimidated at the sight of the industrial sewing machines.

She says: "I usually sewed by hand or used my late mother's vintage sewing machine. I was worried that I may not be able to handle an industrial sewing machine."

Her fears were put to rest as the course was conducted at a comfortable pace. Under the close guidance of the instructor, she learnt to operate the sewing machine.

Ms Chek says: "It is much easier to learn from an instructor as we could ask her questions and she could correct our mistakes. It was also fun getting to know my course-mates who also enjoy sewing."

She completed sewing her blouse by the fourth session and wore it to class the following week.

"It is a simple blouse, but I felt very proud that I made it myself. The feeling is very satisfying."

Ms Chek was so motivated by her first piece of handmade clothing that she decided to sew another top using what she learnt in class.

"I love to learn, but since I began work in my 20s, I attended only courses that could better my career prospects, such as those on computer skills," she says.

"Pursuing knowledge out of sheer interest feels like a luxury, but sewing is a practical life skill, not just a hobby."

She was an administrative secretary at an architectural firm before retiring in October last year.

She intends to take up advanced courses in dressmaking. She also wants to learn to sing and play the ukulele.

"It is never too late to learn, it is whether you want to or not. Attending courses adds to your knowledge and also expands your social circle. You get to meet more people, learn from them and share your knowledge."

  • For more details on learning a new skill, go to or call the National Silver Academy hotline on 6478-5029.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 25, 2018, with the headline 'Lifelong learning for seniors '. Subscribe