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Welcome to the official blog of Writer & Crafts Expert Momtaz Begum-Hossain.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Sometimes It's OK To Do Nothing

Holwell, the quietest place I've ever been
'I can't. I'm busy.' I find myself saying this on a daily basis whether it's true or not. Nine times out of 10 it's true but if I tried I could reschedule, de-prioritise and end up not doing it if I really didn't want to; trouble is I am the kind of person who is always doing something - never nothing. On this blog I only record a 1/4 of what I get up to. I have countless posts piled up waiting to be published but most will never see the light of day - like weekends in Sweden, Malta and France and even a last minute seven day trip to Kenya (though hopefully that one will surface at some point), as well as craft workshops, social events, life experiences, dos and celebrations, even recipes...
There's so many things I do that I then want to write about but these days I can barely keep up with the writing I need to do for my day job, let alone get a chance to write for pleasure. So the idea of doing nothing just doesn't apply, I mean how can I do nothing when I have so much to do?
The only sound I heard other than crow cries was the squeak of this sign in the breeze
This weekend an opportunity struck and I decided to give in and give it a go: Do Nothing. I checked into Middle Piccadilly a Rural Spa Retreat in Dorset where 'doing nothing' is the preferred way of life. There are no distractions (wi-fi or internet - even my 3G was down), no TV, no radio - not even any newspapers to remind you of the stresses of the world.)
Accommodation is in a restored 17th century cottage and food is served fresh, vegetarian and healthy. The only souls you'll speak to are your therapists - massages, wraps, spa treatments are all part of the pampering, nurturing and relaxing experience. Other than turning up to the kitchen at mealtimes or being ready for your spa sessions there is nothing else to do.
There was a choice of a Detox liquid diet, raw food or vegetarian but I went for  a mix of all three
So what does one do when faced with the ultimate in Me Time? Being in the countryside and with two days of gorgeous, bright, crisp, winter weather led me to embark on three walks around what can only be described as the quietest place I have been to in my whole life (admittedly the route was called Peaceful Lane.) Even the wildlife (aka sheep) barely made a sound. I encountered few humans, few dogs and hardly any cars just endless trees, greenery and farmland.
Peaceful Lane is an understatement - it really was the calmest place I've ever walked
The retreat is popular with stressed out female Londoners - it is literally the opposite in every aspect of what goes on in the capital city. Yet faced with such peace and serenity doesn't necessarily make it easy to switch off. Initially I struggled I just wasn't sure how to fill 'nothing'. Many people come here simply to sleep; at first this seemed wrong, but the truth is I rarely get enough sleep.
In an ideal world there wouldn't be a need to escape to the country in desperate need of rest and re-cooperation but the truth is very few of us would put aside a weekend, detach from technology and mod-cons and make 'Me Time' at home.
Ok...I didn't go as far as playing Solitaire but I drink lots of detox teas
Yet here in the middle of no where it makes more sense. I didn't escape modernity completely (I took photos on my phone for a start!) but I did sit down, look at nature, attempt to meditate and take time doing things. Where normally I wash my face really quickly on autopilot I took time to massage my face wash into my skin and instead of gulping down a cuppa while moving between three rooms, packing for working and doing my make-up, I sat down held my tea until it cooled and drunk it until the mug was finished.
There are so few people around that all the sheep were staring at me!
How do I feel after living in slow-mo for two days? I wouldn't say I felt different or like a new person, maybe two days isn't enough for such as transformation but I did realise that it is OK to do nothing and not feel guilty about it. Whether or not I can 'afford' to give myself another weekend off is another matter but I do think that in an ideal world once a moth switching off from life, tech, stress, and just focussing on the moment - eating, breathing, living has health benefits that are priceless.
When you don't need to rush you really do spot the beauty in nature
Whether you check into a retreat like Middle Piccadilly for few days or are able to recreate a similar experience at home: 'doing nothing' is underrated and should be indulged in every now and again by everyone. With the Xmas holidays and new year around the corner, I dare you to give it a go.
I spent two day at Middle Piccadilly, checking in Friday at 4pm and stayed until Sunday 2pm. All meals were included and the retreat is located a 15min taxi ride from Sherbourne station, which is accessible from London Waterloo. Prices vary according to packages, mine was booked through Wellbeing Escapes and included three treatments - two massages and a mud wrap.
(I wrote this blog on the train back - I imagined myself writing in the evenings but my laptop remained in my suitcase! Two hours to kill on the train home however isn't that interesting so I decided to do something!)

Friday, 21 November 2014

Craft And Curry Night

Curry and craft is now a thing...well I've made it into a thing so prepare for the takeover! The concept is based on the supperclub idea where chefs (both amateur and professionals) hold intimate dining experiences. At its most basic this may involve someone cooking and serving dinner in their own home and members of the public booking to eat there. Menus are set in advance so you know what you're getting and the fee is usually much cheaper than eating out at a restaurant. For the chef it's a chance to cook their signature dishes while entertaining at the same time; some chefs hire spaces in which to hold their supper clubs; as long as there is a kitchen and seating then the space can work.
One of the most interesting elements of the supper club phenomenon is that if you book to attend one, you'll most likely be dining with strangers - conversation is an important as the cuisine; supperclubs aren't for those wanting to enjoy a quiet meal alone, interaction with, and getting to know your fellow diners is part of the experience. I met Nilanjani who runs the Damn Good Curry Supperclub (monthly in Walthamstow, East London), when I attended Rajiv's Kitchen Nepalese Supper Club earlier this year and last month for Diwali we joined forces to create a Craft & Curry Night.
Guests got to enjoy a delicious feast cooked up by Nilanjani while I set up a craft area where diners could do some crafting as part of their evening. As it was Diwali the workshop kept within the theme with guests decorating their own Diwali diyas. These were made using empty ramkins (the type that come with Gu-Puds inside, you eat them then wash the glass containers out which can be re-used - turns out I had 16 empty ones in my cupboard!). They make perfect candle holders.

I provided trimming, sequins, gems, Indian motifs and shisha mirrors which were taped (using double-sided) and glued on. 

As a quick and easy craft it worked really well, most got made in the period before starters, after diners had arrived and got a drink ,though some made their's inbetween courses. Some diners even placed in on their tables while they ate.

The food was exceptional (I can see why it's called 'Damn Good Curry', it really was one!)

A yummy meal to end the evening was served by by Nilanjani's assistant Zoe aka The Spice Scribe.

It was an insane and busy night for one person in particular - the chef herself!

All in all it's what I'd call my dream night out - great food, friendly people and the chance to make and take something unique. I can definately see Craft and Curry nights catching on - it's a step away from what I'm doing running The Make Escape Craft Night - that for me will always be voluntary run - I'm extremely proud of the model we have) but in terms of a business idea I'm keen to explore more ways for me to combine craft and curry by working with different chefs.

In fact if you are a chef and would be interested in discussing a craft and curry night then I'm all ears! Get in touch. Find out more about The Damn Good Curry Supper club here - and if you're feeling inspired; there's no reason why you can't start up your own Craft & Curry Night - I would love to hear about it.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Publishing My First Book On Kindle

I took the cover photo at Kolkata flower market
It's taken me 10 months but I've finally managed to self-publish my first book. It's a 'travelogue' which is basically a diary/memoir style piece based on a month off that I took last December. I wrote most of it while I travelling, in the evenings, and on public transport.

Writing on a long train  journey through West Bengal
I planned to come back to the UK, spend January editing it and then publish it in February. But real life set in and it never happened. Fitting the editing side in with my day job and other commitments was really tough and I found myself disconnecting from it. Eventually I got stuck in again but that was just the beginning. 

Sunset in Kathmandu
Next came the preparing the file for Kindle part (it's only available as a digital read on Kindle for the moment, I may extend it to other digital readers and possibly print on demand paperback but I'm not sure yet.) 

This involved another few months. I looked at endless on-line tutorials and even enrolled on a four day course called 'How To Publish Your First E-Book.' But came away none the wiser, in fact it confused me even more.

Children at Darjeeling Train Station

Eventually I settled on the simplest conversion which is creating it on word, inserting some images then converting it to a html file (instructions for how to do this can be found on the Kindle Self-Publishing site. Why I didn't do that to start with I'll never know!

For complicated booked other processes would be required but as I say, for simple text and pictures it's straight forward enough, the secret lies in the formatting which happens in the word file. 

Traditional Naksha Buti weaviing in Tangali, Dhaka, Bangladesh

The book is written in the first person as that's how I've always written my diaries. One of the main reasons I wrote it is that before I went away, and while I was away, I really enjoyed reading other people's self-published travelogues. They are far more interesting than reading travel guides. 

But looking back at it now, when I dip into it on my Kindle the trip becomes so vivid, I feel like I would have forgotten so many things. Even just looking at the photographs isn't enough as they only form half a memory. Writing provides a more real picture.

The book costs £3 (I only get £1 of that!), I'm not expecting to sell many copies but I hope that anyone who is travelling to India, Nepal or Bangladesh will consider purchasing it for inspiration or if you simply fancy a read that's a bit different you'll take your chances.

The first chapter of the book (sample chapter) is available to read for FREE hereIf you've got five minutes, have a browse.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Zine Making For International Day Of The Girl

The first thing I ever had published was in a zine so I am a massive supporter of the DIY zine movement. I was therefore chuffed to be asked to run a zine-making workshop to celebrate International Day Of The Girl at The Southbank. 
As well as contributing to zines and fanzines, I also used to edit my own, a craftzine called Fete which focussed on the handmade. 
For this session I decided to create a group zine. The idea was that it would be A5 in size and everyone would be given a sheet of A5 paper on which they could do anything they wanted to; draw, paint, collage, write etc...(as long as it was about girls!)
My table filled with collage materials including lots of magazines to cut up and create with.
 The Southbank also leant us the use of these rather fabulous letter stamps and provided lots of ink pads.
Elsewhere there were some other workshops running alongside mine including this fun comic creation session with artist Matt Boyce.
And zinemaking with For Book's Sake who had some fab stickers.
As it was a drop-in session I had no idea how many people would come and whether or not we'd have enough content to make a full sized zine but I'm pleased to report that during the four hours, over 25 contributors took part and they weren't just women either, there was balanced gender and age mix which makes the zine even more special.
Here are some of the pages that were created...

And these are some of the spreads...

The finishing touches to the zine were these illustrations of different girls by artist Inky Ponting
And here are the names of the other contributors...
The zine has been kept by Thee Southbank who are going to make a digital version of it but in the meantime in true DIY zine style they have photocopied it and sent it to the contributors - it looks just as impressive in black and white. Although blogging is a digital form of self-publishing, nothing beats the feeling of seeing your work in print.

Away from work also I've been working on my own 'self publishing' project which after months of beavering away has finally developed into something...but more on that in my next post. 

Monday, 22 September 2014

DIY Dress: Silk Sensation

Last night I finally debuted my new frock, a shimmering raw silk dress that took me a couple of months to get together. I wanted to finish it for Eid but ran out of time. It's a very sturdy fabric which has a natural crinkle and if you look close up you can admire the sequin details...
I picked up the fabric in Khushboo Textile in Birmingham, a luxury haberdashery that specialises in bespoke fabrics. The owner Imran can arrange to have fabric dyed and embroidered to your specifications but they also stock some rather stunning rolls of fabric you can buy by the metre and Asian suit fabrics. It took me a while to decide what to make with it but in the end as I mostly like wearing dresses I decided to make what I would consider my own kind of party wear.
The tough part was making a paper pattern. It was adapted from the block of the last dress I made but this one had more pieces and a much wider skirt.
It then took me a whole day to cut the pieces out from fabric.
One of the design features is that the shape of the neck is different at the front and back.
For the front I created a square shaped neck...
And for the back a round neck.
I particularly love how the skirt flares out.
Now it's done I'm already thinking about my next project. I want to make a crystallised velvet bolero so am looking out for shapes to get inspired by. I probably won't have time to start it until November but fingers crossed I'll get it sewn in time for the real party season!

You can visit Khushboo Textiles in Ladypool Road, Birmingham.