Welcome to the Ex-Official Blog of Writer, Presenter & Crafts Expert Momtaz Begum-Hossain which stopped being active on 31st August 2016.

For more regular updates follow Momtaz on Twitter: @TheCraftCafe Instagram: @The_CraftCafe Vine: @TheCraftCafe Periscope: @TheCraftCafe Snapchat: Momtazbh

For workshop bookings, writing commissions, presenting jobs, craft project designs, or any kind of enquiry email contact@momtazbh.co.uk

Momtaz's NEW BLOG is www.craftandtravel.com

Thursday 1 September 2016

End of an Era - My Last Blogpost on Cos I Like Making Stuff

VISIT MY NEW BLOG: www.craftandtravel.com

It's strange how a decade can just flash before your eyes and you have no idea how on earth you got here. I started blogging 10 years ago - eight years here, and two years on a previous blog. I blogged because I enjoyed it. Blogging was my 'me time', my cutting off from everything else: work, chores, socialising, family - it was my break. 

Now though, the whole concept of taking a break has changed. A break is literally me getting a decent night's sleep! There's so much I want to do and so much I'm excited about but as time goes on, the more I realise that actually, I can't do everything and that's ok.  

After 1.5 years I recently stopped presenting my weekly radio show, I've also reduced the number of craft nights I run and workshops that I take on, but that doesn't mean I've stopped doing what I love. I'm involved in so many new things, but my biggest passion is something I have been proscrastinating over for the last 15 years and now it's time to finally get on and DO IT.

My ambition is to travel the world, learn about different craft techniques and then 'record' my discoveries in some way. I've put it off for so many reasons, but now the time is right.

I've opted for a website and in order for me to make the site the best it can be, I need to cut back on a few more things, so I decided that after 10 years it's time to say goodbye to this, my personal lifestyle blog, and dedicate my hours to CraftandTravel.com.

Please check it out and follow, share any articles you find of interest. I'm keen to link up with people from all over the world, especially Guest Bloggers so if you've been somewhere and spotted some crafts you think the world should know about, please let me know. 
You can email me at Editor@craftandtravel.com

Stopping this blog does not mean stopping sharing my life - no way! I'm doing it more than ever, but less through writing, and more through chatting. 

Add me on Snapchat: Momtazbh to find out what I'm up to. I love the video diary format - it's so addictive and so much fun.

You'll also find me on Instagram where I post pictures and Stories at The_CraftCafe

And of course Twitter @TheCraftCafe

THANK YOU to every single person who has checked out my blog over the years - it's amazing to think these pages haven't just been read by my family.

In another 10 years who know where my experiences will take me, and what media and social media we'll all be consuming? 

It's the start of a new journey and I'm so happy to be on it.

I've chosen September 1st as the date to do this because it's a very signifiant one for me. September symbolises new starts, as well as remembering my dear father who passed away on this auspicious date. It's a date in the year that has always resonated with me, and even more so after that happened, so here's to a fresh start - new website, new optimism and new adventures. 


Sunday 10 April 2016

Visiting The Craft Markets of Chichi, Guatemala (Chichicastenango)

I recently embarked on an adventure through Central America where I called in on Mexico, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala. Although I was excited about all of my destinations, it was the last country on the list that I  couldn't wait to visit. I have long been a fan of colourful Guatemalan crafts, so when I heard Central America's biggest craft market takes place there, visiting it was on top of my vacation wish list. 

The market takes place on Thursdays and Sundays at Chichicastenango (know as ChiChi or Santa Thomas). The area has a strong Mayan heritage reflected by its population. Trade begins at dawn and as well as crafts, there is produce, livestock and flowers. But it was the crafts I came for, and I wasn't disappointed. 

Here are some photos I took of Chichi market to give you a flavour of what a kaleidoscope of colour it is.

Mayan women are so colourful and the market is flooded with stalls that sell traditional clothing, all made from colourful fabrics and embroideries.
Purses - the main gift I brought back for friends as they were small enough to fit in my backpack without adding additional weight. 
Top hats!
Belts are a key accessory for Mayan women 
A typical stall
Another typical stall - filled with colour and gorgeous things
Shawls - my one colour shawl that I brought from home paled in comparison to what women all around me were wearing
Well you can't have a market without handbags!
Womenswear - tops are all one size and get fitted after
More belts - so hard to pick which to buy!
Yet more belts but with a different look
I didn't realise beading was a Guatemalan craft but there were beaded creations everywhere...
...including these pen covers
Traditional Mayan womenswear - I also noticed that all female sellers had these lace aprons

Some stands were on the streets in tables, others inside a covered area and some were simply up alleyways laid out on the floor

If you want to make your own clothes or textiles from scratch, there was plenty of colourful fabric to purchase
Stripes were very popular!
As well as countless stores selling beautifully embroidered fashion, homeware and accessories there were also stalls selling embroidery floss - in every colour imaginable
At this stand dyed floss and yarns were sold by the weight
Shopping is thirsty work and there are plenty of places to enjoy a refreshment stop
The market is like a maze but this church surrounded by flower sellers is in the middle and it helps you find your way when you get lost among the hustle and bustle
If you do make it to the outskirts of the market the rest of the town is rather beautiful

Even the graveyards are spectacularly colourful
Locals queuing for the buses

The market was an incredible experience. I went on Sunday and it was such a colourful, vibrant and interesting place. However it's not so rare to find what was on sale. Guatemala is filled with crafts markets wherever you go and one thing I discovered was that at Chichi items were more expensive than other local markets and surprisingly, very few sellers were open to bargaining. Most came up with ridiculous figures they wouldn't budge on, but if you go to the quieter parts there are some amazing offers to be had. 

At the end of the this post I have listed some advice for surviving Chichi, but I also wanted to mention that not all crafts in Guatemela (i.e. the one's I photographed here) have a rainbow coloured and embroidered feel. 

I also visited a fair-trade community weaving project located on the lakes and these handwoven items were completely different to anything I found in the market. Cojolya has a fascinating gallery that explains the significance of weaving in Mayan life - I loved this Mayan belief:

'God spun the sky and drew out time like the thread weavers spin to weave cloth.'

The centre arranges weaving lessons and tours and can tell you who made every item that is for sale

As much as I loved Chichi, the best place I went shopping in Guatemala was in the colonial town of Antigua. Such a beautiful place. It's also home to a huge shopping fair-trade department store which feels like an art gallery called 'Nim Po't, filled with handmade items, but again with a community, co-operative feel. 

There is wall upon wall of masks
I wanted this rocking horse so much!
Gorgeous handprinted chair which I would have bought if I could have carried it home on the plane
Artisans are able to bring there stock into the shop and have it sold, and it's the biggest collection on Mayan crafts for sale in the world. The shop is epic, save at least an hour to rummage through it all. Prices are fixed but exceptional value. 

A taste of Antigua
If you're ever in Antigua I urge you to visit -you'll get lost in Nim Po't's world of wonders; thankfully there are sofas to sit down and take a breather in when the shopping becomes to overwhelming. 

If you're planning to visit Chichicastenango (which I recommend!) then here's my advice:

Getting there:
I boarded a direct bus from Antigua which left at 4pm on Saturday (picked me up from my accommodation) and then arrived at Chichi at 7pm. 

However I had to speak to several travel and tourist shops in order to book that bus. The main way tourists get to Chichi is the 7am bus on market days, it leaves at 7am, arrives at Chichi 10am and leaves around 2.30pm. This truly is a tourist bus packed with foreigners weighed down by cameras. As soon as it hits 10.30am the market is swarming with these visitors and their tour guides - most companies want you to take this bus but don't listen. 

Keep asking until you do find a bus going the night before so you can set off at dawn when it opens so by the time the other tourists arrive, you've already seen the market, got to understand how it works and know where everything is, so you can shop stress-freely. 

Staying there:
The guidebook said it's vital you must book accommodation in advance as it gets busy. I found no private Air B&B accommodation, nothing on the usual online accommodation sites like Expedia, Lastminute etc and general Googling also didn't throw up many options. The I came across a place called Hotel Giron and it was perfect. I phoned up and reserved accommodation - it was basic but located right in the heart of the market which has so many benefits, like when I needed a break, I came back and could put my shopping down. Accommodation was no where near as full as expected and I wonder if it's a scare story making tourists come on that morning tourist bus.

Generally prices were premium but still so much cheaper than if the items were bought in a UK store. As I mentioned bargaining isn't favoured on stalls, but there are aways to shop cheaper and it's down to who you shop from. Stalls in quieter parts of the market have such good prices there's no need to bargain - I recommend hunting those out. 

Also there are many informal sellers, women who simply walk around selling their wares - they are all up for bargaining so if you see one, don't run away, chat to them and if you see something you like, bargain until you're happy.

Length of time: 
1/2  a day is sufficient and in that time you'll be able to go around the whole market and have time to go back and find your faves to attempt some bargaining!

Finding it all too much?
Don't be afraid to take a break, walk away from the market to the quieter outskirts, or book a tour guide to help you navigate your way through the markets. 

So there's my memories and advice about Chichi, if you have an appreciation for crafts than visiting is essential, and if you simply want to immerse yourself in the Mayan community then hang out and people watch.

Here are a few more snaps taken in Guatemala...

Morning walk around Antigua
Antigua from above, the town is laid out like a grid system

After Chichi I travelled by chicken bus through hilly terrain to the lakes
Chicken buses are public transport and are old American school buses, they are used all over Central America

Aaah, the memories!

Sunday 6 March 2016

How to make Bollywood Chocolate Easter Eggs

You've heard of Boiled Eggs...well these are Bollied Eggs: chocolate Easter eggs with a Bollywood theme. Completely edible, I made them by sticking edible picture onto chocolate eggs, then decorated them with edible glitter, edible gemstones, edible flowers, edible glue and even edible paint which I got from my local craft store Hobbycraft.

How to make your own Bollywood Easter eggs

Materials you'll need to make Bollywood chocolate eggs

First up, choose which stars you want to immortalise in chocolate and save the images as jpg files. I emailed my images to a UK based company called Icing Pictures. You send them the images you want printed, they print them onto edible icing and post them back to you. It's a really easy service, they even re-size the images for you. I had six images printed onto one sheet of A4 and it cost £9.99 including postage and packaging. I'm guessing this service exists in other countries - even your local bakery might be able to help. 
Edible images, cut out 
Next up decide on your eggs. The easiest method is to buy ready made eggs, or if you're feeling adventurous you can melt chocolate, pour into a mould and make your own eggs. I tried this method and discovered that a) you need to use a lot of chocolate as when you melt down a bar, you're not left with much and b) I couldn't get the eggs to come out of the moulds easily. If you're already a chocolate maker you may know the knack, but after ending up with broken shells I decided to stick with the easy option and buy the eggs.

Chocolate egg-making fail

Apply the image to the egg. Instructions for the brand of edible picture you use may vary, but the type I bought involved cutting it down to size... 

peeling off the backing and wetting the back with a little water...

...then smoothing it onto the chocolate shell. It's a delicate operation so be patient. Too much water and the image will disintegrate and too much smoothing and it will erode off, so practise a few times before you go through with any final designs.

Once the image is on, the fun part begins: the decorating. 
Here are some ideas.

The Item Girl egg

Bollywood movies wouldn't be the same without a song and a dance. The most innovative and best-loved Item Girl in history is Helen, a cabaret star who starred in numerous movies in the 60s and 70s. She was one of a kind, with great style, so I created an elaborate, colourful, vintage inspired egg embellished with sugar flowers.

The Bejewelled Devdas egg

When it was released in 2002 Devdas starring former Miss World Aishwarya Rai-Bachchan was the most expensive film made in Bollywood history, costing over $7million. Lavish in every way, from the extraordinary costumes to the grand, colourful sets, I painted this egg in edible gold/copper paint then stuck on edible jelly jewels held in place with icing pens. I also outlined the image with icing spots.

The Simple Salu egg

Affectionately known as Salu, Salman Khan is my favourite of all the Khans in the filmi fraternity. He has incredible charisma on the screen and I always look forward to his films for their entertainment value. I kept this one simple with a touch of icing - I was going to apply silver balls but decided they just weren't needed in the end. He alone holds the attention. 

The Randeepian egg

I'm a Randeepian and proud - a dedicated follower and fan of actor Randeep Hooda, one of the most popular actors of the moment and undoubtedly the hottest, hence the reason I positioned him inside an iced heart and added white chocolate hearts which I decorated with edible glitter and icing - one I can't wait to take a bite into!

The Blockbuster egg

Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge is the most famous Bollywood movie in history and one of the best. Released in 2015, 20 years on it's still playing in cinemas - no other film can claim that. The leads are played by mega stars Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, and this is a classic film poster shot. 

Not a Bollywood fan? You can get any image printed onto edible paper from pop stars to pets. 

Top tips

  • The icing pens take around 24 hours to dry so make them in plenty of time before you need to give one as a gift.
  • While decorating the egg, sit it in an egg cup as that way you can access all sides of it easily.
  • If you are giving them as a gift try placing them in cellophane and tie up with ribbon.


My images were printed at www.icingpictures.co.uk.

All other materials used for this project were from my local branch of Hobbycraft:
Sugar flowers, edible glitter, icing tubes, edible paint, chocolate hearts, edible gemstones.

The chocolate eggs and giant green and yellow iced spots on the DDLJ eggs were from Asda, but you'll find all of the above online or in cake supplies shops. 

Happy Bollied Egg Making!