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

Saturday 30 July 2011

FAB Printing

After working 16 days straight without so much as a teeny weeny lie-in I found myself on Thursday night (a day normally reserved for the gym but no way was I in the mood for pulling my stomach in and lifting bar-bells), visiting The Make Lounge for an evening of cordial, cake and crafting thanks to the lovely folk at Snapfish, who organised a stamping workshop for crafty addicts like me. Of all craft techniques stamping is my least favourite, I cannot understand how they make entire stamping magazines, nothing about it has ever appealed to me. I generally think it's because the stamps in existence are so awful. In HobbyCraft they have a huge aisle dedicated to stamps but I've never found one I like and believe me I have looked and looked. I've seen other crafters on websites like Folksy saying they have 'made their own stamp' something I couldn't get my head around, it just sounds so pointless and complicated.....but how uneducated was I???????
Pricey but amazing
Bring on Speedy-Carve, (available online and in The Make Lounge shop), so unlike the horrendous brownish grey lino you used to get at school with its hard surface and woven underside....this bubblegum pink linoish foamy sheet is pricey BUT revolutionary. It makes stamping accessible and gives you the freedom to make your own stamps in minutes. In fact it was so powerful, it totally hypnotised me into a stamping convert.
Lovely books
One thing I always complain about is that I can't draw and everyone thinks I'm being ridiculous. But I 100% stick by the statement, I hate my drawings, maybe it just because I don't do it enough but everything I draw seems to have a childishness about it and not in a good way : ( Some people can draw amazingly and maybe they feel they can't do other things but anyway, the point is I arrived straight from a stressful deadline at work and had to draw something immediately! Normally panic would have set in but it was prevented by three things:

1. The tutor Zeena Shah was gorgeous and lovely and with her huge smile there was no way a person could feel frustrated
2. The whole atmosphere in the class was very relaxed, everyone was beavering away (I arrived 30 minutes late) and I couldn't wait to join them
3. Zeena had some brilliant books for inspiration and both had such beautiful pictures - also she encouraged me to 'trace them if I wanted to.' Zeena I love you for that. It's the best thing to say to an unconfident drawer. If you say to them 'don't copy do your own thing' it's really hard but if you say it's ok, copy if you want, it makes you feel like 'nah i'm ok, I can do it myself' which is what suddenly came over me.
Time for carving
And just like that out of thin air I visualised a FAB lolly and the first step was drawing it on the pink lino.
This beats the gym
Carving was a cinch, the scalpal just glided on and you didn't need to go too deep. It was just so smooth and easy and a million times more fun to use that traditional lino.
Oooh, which colour first?
Then it was on to testing the inks, they were all fresh pads (yum!), and the ink transferred best by holding the pad upside down on the stamp rather than holding the stamp over the pad and pressing it down.
I did several modifications until I was happy, testing the design, then chipping away the background and centre lolly layer before concentrating on the background again where tiny little bits kept leaving marks until I was content that this was the FAB stamp I was going to use for life!
The stationary range
Then I went stamping mad and printed lots of different bits of paper to make cards, writing paper and gift tags. By now I felt like a complete addict and had already decided that I wanted to make a matching ice-cream cone too.
Showing off time
The session was attended by 12 other crafty types and crafy bloggers including:
and the ever amazing Deadly Knitshade who runs London's biggest and most successful crafty club Stitch London. We had a nice catch up over cupcakes (as is compulsory at any craft event.) Above is a selection of the creations made by them.
And here's my final stamp which has been glued into a wooden block to make it look professional - beat that Hobbycraft!
At the end of the session Snapfish gave us all a goody bag with a voucher to try out the Snapfish service (which I will report back on when I find something I want to print - the voucher runs out in December so bare with me!) and this amazing mug. Snapfish provide an online photo printing service where you can print photos (or even crafty creations) on to a range of objects, clothing, photobooks etc. Yes I know a lot of companies like this exist but I've tried four in the past and they hugely vary in ease of use - some like CEWE are soooooooo complicated I've had a £100 voucher for a year and not used it because the website is so complex while MOO are super easy. I will see how Snapfish goes and report back.

And so, will I stamp again? Using Speedy Crave and if I ever get confident enough to draw again then HELL YEAH! The internet and books are brimming with craft tutorials and the majority are over complicated and nice to look at and although this wasn't a tutorial, I want to stress that anyone can do this craft. (If they can afford speedy carve and stamps which will set you back over £10), it's one of the simplest and most accessible crafts I've tried in ages and even non-drawers like me will get amazing results. Now that's the kind of craft I like!!!

Monday 25 July 2011

Study & Shop Sci Fi Style

It's still The Dome to me!


No privacy here!
Living beside The Dome (yesI know it's called The 02, but I'm a local so I'm allowed to call it by it's original name!), is fascinating because development in the area is so continuous. Every time I go there another new venue appears; most recently a Tesco supermarket, a chemist, SubWay and Wagamama noodle bar. And these are on the outside. About 18 months ago a new building on a scale overshadowing all others appeared; the new home of Ravensbourne College specialising in digital media, design and technology. It is the only open plan university in the whole of the UK and is regarded as a blueprint for what studying in the future will be like.

By open plan it means lectures, seminars etc all take place on different floors, separated by dividers but are happening at once allowing any student studying any discipline to be able to learn about anything they want. The first thought that came to my mind was isn't it noisy and what about privacy? I remember in my day seminars could get heated, personal and private, you expressed opinions you didn't want to leave the room - yet I was told by our guide the emphasis here is to move away from that kind of thought process - students should be willing to share anything and everything.

You loose all sense of perspective walking around the building. This image was taken from floor nine looking down on the ground floor which is a communal chill out space often used for events. What's strange is that while in most buildings 'the 9th floor' sounds like a thigh-aching trek, between each floor here there are hardly any steps. You go between them without even experiencing any sensation of going downstairs.
A scene from The World is Not Enough?
On one side of the building the windows look directly onto The Dome. It reminds me of how excited I was when I watched the opening credits to the James Bond movie The World is Not Enough when Pierce Brosnan falls and lands on the roof of the iconic building, before it had even opened (or maybe to coincide with around the time of the Millenium when it did first open.)
What a view!
On the other side is magnificent views of the River Thames. Inside the fashion tech room (what an incredible place to design from) the sewing machines look directly out on to the walkway that leads you to The Thames Clipper - so you can commute to college via boat...amazing! (Shame is it is so expensive though maybe there's a student rate?) Years ago I used to commute to Blackfriars Bridge and it cost just £1.30 each way (you could purchase a book of 10 saver tickets) now it costs somewhere between £5-£8 for a single....sheesh!
So back to school - this is the lockers, they are few and far between but they resemble Daleks. Everything about the college is Modern with a capital M but quite how it will work (the college has been open for just one year) still remains to be seen. 

Here's some fascinating things I found out about whilst going on a public tour last week:
1. There are no computers (not like the IT suites at normal colleges). All students must bring a laptop with them - plugs are everywhere and the biggest investment went into WiFing the building.
2. Every single window in the entire building is round.
3. The college will play a vital role in the TV broadcasting of the Olympics as they have such sophisticated broadcasting suites and equipment.
4. Major media companies like ITN and Sky work closely with the college to get access to the next generation of tech savvy employees. 
5. The building cost £70million to construct.
6. It recently won a prestigious RIBA architecture award.
7. You can leave your work out over night with a note whereever you're working and it's fine, it will still be there in the morning (apparently).
8. As there's no rooms students are encouraged to grab chairs and have meetings whereever they want.

What I thought of it:

1. While they have amazing courses and I would love to make clothes and look at the river Icouldn't study here. It felt too compact - there's no green spaces anywhere, you're just trapped in doors where everyone can see you whatever floor you're on.
2. I hate the idea of noise, how can anyone truely concentrate and think straight.
3. Students having to bring their own laptops......so unfair.
4. Yes I get that they are trying to make it like the real world as open plan is just what it's like in the actual workplace but I still think there's room for studying in a classroom (there are a few but it's discouraged).
5. The proof is in the pudding and whether this kind of study works is evident in the students work. I saw the Post Grad end of year exhibition and was deeply unimpressed, it felt technology heavy for the sake of it and was so bland. Every video was shot in 3D and ideas felt old (the trouble with technology is you have to be ahead of it. These students should be setting the trends not running with them as they loose their appeal.
6. It probably does work well for digital media courses but there's alot of subjects that wouldn't work in this environment and I cannot see how anyone could ever revise for an exam in a place like this. 
Will colleges be like this in the future? I hope not but I hope so too at the same time....
M&Ms take over the world
So on to futuristic shops. I don't hang out in Leicester Square often, but occasionally I end up at the Cineworld cinema at Trocadero because it shows Bollywood films and is slightly cheaper than other central London cinemas. Some months ago I noticed huge hoardings saying M&M World. I didn't know what it was but I didn't for one second think it literally was a mega shopping mall dedicated to selling M&Ms...I mean, come on - they're not even tasty!! Give me an (Orange) Smartie any day. These huge stores are already in Las Vegas, Florida and New York and now Europe has one in London town. It's been open just over a month (June 13th) and it's like the loudest, brashest most horrific shop I've ever been in. It's soooo noisey and full of complete and utter tack.
Start of the rainbow
 The most appealing part is looking at all the walls of M&Ms which you can hand pick.
Fashionable flavours
 There's a colour of confectionery to suit every outfit you own.
Or if you can't make your mind up, ready made mixtures. BUT the majority of the store is dedicated to the ugly M&M characters - you can buy anything with them on - so many cheap and nasty plastic toys and sweet dispensers and even household items, clothing and luxury goods which are sooooo expensive it's sickening. Who wants a diamond M&M compact mirror anyway? I sincerely hope this is not the shop of the future, it personifies everything that's wrong with mass consumerism. And I never want to go inside it again!
Purleeese! The M&M characters are not as legendary as they think they are....

Monday 18 July 2011

Something Smells Good!

I've been wanting to get along and visit Homemade London for a while and I finally popped along last week. It's a little crafty heaven which runs creative workshops and private craft parties. Yes there's a few of these places in Londinium these days but believe me, they vary in quality (some seem to think they 'started it' while everyone else copied them)...well my view is anyone who thinks like that is not a true creative. 
The fact is if you like making things you should respect that skill sharing and accessibility is all part of the enjoyment. I believe there is plenty of room for crafty workshop venues, there should be one in every town of the UK, just like there (used to be) public libraries (but hey that's another story.) They'll always be a place for colleges and longer creative courses but short workshops, sewing cafes, ceramic cafes etc allow you acquire new skills and get inspired when you can fit it into your life. Yes you have to be prepared to invest, (average workshop prices at most places cost around £35) but they are small businesses that need investment like anything else. So although you may not be able to afford to go all the time, you can be sure that when you do, you'll get something special out of it. OK RANT OVER....back to my lovely trip.
The crafty heaven is based in a pretty village street
Believe it or not, Homemade London is just a couple of minutes walk from one of the busiest spots in London (the flagship Primark in Marble Arch) it's located in a quiet, picturesque street in an area called Portman Village (which I had never heard of until I got here...this is why I love London, it is continously full of surprises even for lifelong dwellers of the Capital like myself).
Nicola Barron, owner of Homemade London
It's the brainchild of Nicola Barron, who used to work in TV and is a self-confessed interiors and fashion junkie. She opened the 'store' less than a year ago. (Birthday coming up next month.) So it's no wonder the inside is so pretty.
Ooh, how I wish I had a making table this big!
It's fresh, light and airey though still has a sense of 'early days'. There's a downstairs and upstairs section and if you hold a private party here you can use both areas.
Getting crafty is just the start
Workshops can be designed to suit your preferences, or you can book on one of their  sessions which include bag making, handstitched notebooks, lampshade decor, wedding crafting and even lingerie.
I made my own bottle of 'Begum Blend'
I attended their newest session 'Perfume Making AND Afternoon Tea'....talk about blissful afternoon! The session runs on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and with just four pupils in each class, yummy cakes from local bakery Cocomaya and 1-2-1 attention from Nicola herself it's a truly pampering way to while away a couple of hours (not forgetting you get to take home a scent that's all yours.)
It's all in the blend
Having no prior knowledge of working with scent I presumed it would be a fairly straight forward task, after all most people know what they like and what they don't yet I discovered within minutes that perfume blending is in fact a complete art form. I had no idea that smells and mood can change so quickly with just one drop of fragrance.

We started by having a sniff of top, middle and base notes to see what took our fancy. A huge fan of vanilla like cocoa smells, I was most drawn to Benzoin, Cedarwood, Black Pepper and Rose (the turkish delight variety) and decided I'm not keen on citrus (too many associations with all the lemon scented cleaning products I have at home.)
Farah made a fruity blend
Farah my workshop companion interestingly chose the opposite scents to me, light fruity, summer ones - her blend although not to my taste, smelt very tempting and 'professional.'
This tea set looks even more amazing in real life!
Incidently the Afternoon Tea element of the session was a nice touch though it is a little hard to enjoy yummy cakes that look like dinky chocolates when your nose is so infused with the whiff of excitement. But anyone thinking of going for an afternoon tea I recommend instead of going to a regular hotel, combine the tea and chat with doing something crafty - it's the best of both worlds so you'll leave feeling doubly as happy. A brilliant session for friends, a unique way to spend a day off work, or if you're in London on holiday and fancy seeing a different side of British life, a slice of homecrafing couldn't be more cultured.

All images from Homemade London apart from the ones taken at my workshop (it's not hard to tell the quality apart!)

Monday 4 July 2011

Alice Crafts

Everything Alice: the Wonderland Book of Makes
The only summer crafting guide you need!
I'm a sucker for anything themed...especially a party! Yesterday I was working out  the number of themed parties I've held over the past few years....a jungle fiesta, under the sea, village fete, winter wonderland.....disappearing into another land and pretending to be someone else is one of the most fun things you can do. We do it all the time in our imaginations - as children we speak about these experiences more yet as adults we keep these fantasies to ourselves.
But the child in us, no  matter how much we suppress it manages to pop out whenever we see something that puts a smile on our faces. And that's why Everything Alice is a craft book that from just one mere flick through will make you happy. It's a remedy to every day stress allowing you to dip into a secret place where anything is possible.

'Alice' of course needs no introduction....she is Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll's remarkable story about a little girl and her amazing adventures involving a secretive white rabbit, a smiling cheshire cat, teeny tiny doors and tempting tasty morsels. In this book (released today) the authors have delved deep into Wonderland and designed 50 projects that celebrate Alice and show you how to capture a piece of her imagination in your home. 
Authors Hannah & Christine
And here they both are, showing off mosaic masquerade masks, one of the projects in the book.

Craft ideas

Craftwise there are some fantastic and original projects that will bring sparkle to your life like a teapot flower pot, giant rose lights and playing card bunting alongside more classic projects that you've seen before like shoe bags, a notice board and tea cosy. (This isn't a bad thing - just an observation. Regardless though they are lovely and useful so no complaints from me!)

Holiday activities

But it's not the craft projects that stand out and make this book different. The truth is these days there are too many fantastic craft books out there.  When I was the editor of a crafts magazine I saw so many craft books on a daily basis I used to tear my hair out because 90% of them were dull and unappealing. Six years on craft books are glorious and most are like coffee table inspiration books that keep you coming back for more.. Another analogy is the fact that craft books these days are very much like craft porn, people just buy them and look at them but don't actually make anything.
What I like about this book most is the short one page ideas and projects that have minimal instructions like fabric covered furniture and the vintage cake stand. I've never liked following instructions so these smaller simpler projects work better for impatient crafters like me who just don't have time to read lots of 'what to do' paragraphs.
There are also activity ideas like making a shadow puppet play (above)....now that's the kind of thing a parent should see and feel inspired to do with their children over the summer holidays.
Yummy ideas
'Pure craft' books seem also to have been replaced by generally 'making' and in this DIY vein, the book also includes scrumptious recipes. Alongside these beautiful red velvet cakes (which look more pinky than the usual recipes) the Duchess Macaroons are my favourite. The ultimate treat, French style macaroons are as stunning to look at as they are tasty. And these ones sound like the yummiest flavour in existence, rosewater with lavender cream I am salivating just imagining them. The truth is I will never make this recipe because I don't have the confidence to make a macaroon; they are too special to go wrong. I would rather once year on my birthday go to Laduree and buy myself one (one because that's pretty much all I can afford). But Alice's macaroon is like a fantasy, one I'll look at from time to time and imagine eating. I have a total lavender obsession when it comes to edible things - lavender tea, lavender shortbread....it just tastes so special! And for the ultimate refreshing 'Drink Me' cordial, there's also a recipe for Lavender lemonade. Yum!
For those not feeling crafty

Just incase you are more of a craft porn hoarder than a maker, the authors Hannah and Christine will soon be launching their own Alice stationary range so you can own something Alice themed without having to make it! (Sounds good to me! For time saving reasons -obviously I shall never stop crafting!)

So, overall, should you get this book? If you own lots of craft books then don't just get this to add to your collection - it will be wasted. Get it because you honestly want to make something different and have someone in mind to make it for...(admit it most crafters never have time to make things for themselves but presents are always a good motivation).

Also get this book if you need to keep children occupied over the summer holidays. It's a very summer friendly book, don't leave them alone to make things themselves; these projects were made for enjoying with groups or friends. You could invite your friends over for an afternoon of Alice themed craft activities (cake and tea compulsory). This is what I would do if my flat was bigger and made for entertaining. Sadly it isn't and I don't have a huge garden like the one in the book but I guess if I use my imagination enough just like Alice there's always the communal concrete courtyard where I hang my clothes out to dry!

Images taken from the Everything Alice website (thanks!)

The book is out now priced £14.99 from Quadrille Publishing.