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

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Tuesday 29 May 2012

My So Called Life episode 2

1. Dressing up
If I could blog every day I would! But the truth is as much as I try and record my life on these webpages, only 1/2 of what I actually get up to makes it on here. So every now and then I do a round-up of random things I've been up to (to help me remember more than anything!)
Here's the Top 10 of the last couple of months....starting with dyeing my hair black.....
OK. Not quite! It's actually a Japanese wig. I wore a gorgeous Japanese kimono too that I wanted to take home with me, but sadly it wasn't mine, it belonged to The Geffrye Museum dress up rail!
2. New hair
I recently gave away the secrets of my hair colouring. The latest shade I had done two weeks ago at the Toni & Guy Academy was this rather fabulous raspberry pink. (I can still call myself a redhead though!)
3. London Marathon
For the last 5 years, Barney and I have stood on the streets of Greenwich and cheered on the marathon runners. He gets lots of attention, mainly runners shouting out 'BARNEY' at the tops of their voices or shaking his hand. But as yet we have still never seen anyone dressed up as the giant purple dinosaur : (
4. Oni & Adrian's wedding
Remember when it was snowing recently? Well I was at a friend's wedding in Wales. I know everyone says this about their friends but she really was the most beautiful bride I've ever seen (and that comes from someone who has been working on a wedding magazine for the last two years....I've seen a lot of weddings!) More photos here.
5. My sister's 1st stall
I was very proud of my sister who held her first craft market stall (yes crafting does run in the genes.) The market was part of a new creative venture in our home town in North London and marked the opening of the local park which for years had been a no-go area but is now light and welcoming AND has a water fountain. Her online shop is looking good too.
6. Tile painting workshop
I've still been doing some craft teaching but it's reduced a lot due to every one cutting their budgets. (Not good times for us freelance arts & crafts practitioners..hence the reason I have so many jobs on the go at once!) But I did lead a fun tile design session at The Geffrye Museum as part of their Stories of the World project. 
7.Meeting My Life Story
I've been living out all my 14 year old fantasies (real My So Called Life stuff). I recently met the members of My Life Story who all signed an old 7 inch sleeve for me when they reformed for the 15th anniversary of The Golden Mile Album (who were supported by Martin Rossiter from Gene). I also met Jonny, the singer of Menswear when he was djing at Nuisance (the only clubnight where proper Britpop lives on), met Marion (all members apart from Jaime Harding - that will have to keep being a fantasy!) and next week the singer of Strangelove Patrick Duff is in town. These bands probably don't mean anything to anyone apart from me, but I can assure you it is VERY exciting! 
8.Mentoring with Creatives Against Poverty
I've recently joined an organisation who mentor underprivileged school kids. It's very sad but rewarding stuff. It's hard to understand what they go through until you actually meet and spend time with young people and very sad to witness 10 year old girls bullying each other, swearing and talking about drugs : ( But on a plus side we have been bringing some magic into their lives and working with their mums to help them achieve their dreams. Here's Helen  Parker-Jayne Isibor a Nigerian singer who is the lead mentor - her dress sense is amazing!
9. Flag spotting
Ok so I haven't actually been out flag spotting but was rather amazed to discover these 'Craft is Great flags' flying over Oxford street. They actually say Craft is Great Britain....with Britain in teeny letters. Am defo loving the fact bunting is everywhere at the minute : ) 
10. Planning The Make Escape
Finally tonight sees the launch of a new craft night I'll be hosting/curating alongside the fabulous Rosie Martin. It's a chance to spread the crafty love around London (well east London anyway!). I'm keeping a separate blog for that (yep I'm now a 2 blog girl!). Check it out to find out more.

No doubt My So Called Life episode 3 will follow in a couple of months times but before that, you can keep up to date with me on Twitter for more instant gossip! 

Sunday 20 May 2012

Felted Slipper workshop at Stepney City Farm

I'm happiest when I have warm, snuggly feet. I always wear socks at home and even socks in bed! Cold feet are just not my style....so when I heard that SWCraftClub were running a competition to win a place on a felt slipper making workshop, I had my fingers, toes and current buns crossed....and it worked!!!!
Last Saturday I made my way to Stepney City Farm. London has many city farms but this was one I hadn't visited before. Upon arrival I was shocked to discover that the site was surrounded by Crossrail construction which will be a new high speed railway zipping people from East to West London. But more on that later...
Not only would we be making slippers, we got to meet the sheep whose wool we would be using.
When the sheep are first sheared the wool looks like this  - you can feel the soft lanolin in your fingers and whiff that sheepy smell!
Although it was a one day course we didn't have time to do everything - felting is time consuming enough so the wool had already been cleaned and 'carded', and was ready for use.
Our wonderful tutor Caroline started by showing us the properties of wool and even how to spin it by hand.
We then drew around each others feet - leaving a gap of a couple of inches all the way around, and then transferred it to a sheet of plastic.
By creating a template for your own feet it means that every single slipper is the perfect fit. I've dabbled in some felting before, flat, nuno, needle and bead making, but never done 3D felting. Structurally I was amazed by how it came together. We worked on both slippers at the same time.
First of all we pulled small strands of wool off the larger pieces and laid them all over the template. A second layer was applied on top, this time with the yarn placed in a horizontal position until four layers were created with alternating directions; this crosshatch structure allows the pieces to bond together.
Next we flicked warm water on top, there was no rubbing in required, the damp surface allowed the wool to stick together so the whole piece could be flipped over. The edges were then moistened and folded over so there were no strands hanging off. The process was then repeated, the whole piece flipped over again and then again, so overall there were two layers on each side consisting of four layers of wool. The final layer to be applied was the inside of the slipper which again required four layers of wool on each side. I wanted a different texture inside so I swapped to a different type of wool from a different sheep.
It ended up looking like a fluffy collar! It was a packed morning and the actual felting hadn't even begun yet but before I got covered in soap suds, I took a lunch break and explored the rest of the farm.
Stepney is a working farm that's open to the public where you can also buy plants...
...and watch chicks hatching (I so wish I could have seen some of the action but I was a bit early!)
There's a small cafe on site run by Norman Loves Soup who make fresh, wholesome vegan food. I'm not a big fan of soup (it reminds me of having my wisdom teeth out as I overdosed then) but when I saw the beetroot soap, I had to have a mug. I've heard many positive things about beetroot soup AND the colour matched my hair. Needless to say the soup, red pepper scone and chickpea & cous cous salad were delicious and costing just £5.50 it was the perfect lunch! I certainly needed the energy.
Felting works by soap and friction. Warm soapy water does the trick, just pour some washing liquid into a bowl and the foam starts appearing - friction is the tough part. There's no room for half-hearted rolling - the more vigorous the better.
Some would say felting is a good craft to release your aggression as you can stamp on and throw your work around the room. I stuck to the less physical method of rolling and turning inside a woven plastic placemat.
 I then switched to putting it inside a huge bamboo blind and gave it some more rolling...
Two hours later it was fully felted. Patience is key - as is drainage - there is water aplenty. If you ever want a craft to do in your garden, this is the one to take up!
I cut the piece in half, pulled out the plastic template and then turned each side inside out resulting in two fully formed slippers.
Only this pair were rather large. The shaping is the next stage and is possibly one of the most pleasurable crafting techniques in the world!
The slippers need to be moulded on to each foot which can only be done via foot massage so the class paired up to pamper eachother.
I was sceptical of the cold sliminess of wearing a damp, soapy sock, but there was no such problem. Receiving a 30 minute foot massage while wearing a super soft furry slipper is an amazing experience - I'm surprised more beauty salons don't adapt the technique.

Here's Zoe from SWCraft giving her partner a massage.

One slipper down and one more massage. All I had to do was sit back and relax : )
Each pair of slippers were completely unique, moulded to individual feet so that no one else could wear them. This pair belonged to another workshopper.
While this is a sample one made by our tutor Caroline who assured us that it took her many hours to felt it, until it looked and felt so soft. The slippers we made should last a lifetime and she also showed us how to repair them with extra wool if any holes appear and to dye them in natural colours by using onion skins. I had a really lovely chat with Caroline at the end too about how the slippers can change and be adapted over time like how colours and patterns can be incorporated using needle felting techniques so that they are always evolving. I love this concept and aim to do some surface decoration to mine - it sounds like the ideal ongoing 'infront of the TV' activity.

I mentioned Crossrail at the beginning of this post. Although it feels like they are interfering with the farm, plans are afoot that the farm with be redeveloped with help of Crossrail who are funding a Rural Crafts Centre which is still being built. It will support heritage craft industries and as well as offer studio space, will run regular workshops using natural craft materials like the felted slipper making. Felting on a farm is the best location I've ever made in. I enjoyed weaving in a barn a couple of years ago when I did a three month apprenticeship, but felting on a farm where you get to see the animals where the raw materials you are using comes from, is a very special experience - felting anywhere else just wouldn't have felt the same. It's a really fantastic course which ends with having a beautiful pair of bespoke slippers which would be work over £60 if they were for sale.
Before I left I got close and personal with some bees. I have never looked inside a beehive - it was a spectacular sight. Caroline is a bee expert and looks after three hives on the farm, she also assists other urban beekeepers get started.

You can visit Stepney City Farm 6 days a week from 10-4, Tuesday-Sunday. The cafe is open at the weekends and the Rural Crafts Centre will open later this summer. 
Stepney Way, London, E1 3DG.

Tuesday 15 May 2012

Collect 2012 Saatchi Gallery 11-14 May : A taste

Anna Ray's 'Knot'
I've always found it hard to differentiate between 'what is art' and 'what is craft'. Numerous curators, organisations and experts have divided opinions on the matter but 'Collect' is a craft fair that blurs the line so much, that it is impossible to claim there is a difference between the two disciplines. Collect is organised by the UK Craft Council, but unlike other events for contemporary crafts, it's an international affair where 31 galleries present work from the finest makers/designers in the world. And when I say 'finest' - I'm not exaggerating. Although there are many countries that are not present, the work that is on display is of the highest quality, and is reassuringly imaginative.
Heidi Sand
I attended the show on the first day of the four day event which was held at the Saatchi Gallery in Chelsea. Every time I step foot in Chelsea I expect to bump into characters from Made In Chelsea but sadly it's yet to happen. The event was held over three floors, the first two housed the exhibitions  and the top floor was a showcase called Project Space which I'll come back to later.
The crafts at Collect included ceramics, textiles, woodwork, metalwork...but from the moment I walked in, it was the jewellery that caught my attention. Across the entire exhibition, statement necklaces and pendants and intricate rings were a re-occuring theme. All of them so delicate and refined that they were a work of art in their own right. Photography was frowned upon by some of the galleries so unfortunately I have very limited photos which means there were many exquisite pieces that I fell in love with that I can't show you, like Melanie Georgacopoulos jaw dropping pearl collars (far more superior to the versions on her website) and Hans Stofers giant chain pendants, selling for an average of £4k each! It's times like this I wish I was a curator so I really could do some shopping!
Anna Talbot (image taken from AnnaTalbot.com)
Here are some of the items that caught my attention. I loved these giant wooden
silhouette pieces by Anna Talbot. They all had an enchanted, magical, fairytale theme and it made a change to seeing paper cuts; a craft that seems to be everywhere these days....I'm a fan, but Anna's designs showed that wood is just as effective for telling stories.
Elise Hatlo (image taken from EliseHatlo.com)
In the same gallery was the work of Elise Hatlo - both were presented by Galleri Format from Norway. What appealed to me was the way the materials in each piece seemed to be complete opposites of each other. She made ancient rock look good with modern metal detailing.
Karola Torkas
I am definately going back to The Netherlands! When I went a year ago I discovered gorgeous ceramics and homeware for sale. At Collect there were several art galleries from the region exhibiting and I felt that overall, they were the most exciting to explore. This range by Karola Torkas part of Gallerie Marzee was the kind of necklace display I aspire to owning...one day when I get a walk in wardrobe, I will hang my jewels in this manner!
Here's one of the pieces as a close up, which I got from the galleries website.
Maud Traon (image MaudTraon.net)
I discovered Maud at the Lesley Craze Gallery and was immediately drawn in by the shimmery, fantasy theme of her rings. I liked the way her work was so playful, yet not tacky. Despite their bright candy colours which seem more like what you find in hobby crafts rather than professional craft, her portfolio maintained the high standard of work found across the exhibition.
Dana Hakim (image DanaHakim.com)
Finally, I know, this isn't my usual style (I'm a magnet for colour) but there was something very appealing about this obscure neckpiece by Dana Hakim that reminded me of a gasmark that I just really liked! There were so many beautiful pieces, so much nicer than the usual pieces you find at craft fairs. My worst jewellery nightmare would be have to have to wear a diamond from Tiffany's.....I would so much rather indulge in a handcrafted art piece. But will have to keep dreaming for now!
Cup by Anna Ray (2004)

Back to Project Space. This is where 10 designers are given free reign to create an experimental installation for the exhibition. Every one of them was extraordinary but the two which caught my attention (and I had a chance to speak to the designers) were Anna Ray's Knots (the image at the beginning of this post) and Crook & Jones rather spectacular living chair, pictured below. Knots was a massive wall of individual pieces that Anna described as Jemima from Play School's legs. Each time they are displayed they can be knotted in different ways so the overall shape of the exhibition can change. It looked like a giant rug but surprisingly each piece (which Anna allowed people to touch) felt very soft and delicate. It was an amazing piece but made even more interesting when Anna revealed they were initially inspired by the underwires found in bra. I've never seen one before until she showed me an image. You can compare here. Who knew bra underwires had coloured tips?
The Rhizome Chair
This rather fantabulous chair caught my eye immediately as it was alive is many ways! Not only was there a plant and some potatoes growing on it, there were lights and visuals. I went back to look at it three times because I was so stunned by it and on the third time was lucky enough to meet one of its creators. 
Dr Geoff Crook from Crook & Jones
Speaking to Geoff was very inspiring. he showed me some of the other designs he's worked on, all which take furniture beyond its usual boundaries. The chair is made up of pods that all change organically. One of them, is a glowing amber jewel, but on close inspection, it's also projecting a video of the chair being made, and at the very top pod is a potato clock. It was visually very beautiful but when you spent time investigating it, you realised there were so many details and aspects to it....it certainly makes you think before you sit.
Chrome Yellow Books (image from Craft Council website)
To end my highlights, I want to mention the pop-up bookshop by Chrome Yellow Books. Just like the Collect brings together the best designers, CYB brought together the finest craft books.You know when you visit galleries and they sell unique books that you've never seen anywhere else? Well CYB have managed to find these rare gems, and sell them at events.  As someone who is mad about statement jewellery I was very pleased to discover this book:
Book want 1
Lisa Walker (image from LisaWalker.de)
Each piece was fun, quirky and (heavy looking!). I like the way knitted fingers puppets have been given a new use, (and hey wearing it is probably as warm as snuggling up in a scarf!) My absolute favourite piece in the book was a 1980s turquoise clam shell laptop necklace as it's the exact laptop I have! Great work Lisa!
Book want 2

This paper jewellery book was another personal fave as it was nice to see paper used in such creative ways.

Sadly we'll have to wait another year until Collect comes back but when it does, I'll be first in the queue to see what delights will be on offer for 2013.

Collect 2012: The International Fair for Contemporary Objects took place at The Saatchi Gallery in London 11-14 May. For more information about it visit The Craft Council website.