Wednesday, 27 May 2015

There is always an outfit that will fit a misfit

It's been a while, I must admit it. There are still lots of posts that I could have published that just needed that little "tweaking". There are lots of new things that I have been up to that I might have wanted to share. Etcetera etcetera . Somehow did not do it.
Yes I have had trouble with my now almost defunct laptop, yes the light hasn't been brilliant to take satisfactory pictures, yes I have been busy trying to make things, learning new techniques and as usual riddled with doubts about the usefulness of all this. Of course other billions excuses come to my mind.
In January, while I was going through coping with a bit of a setback that I had encountered, I came across a "reader challenge" in the Cloth Paper and Scissor Magazine, (Check out the link as there are lots of interesting free e-books and tips)
It was appealing even though the deadline seemed to be too close for my liking. Yet I thought I could give it a try and at the very least use it as an inspiration to do some work.  After the deadline was passed and I (obviously) hadn't finished the piece, an email come through to announce that the deadline for that particular challenge had been extended, which caused me to frantically resume the work trying to meet the new one. In a very typical "Maria's scenario" I ended up sending some digital file at midnight of the due date from I don't really know which device, source, provider and the like. Did not get an acknowledgement receipt and still don't know if they actually received my entry. The piece though,came out quite nicely, I think. Probably not exactly what i wanted it to be. But it had given me permission for playing: with words, with paper, with colours and with ideas.
Lots of things with no practical outcome, things I perceive as a luxury that I can hardly afford right now. It cheers me up though, especially these days when spring plays hide and seek and one day promises what the next day cannot deliver.
It was about wearable art, which is one topic I really care about and also afforded me the chance to make some doll-like construction, which I had been fancying for a while
So I decided to make it about fitting, both in a sartorial sort of way and in a broader, more social one or even personal, if you like.

The planning process started within a sketchbook:
While the work could be tridimensional had to be fairly small :8"-10"(22-27cm) max, be able to fit in a flat-rate box or envelope and weigh less than a pound

Therefore "padded" flat  (bas- relief?) seemed to me to be the best choice.
It had to contain some stitching but also some paper among the materials used including the base, so it seemed like a wonderful occasion to use up all those lovely bits of paper collected (ahem...) over the years and/or  left over from other projects.

Hand embroidery for the face looked like a must

Then the actual outfit, made up of tissue paper from colorful napkins that I hadn't been able to part with, was added to a background of handmade lokta paper

there was also a little play with lettering 

Auditioning  fonts'styles and page layouts in the attempt to find the best way to present the final collage

This is  a detail showing the padded, papier mache like texture plus added lace, organza sleeves and some machine stitching. 
The final result you can see at the top of the page and it does cheer me up: the bottom line is that no matter how you fit or don't into a set scheme of things, you can always turn things around or at least try!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

November 2nd : It had to be the casket

Backlog is a state of mind. There are so many things left unfinished, unattended, temporarily put aside that they start filling your life space and the feeling seeps through your daily activity, to the point that sometimes it paralyses you.
This post is one of those things. It has been brewing for a long while and it is very appropriate that it is being published today, as it is about death, and life of course.
Mine though, is supposed to be a material blog about tangible things. The object in question is a casket:

Mixed media fantasy "Buddhist" reliquary, photo courtesy Dudley Hubbard
Tonight though I just want to share the image of the casket. I will tell the story behind it (and the details of its making) in other following posts...

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Let's do it for the kids: the Adinkra symbols project

This is the second post in the series about the arts and crafts workshops for children that I ran almost two years ago with the African Cultural Association, Barnet.
As usual the brief was to encourage children and young people from 7 to 18 to learn and use textile craft techniques to make something, possibly with links to African history and culture.

A series of coasters embroidered in long stitch on canvas with Adinkra symbols, bound with African fabrics.

As a great fan and lover of embroidery, something involving embroidery was for me naturally on the agenda from the start. Running a workshop on a drop-in basis carries the risk of not knowing in advance the average ability/knowledge of your  audience, in which case it is safer to assume none.
Activities based on sewing, had previously had a mixed reception: some children loved the challenge, some didn't. The apparent or real complexity of some of the embroidery stitches and styles can be off-putting, especially for children, who are generally looking for quick results that offer satisfaction and a sense of achievement and self-affirmation.
Long stitch kits are usually popular with children as they offer the possibility to quickly fill a simple design with an uncomplicated stitch in order to decorate small items that have a practical use as well. Things like a picture frame, a book cover and so on.

Bookmark Long stitch kit embroidered in wool on canvas
The idea then came to my mind to research some Adinkra symbols that could be adapted, translated and embroidered in long stitches. Adinkra are a series of visual symbols that originated in Ghana (or the neighbouring Ivory Coast) among the Asanti people and are used on hand crafted items, especially on cloth, to convey certain concepts.
A quick useful resource can be found on  this link but, a good and more substantial starting point can also be found here
Welcome to Adire African Textiles gallery
I decided to choose some symbols that I thought would be both appealing to children for their meaning and simple to reproduce:
Here are some of the initial sketches and drawings...

The next step consisted in translating the symbols into long stitch patterns that could be embroidered

Translating symbols into long stitch patterns

Three symbols seemed to be fit for purpose for more than one reason (simplicity of execution, concept appeal etc) : one of them was 'royalty', the other was 'peace' and the other was ' good fortune'. I auditioned beforehand the feasibility of the symbols with my audience and was greatly guided by their choices.

The other steps consisted in preparing the canvas, by drawing the design on it and colouring it in to facilitate the execution, a bit like some 'tapestry' (needlepoint) kits that come ready painted with the colours of the threads.                                                                                                                                

One of the coasters embroidered in long stitch on canvas with the "royalty" symbol

The home-made "kits" proved very popular with the children, and some of them not only mastered the long stitch, but also worked out their own version. The resources used were minimal: recycled wool yarn (from my stash!), permanent markers, needles, of course, and scraps of African fabrics. The only relatively expensive item being the 10 holes x inch canvas, which though, yielded quite a few "squares." While we decided to bind the embroidered squares and make them into coasters, they might have been just as easily turned into something else (a book cover, a mini wall hanging etc.).

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

To Iran and back via Wembley part III, the Grand Finale

The time has come to draw a conclusion on this rather rambling multi-instalment post about the tale of my first trip to Iran, and perhaps try to explain what's Wembley got to do with it all.

ready made kamiz from a Wembley shop
My quest for wearable items (clothes that I could wear feeling comfortable both on a personal and on a cultural level) led me to bump right into the multicultural nature and history of London as well as my own: the material I bought from an Indian fabric shop in Wembley to make myself some kind of dress, was wrapped in a newspaper that was the Indian version of a British one and the article printed on it was about ...Italian politics!...

I have started this post talking about the curtains that I was re-purposing  to "set up a studio in my kitchen", which came from the Ikea store in Wembley.

Yes, Wembley isn't  just a place full of ethnic shops (fabric or otherwise); it's home to one of the biggest and strongest global brands there are in this contemporary world: IKEA, and when I say home I mean HOME, yes, to many of us, IKEA means HOME and to many of us home is synonymous with FAMILY.

So armed with my 'provisional clothes' and my 'janamaz' off I went to meet my Iranian family, in particular those members who didn't live in Teheran, but in the Mozandaran region, on the shores of the Caspian Sea
The first of many 'receptions' that were given in our honour in Iran

Some members of the family accompanied us all the way from Tehran to Amol

A view of the Mount Damavand on the way to Amol

A young girl proudly advertising the thriving salmon farming business of the Caspian Sea area
lots of young relatives in a portrait taken in the village of  Gazane, where the family originates

Amongst the presents I was given, as the newly met "bride" at some kind of belated "wedding reception" was a lovely pair of golden filigree earrings which had been specially commissioned by my mother in law to welcome me into the 'family' after nearly twenty tears

I probably have already mentioned how I (and I suspect many of us) have very mixed feelings about  Ikea. I feel that Ikea is a mirror of the way we live : a rich minority of the world starts something small but powerful, which then expands into something bigger and leads inevitably to exploitation of some kind and we all play this game both as victims and perpetrators.
Ikea is appealing: the furniture is flat packed, but of supposed quality. Clean cut, no (much) frills, modernist/ modern,  kind of ecological.  It signifies democratic design: how many of you remember the V&A exhibition of a few years ago (actually it was 1997, how time flies!) about Carl and Karin Larsson the creators of the so called   'Swedish style'?
It was sponsored by IKEA and explicitly tried to link Swedish modernist style with the IKEA brand and ideology.
Yes, there are doubts about the credentials of its founder (suspected of Nazi sympathies by some); yes, we don't know whether somewhere along the line they employ child labour despite their claims that they don't, we are not quite sure about the concept and the products themselves and so on... and yet Ikea means home but a 'new kind of home,' a free one, one steeped in modernist, liberal, Nordic style, social democratic ideology. A caring, yet liberal home, where the kids are free to roam just as they are in the shop, where unlike Victorian British children they can be heard and seen's modern: it's Britain leaves the Victorians and meets Europe along with Morris and (mind you, to a point, you get what you pay for, as they say...), it means that you can dream of starting a home, a family, or even an affordable life as a single person, but part of a bigger community

But Iran was different...
No much need for flat pack (or indeed any) furniture, sleeping on gorgeous carpets as a treat, on the roof of one of the house we went to visit in Amol
The nomadic spirit is ever present and you can feel it in the air, in the readiness to set up a table or a bed almost anywhere, more often than not with stylish implements that seem to materialize out of thin air...

Yet the hunger for modernity, and/or westernization is ever present in such an ancient yet very young country (due to the prevalence of young people in relation to the overall size of the population)
Here is a picture of my family and I with another young relative in a supermarket he owns in Amol
The check out area decorated with old Persian imagery
Above is another example of how they are always trying to re-invent themselves and their identities, by picking and choosing bits of their past
And these are two other  favourite pictures of mine featuring again a traditional style setting, where political and historical icons are placed alongside pictures of  family members often "photoshopped": highlighting crucial moments of their lifes, such as marriages or pilgrimages/trips or just  showing random bits,  taken in one of those "country houses" where they go back to their roots and relax

I am not always abreast of what happens in the international markets, and how these things work in "real life" therefore was a bit puzzled by how 'real' coke could be found in Iran notwithstanding the sanctions and had not a clue whether IKEA was allowed there.
So I was a bit surprised, when some other young relatives who came to greet us good-by at the airport, brought us some more presents carried in bags from ...guess where?...