Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Flower Entropy

I haven't been idle, a bit confused yes, but still in activity!

There are so many 'old things' I want to post about, but life goes on quickly and makes it difficult to catch up!

There has also been  an event I will post about shortly (Black History Day held at Hendon Library within Black History Month, with the African Cultural Association).

Meanwhile, I have been experimenting with a design that I want to use on a series of garment and accessories and have been wondering how best translate it.

The starting point is some ink experiment for a design exercise with 'line' that I did some time ago.  I like the end result though, the colours and the flowing line.
Inkjet print of a coloured ink experiment about 'line'on paper

I have noticed, though, that I tend, or the design tends, or both of us do, to turn the abstract into something flowery.

It looks like there is a' flower entropy' within my work.

I have previously made conscious attempts to go the other way, i.e, from flowers to abstracts, but whether these have been successful or not, I have realised that there is definitely a connection between the two.
Watercolour on WC paper, flowers into abstract 


Detail as above
This is probably partly due to the nature of the medium involved: whereas watercolour tends by its very nature toward dissolution and detachment from materiality, another experiment, that goes back to many many years ago, shows how the connection is still there but in a more material way (the medium was mainly oil paint and pastels on a pastel paper background)

I had pondered in fact, whether to translate the design into a counted thread technique, that would best show the transition between the floral and the abstract line elements, but in the end I decided to use free-style  hand embroidery.
So, with hand stitches, thick thread, the use of the circular frame and the addition of some applied organzas, I have steered towards flowery materiality again, leaving the linear behind!

Linear design evolving into flowers with various stitches (including running, chain, feather, whipped running, short and long blanket stitch, stem,) being worked in an embroidery hoop on a calico base painted with Markal paint sticks 


Anyhow this is why I have decided to call this series Flower Entropy, which is probably what my garments and accessories bearing this embroidery will be called
The design showing its evolution and the addition of coloured organzas applied with isolated cross stitches



Thursday, 13 October 2011

My Quick version of Thick Iranian Vegetable and Noodle Soup (ash- e reshteh)

I promised that I would post some recipes of my 'pasticci culinari' that I was keen on, and here we are, the first one.

The first reason for this is that it is very very good: good for you as well as delicious.
This is called ash-e-reshteh, meaning noodle soup in persian.  It is a hearty soup that you may not want to eat all the time but it's very comforting especially when the weather gets a bit chilly.

The second is because I am quite proud that it seemed to me unconquerable and now not only can I make it, but also came up with my own version. I don't know if it would pass the scrutiny of a 'proper Persian Cook', but my Persian husband likes it and it doesn't taste that different from the one that I have tried at Iranian restaurants, or more recently, in Iran.

The third reason is that I really need to record the recipe and method before I forget, so that I will be able to do it again without being confused as to what steps to follow. The quantities are enough to feed 4 reasonably hungry people as a main course and there may be some left over.

Ingredients :
Sabzi : herbs and vegetables, in this instance, spring onions, dill, fresh or frozen (I tend to bulk buy dill, freeze it and use it when needed, and once frozen it is also easy and convenient to chop), parsley, coriander, chives if you have them, spinach, I also like to add some leeks, one or two, again if any of these are frozen, or dried, it's fine too.
They should be about one or two bunches (market size or supermarket packets) of each depending on taste and preference
One onion, garlic
Dried mint and/or dried Ashe (soup) herb mix from Iranian grocery shops (again this is not absolutely essential as it is basically the dried version of what we are already using) but it gives  the dish more flavour.

Pulses/ Beans:
Red Kidney Beans (one can or equivalent)
Chick peas (one can or equivalent or less if using the bean mix as well)
Lentils (Green/brown variety), freshly cooked or canned, some
One packet of ready cooked bean mix (possibly the Epicure brand 'Mediterranean' variety) as it contains broad beans and chick peas that are both called for in the recipe)
Black pepper, freshly ground
Turmeric powder, one teaspoon

Kashk (salty whey product, that comes in a jar, from Iranian grocery shops or in a dried, powdered form), this can be omitted, if not found or liked but I absolutely love it. Some people substitute it with yogurt, but the taste is more similar to some salty strong sheep cheese except it is like a thin curd like paste.

Reshteh or Persian Noodles (you can substitute them with dry pasta or some kind of other wheat noodles)

If you are using any fresh beans/pulses soak and or cook them beforehand. I normally only do it for lentils, which are the easiest to cook and do not require soaking nor much planning ahead. Chop and brown the onion in a little oil or butter or a mixture of the two.

Take the sabzi, and roughly chop them up and add to the pan.
Next add salt, pepper and turmeric, transfer everything into a medium/ large sized pot and put everything to the boil with 6cups of water approximately. Let it cook for a while (30-45 min ca).

Now the cheating bit:
Add some ready cooked/ canned pulses, such as red-kidney beans, lentils and a packet of mediterranean mix of pulses or another mix,trying to include something with fava (broad) beans and optionally navy beans

Let it cook for another while, adding some more oil, if needed, adjusting the seasoning, adding may be some more dried herbs, or sauteed garlic and mint, and as the last step the Reshte or Persian Noodles. These should be cooked  for about 15 minutes, as they don't need to be 'al dente' and the whole soup has to become quite thick and not much watery. I also add the kashk at this time and then bring some more on the table to be added at will. Sometimes people (or even I, when can be bothered) add some garnish made of thinly sliced fried onion with garlic and mint on top.
And I don't feel adding any more comments really, after all, in Italy we say that when you eat you are not supposed to talk (I must say though, that I have never witnessed this piece of advice being followed!) and in Southern Italy also that when you eat you are fighting with death.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

To Iran and Back via Wembley Part I

I know I never said this was going to be a travel blog, but travel I did, and the journey is still so present in my mind, that I cannot escape talking about it. I did say though, that this is a visual journey.

Indeed, after explaining the title of my blog, I wanted to tell a bit about the story behind the panel I used to set up my little working corner in the kitchen, optimistically rather than grandiosely, dubbed 'studio'.

It started life as my daughter's bedroom curtain, cheap and cheerful, bought just after the era of pure baby cutesy and before that of the pre-teen and teen fanciness.
Very good quality cotton and good finishing too.
Did I want to get rid of it just because it had overgrown my daughter's taste? Not really.
The 'fruity' pattern blends well in a kitchen set. It was made in Bangladesh I learned from the label, even though the design most probably originated in Sweden as it was bought in Ikea at their Wembley store.

Ready to be transformed into a panel with pockets with minimal intervention, it was a wonderful occasion to allay concerns about disposing too easily of a piece of textile that had already undergone quite a lot, one of those global objects that you cannot stop interrogating yourself about how many people have been affected by its making and in what ways.
Not to mention the wonderful feeling of not needing money to buy something because you are actually able to make it.

So far so good, not a big story, only one typical of so many textiles through the centuries, with design, manufacture, trade, and of course, consumption, going in all (sometimes unexpected) directions.

But then Iran took over, a journey attempted for years, with the plans always falling through at the last minute for one reason or another.  The return of my husband to his homeland after twenty two years of absence, the much anticipated meeting of his family with me and our daughter for the first time. A trip so emotionally charged that we could be forgiven for not organizing it properly, or at least this is my excuse.

Two questions above all occupied my mind over the weeks leading up to it. What to bring as presents and what Sara and I should wear in Iran?
After months of asking for advice everywhere and scouring the web too, we still weren't sure at all, and my husband, as they do, didn't have a clue (or if he did he managed to keep it well hidden).
So, I decided to make myself something between a kaftan and a kamiz, as in a Punjabi suit, to go with and then we would buy something according to the local fashion, once arrived.

And here Wembley comes into this other story too, for the first time:

After finding an address for a good Indian fabric shop on the Ealing Road off I went to buy the material.

For another little twist of fate, the three pieces of coordinated fabric were padded with a piece of newspaper folded inside, The Times of India, reproducing an article from the English ' Independent' about the Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi and why he should resign (and that was 2008!)  Could not stop laughing! It would be nice to show you the photos here if some evil influence hadn't obviously managed to make them disappear from my drive!

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Klimt inspired embroidery: stitching up 'The Bride'?

While I am working on some post about recent things, thought it would be nice to show and share some mixed media/ hand-embroidery work that I did some time ago and for which I was visually inspired by Gustav Klimt's unfinished picture 'The Bride'.

Watercolour pencils on wc paper, gold leaf, acrylic wax, markal oil stick, applied sequins, lace, mesh, reclaimed sari thread, sari scrap fabric, fibres, couched gimp, rayon and silk thread, tyvek painted and ironed on rubber stamp, puff paint, stitch (french knot, couching, running, chain, long) mounted on a green hand-made paper background

The process that I followed is pretty simple and more 'design' based than my work usually is.
Gustav Klimt is one of my favourite painters, so it was almost a natural choice while I was looking for something that I could reproduce on paper, mixed media and stitch.

Gustav Klimt The Bride
I went through some of Klimt's paintings and was particularly attracted by the Bride.
There were some other floral patterns that I was considering from another painting, which funnily enough belongs to the same period: The Virgin.

Auditioning imagery and details on brown paper

But in the end The Bride won.

I suppose that what drew me to it was the pattern, besides its 'unfinished' status, which lent it an air of mystery and seemed to leave a little unexplored corner for somebody to go in and partake of it.
So I started by isolating the design elements that struck me most and that could be better reproduced according to my media of choice.
There were basically two choices: the floral pattern decorating the trousers at the bottom of the left unfinished side and the unfinished dreamy figure at the top:
I considered both:

In the end I went for the dreamy figure part, which would still feature some flowery patterns

I made a sketch with a simplified design and highlighted the details that could be rendered in my chosen media. I then went back to my experiments with the materials, which eventually I recorded in one of my sketchbooks.
Pages of sketchbook showing a scan of the finished embroidery and opposite some tyvek experiment: painted with Dye n'flow on both sides (Green Yellow and Purple) + ironed onto a rubber stamp mat.  Stuck with Copydex glue

Experiments for rendering imaginary flowers

Another example of imaginary flower in tyvek, heated with the heat gun

Detail of an imaginary flower pattern in tyvek, painted, rubber stamped and pressed under the iron

And this is the end result in more detail: