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?...

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Let's do it for the kids : 1) Stick & stitch: the gadget holder project

Last year I got involved in a project organised by the African Cultural Association, Barnet: The Youth Multicultural Textiles Arts & Crafts Workshops. It consisted of a series of drop-in workshops aimed at children from 7 to 18 (quite a range!) and mainly based in the borough's libraries.

The task proved both exhausting and rewarding but definitely an experience worth remembering and sharing:
It can give some ideas on 'crafty' things to do/make with children and how to plan any of such activities with them.
The first project I want to talk about is the gadget holder (ideal as a mobile case or i-pod or even a pair of spectacles), which is basically a rectangular shaped container that can be hung around the neck.

The general brief for the project was to include some kind of textile craft form either traditional or contemporary, drawing on a multicultural context but possibly including some African connection or theme. Obviously there had to be a practical outcome, in terms of artefacts but possibly also in terms of learning (a new skill, technique, etc.)
The idea for this particular workshop came about because I could include fabric (for the textile bit) paint (as some of the children had previously requested something involving a painting activity of some sort) and could accommodate both the needs of children who could sew (and were itching to do so) and children who couldn't or wouldn't, mainly the younger ones, but not necessarily.

It had to be a fairly simple activity as the workshops were becoming increasingly popular and lots of children of different ages would turn up making close supervision a bit more difficult.
Just as some of the children were intimidated by the use of the needle, some of the others were  nervous at the idea of using paints and brushes. To make the project easy to execute I came up with the idea of using masking tape to make a neatly painted background without too much effort and scope for things to go wrong (the idea developed from one the techniques used with Markal Paint sticks, even though in that case you paint over the masking tape and spread it with a toothbrush).

 We used primary acrylic colours which even if mixed to become a bit murky would go well with the bits and pieces of the African fabrics that would be added later for further decoration. Each child decided on the design and on the measures and shape of the case.
 The choice for the main fabric had to be calico: it's strong, doesn't fray  much, it's easy to sew through and reacts well to both paint and glue. So once the off-white calico had been decorated with paint, the rectangles could be folded and there was a choice whether to glue the hems or sew them.

Sewing or gluing the seams was also pretty straightforward, with those wanting to sew getting excited and those not wanting to, enjoying the quick and equally
Laying the masking tape
sturdy results given by the gluing method.

 Pieces of African fabric and/or coloured buttons were added, either by gluing or sewing using simple stranded embroidery cotton and the purses were finished off with the addition of a cord (the sides were pierced with an owl and the cord was knotted in place) to allow them to hung from the neck.

 Whoever had time and wanted to could add further decoration with thread and beads

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

To Iran and Back via Wembley Part II: The Janamaz

I have noticed that it is quite a while since my last post.
I haven't been idle: very shortly there should be posts about both recent and past things as well as the outcomes of my  textile/jewellery efforts and experiments of late. But as I don't like to leave things unfinished either, let's try and post the remaining planned ''instalments''of my journey(s) to Iran saga. This is also meant as a little tribute to my mother in law who passed away last summer before we could meet her for a second time.
Mother in Law Khanum Masoumeh with  grand-daughters Sara and Maryam

So here we are:

The time has now come to continue with the tale of my (first) trip to Iran. Unfortunately, I had overestimated both my skills (or speed rather) in dressmaking and my ability to follow the English advice to 'keep calm and carry on', behaving instead according to my much more emotional mediterranian roots. In other words I panicked, which is never conducive to finishing projects. The tunic was eventually finished but much later.

It is worth saying that it wouldn't be of  much use to me  in Iran, because it turned out to be 'unsuitable':
Iranian ladies know how to dress very smartly and sexy either, by playing with the rules of the current dress-code, (how you might have been able to glimpse from my previous Iranian post).  I was, and still am, quite illiterate in that respect. It had short sleeves (not allowed) the neckline fell on the wrong place, too short in one way and too long in another...
Therefore there were still my clothes (and Sara's) to think about and get hold of, the hijab (scarves and  implements to help wearing them), the suitcases, the presents, ordinary life and engagements, and most importantly my 'other project':  the embroidered Janamaz for my mother in law!

The first janamaz that was sent to Sara as a present

Another janamaz that we brought back from Iran with the mehr and tasbeh

Few years ago she had sent what I was told was a 'janamaz', as a present for Sara:

The term is a bit misleading, because a janamaz is actually a portable prayer mat, that follows a very specific design:

but the word's meaning  has been extended to include the 'kit' that goes with it, the prayer stone (mehr), the rosary (tasbeh) and the little case where you carry the stone.
So an idea had clicked then in my mind that I wanted to give her one of these little wrappings specifically designed and made for her.
Something that would link who I was to who she was, and help us connect through a universal language: that of feminine labour, colour, design, hopes, aspirations and beliefs. And one that obviously carries the unspoken words of longing, separation, love and loss and our attempt to 'mend' these conditions.

Embroidery on canvas mounted onto batik fabric

the back of the janamaz showing the hand-stamped pocket to carry the prayer stone,
These pictures were taken in Teheran, the day before meeting her in Amol and  present her with it. I didn't have the time to take them in London, the ''thing'' was finished on the morning before the flight. The embroidery was a design on canvas that evolved from a basic pattern taken from the book 'Canvas Embroidery' by Peggy Field and June Linsley (London, 1990), a book I came across while doing my City and Guilds, and which is one of the best embroidery books in my possession. I had already used the pattern in similar colours to make a needlecase and I adapted it once more to make the 'janamaz'.
The canvas was attached to a backing made out of a cotton batik fabric to which the pocket was applied. The pocket fabric had been hand painted and over stamped by me using little wooden Indian blocks.

To be continued...

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Here we Gau (a) gain

Here is some (mainly) textile jewellery I have been working on and should hopefully be on some of the on line market places pretty soon.

Faithful (yes, I can be) to my promise to be shorter and sweeter (as a blogger I mean) and more to the point, this is a very short, predominantly visual, post

This jewellery is co-inspired by Gauguin.

By co-inspired I mean that I started to make it a little bit at a time, and that includes the design process and the choice of  the colours and the materials, changing and developing them as I went along, which is my favourite method of creation. I had the urge to use certain colours specially, probably to try and counteract the excess of wintriness I was experiencing, and by that I don't mean the cold. I am not too bothered by the cold these days.
Only then I realized that those colours, shapes and the overall feeling of the almost completed items, reminded me of some of Gauguin's paintings and imagery

Necklace made of crocheted flowers  and hand rolled fabric beads

The necklace above is made of fabric beads interspersed with acrylic and glass beads featuring a slightly asymmetrical crocheted flower centrepiece topped with a semiprecious stone.  The earrings are made of the same crochet flower motif and stone.

Curiously enough the other neckpiece (something in between a necklace and a collar) too, is extremely redolent of some of Gauguin's paintings, even though the colour spectrum is quite different from the other one:

gauguin.swineherd.jpg (1044×818)

This is made of inlaid handmade felt, decorated with surface and bead embroidery and finished off with a crocheted border and a kumihimo style braid

The bottom line is that if this winter doesn't end soon (or soon enough), and the light doesn't return to the amount needed for life to be bearable, if not enjoyable, there are bound to be lots more of these, which, some may argue I hope, may not be such a bad thing after all