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Welcome to the official blog of Writer & Crafts Expert Momtaz Begum-Hossain.






Wednesday, 18 June 2014

The Make Escape on telly

Last month the craft night I run in London, The Make Escape, celebrated its 2nd birthday. That's two years of incredible, fun and free craft events I've organised - I can't believe it! I'm so proud of what everyone involved has achieved. It's hard work but always so worth it seeing happy people making stuff. 
TV channel London Live came along to our birthday and made a short film about it. Watch it here to see what we get up to. 




Wednesday, 11 June 2014

My DIY Brit-Bangla Dress

One of the things I was most excited about when I visited Bangladesh in December was going to the fabric stores and I'm pleased to say they didn't disappoint. I discovered vividly coloured, bold cotton prints, the type that are no where to be found in the UK. 
The first project I've made with my fabric so far is this tunic style dress.
I also added some sleeves using pink satin that I picked up in Khushboo Textiles in Birmingham. 
I used the same fabric to create pleats in the dress to give it a more interesting shape.
The fabric was actually 'suit fabric' - a lot of Asian fashion fabrics are sold this way. You get a large rectangle of fabric with the collar shape and you cut and style it to your own preference. It also comes with material to make trousers and a separate piece for a scarf - but I've saved both of those for other projects. In fact the scarf is so pretty it actually looks more like a table runner so I'm going to use is as 'interiors fabric' instead.
Choosing which fabrics to buy was the difficult part. I was travelling with a backpack so had to keep my purchases to a minimum.
Unfortunately I'm not sure where these photos were taken, I was on a rickshaw and all of a sudden we turned onto a street lined with fabric markets and shops so I got off and explored them. It was in walking distance of the Armenian Church, near a bridge - hopefully that's enough description to help find it if you too happen to be in Dhaka and love fabric.

My new dress is a pleasure to wear, in fact I am wearing it now as I write this. I'm very proud of it, it's the most 'Asian' item of clothing I currently own but I've given it my own British twist with the shaping - best of all it's great to know no one else in the whole world has my dress! 

The other thing that makes this dress special is the fact that while I was sewing it I had a major sewing accident: I sewed through one of my nails on the sewing machine and I can confirm it was more than a ouch. My finger was out of action for four weeks - it's now got a falsie on it and is my reminder of the perils of being a seamstress. 

Friday, 16 May 2014

Ethical Handmade Clothing In London By Heba

Everyone in this picture is wearing a jacket that was handmade in London, in a sewing room in Brick Lane. What's more, on the label of every jacket you can find out the name of the seamstress who made it and they are priced fairly to reflect this.
I recently took part is a discussion about ethical fashion on the radio to mark the one year anniversary of the Rana Plaza Factory disaster in Dhaka, Bangladesh. The question they were asking was are we shopping more ethically now?


Heba don't just made jackets they make all kinds of clothes including capes!
'Ethical' has many meanings but one of the questions that commonly arises is do you know how the garment you are wearing was made - was it made in a factory where workers work in unacceptable conditions and are badly paid? When clothes have labels inside that say what country they are made in, we really never know the exact circumstances they were made in....but at Heba it's different. 
This cape cost £20 it was love at first sight so I bought it immediately! Makes me feel very ladylike

Heba is a women's sewing enterprise, collective, co-operative and training facility for women from diverse multicultural backgrounds. Based in Brick Lane, East London, women can come here to learn English, IT and sewing skills, which they can then use for enterprise. 
Some of the women who use the training facility go on to make clothes to sell - some are private commissions and others are sold on a special Heba stall at Spitalfields Market every Sunday morning. (currently based in between Lola's Cupcakes, Benefit and Giraffe.)
Buying an item from their stall means you know exactly who your money is going to, who made the item and where it was made - in fact the money goes back into keeping Heba running.
One jacket two fashionistas
The project is instrumental in giving the women who attend skills, independence and confidence - they also get to show off their creativity in a safe environment (there's even a creche facility on site so while they are learning their kids are looked after.)
So why am I modelling some their creations with a group of other women? Well Heba need help! Although there are other handmade clothes stalls at Spitalfields they are also up against mass-made cheap clothing. So they decided it was time to do some promotion starting with a photoshoot of all the lady's hard work.
I got involved because I attend sewing classes at Heba on Saturday mornings and all the girls in the photo are involved with Heba in some way too.
On the Heba stall the stock changes regularly. They work on seasonal collections bit most excitingly take made-to-measure bespoke commissions too. So next time you are in Spitalfields on a Sunday check out the stall and see what they have been up OR if you've ever wanted to get something made just for you, an original one off that's made-to-measure OR need help with creating your own products for your own business or needs (the women provide sewing services) be sure to speak with them and then book them so that they can continue such an admirable organisation. 

Heba Women's Project is based at 164 Brick Lane and their stall is Sundays at Spitalfields Market.
If you are a woman who wants to learn to sew or make their own clothes they also run sewing classes that anyone can attend. Be sure to them them out!

Friday, 2 May 2014

The Asian Awards 2014

With the Asiana Magazine girlies & Nina Wadia
When it comes to award titles, this is about as broad as it gets.
But what does it actually mean and is there any point to it? Are there any points to awards  when quite frankly there are so many awards where results are 'fixed' or worse still, the winner 'pays' to win.....? 

The awards underway
The Asian Awards took place at The Grosvenor House Hotel in London's Park Lane which is considered the quintessential Asian venue - British Asians (of the South Asian variety at least) are obsessed with this hotel, it's considered the ultimate place to have an event or wedding, because it's on Park Lane. I have to admit apart from its well organised cloakroom I've never understood the fascination with the building or Park Lane. London is home to some much more impressive five star hotels and as for Park Lane, it's such an ugly road and so difficult to cross.

My table - if you look closely you can see Gok Wan on the table in front
Now in its the 4th year the purpose of the awards is to 'recognise exceptional success in business, culture, sport and public life'...from Asia as a whole. Which translate as a night out for rich, wealthy types where some of them take home a piece of acrylic with their name inscribed on it for their mantlepieces.

Starters was either fish or a giant puri
As well as handing out awards to the great and the good, the organisers also launched the Asian Awards Top 100 which is basically like a rich list. To be honest I found that part soooo dull. Ok it's nice for such people to get recognised but near enough everyone in that list is so well-known already that there is absolutely no point to being given a book with their name. It basically lists every countries Prime Minister, richest business leader and most famous celebrity....I mean that stuff is general knowledge.

The awards themselves were a disappointment on the grounds so few receivers were there in person to pick up their prizes - a video conference of Jackie Chan is one thing but video messages from 1/2 the recipients is embarrassing as was the entertainment. They wheeled out Preeya Khalidas (ex Eastenders actress who also does musicals) who sung her 'flop' single which was released several years ago). Seriously, how can that be the best they could do?


It's so sad that the people honoured at the awards have achieved so much yet generally they get missed off mainstream  ward lists and that's the main reason why yes it is important that there is an 'Asian Awards' but I can't help feeling they are too exclusive. 


With TV presenter Tasmin Lucia-Khan

Lots of successful, wealthy people in a room, celebrating eachother's success is one thing but that doesn't make them role models. They become role models when they go into schools and inspire people - show the younger generations that they can achieve their goals and dreams by working hard.


My favourite outfit of the night - her mum designed it!
Just to get glammed up at an event sponsored by luxury brands whilst raising a bit of money with a charity auction isn't enough.

Instead of wasting resources creating pointless 'top 100 lists' I think the organisers should spend the rest of the year celebrating the success of the winners by arranging for them to have better public profiles - getting them to talk at community events, going to school sports days and assemblies across the country, that's when these people are actually at their most useful. That's my view anyway. Doubt I'll get another ticket to the event after saying that but quite frankly, until it becomes more relevant to real people, I'm not bothered! 


(Thanks Sadco & Illy for letting me be your guest!)
You can watch a short clip of the event on The Asian Awards website. 






Sunday, 20 April 2014

The Perfect Sunday? Sunday Papers Live have got it sussed...


There are two versions of my perfect Sunday. One involves me having a major lie in and staying in bed all day in my PJs recovering from the madness and sleep deprived state I tend to find myself in at weekends and the alternative me wants to get up super early and cram in loads of fun stuff like going to a bootfair, hanging out somewhere Sundayish like Colombia Road and meeting friends for brunch.
So when I heard about Sunday Papers Live it was as if my prayers has been answered. Finally someone had cottoned on to the fact that Sundays should be reclaimed to be all those things we want it to be. So last month I made the pilgrimage to Primrose Hill to get a taste of the perfect Sunday at Sunday Papers Live.
A cross between a festival, Secret Cinema and a giant house party, Sunday Papers Live is a bi-monthly event that literally brings the papers to life without you needing to read a word. Every section of your typical Sunday broadsheet is covered from UK and World news to the travel supplement, crossword section and letters page, by special guests along with other quintessential Sunday pastimes like board games and a satisfying Sunday lunch. 
You can make the experience as interactive as you like or sit back and snuggle up in your PJs, with your dog on the sofa, as if you were at home. Running from 12pm-10pm it's a full day of Sunday indulgence, entertainment and stimulation....but was it really the perfect Sunday?

Here's what I loved about it and a few things I think they could have done better....

Having my Happyscope read

I'm a big fan of reading my star sign but when I stumbled across the Happy Scope table run by Dumb Love I realised that all my life I'd been following the wrong kind of karma. As my happyscope astrologer pointed out, Horror-scopes are horrible and happy scopes are so much nicer.
After a few questions he wrote me a personalised happyscope on the back of this fine postcard. I can't reveal what it said but it made me very happy. 

Tucking into a lavish lunch
Instead of a menu on our tables, Chef Tom Hunt personally introduced the afternoon's meal and it sounded heavenly. Served at banquet style tables over several settings, diners were sat down in order of how they arrived at the dining room doors encouraging banter between random strangers. In case there were any awkward moments there was a live music accompaniment. The dishes were then served communally so you could help yourselves. The room was gorgeously decorated and the closest I've come to eating in a Harry Potter canteen set up. 
The veggie option was delicious, a tasty nettle tart...but it was cold. And Sunday lunch shouldn't be cold. I mean I had hot spuds with caramalised garlic and yummy sprouting broccoli and mash but when your tart is cold and your neighbour's roast beef is steaming it's a little mean. 

Chill out time
The Sunday Capers room is an area that takes all the fun parts of a Sunday and condenses it into one space ....a chill out spot to grab a nap or watch movie matinees. There was even a mini grandstand face and live lonely hearts column. The main room gets completely rammed so it was nice to have an alternative space to hang-out in. 

Activities
So how do you fill 10 hours? With a back to back programme of stuff to do there was no chance of getting bored. You could even have a massage or book a canal boat trip but the fact it was such a lovely sunny Sunday meant just relaxing on a deckchair while sipping on juices was enough to keep me occupied.
Although most pastimes were covered there was no bootfair. Sundays are not Sundays without a car boot sale in my books. I'm pretty sure there is space to fit one in - hopefully they'll add this element soon. 

Not having to read the papers
Whenever I buy a Sunday paper it takes me over a week to get through it so having 'the contents' of a paper presented in the form of talks, discussion and performance is actually rather pleasant and useful. 
I particularly enjoyed the debates around the letters page bit - a drop in talk show where you could pull up a seat and have your say. 

In terms of speakers and topics there was an interesting mix - the spoken word performers got the biggest appreciation, but overall I was a bit disappointed with the 'western approach' to the choices, especially the World news. The main speaker for World news gave a talk about the issue of sex workers being excluded from the media in the United States. 

In my mind there are infinite unique and usual stories and issues of interest and relevance all over the world so whoever curated World news should have taken advantage of focusing on a geographic location we hear little about rather than one we hear about every day. 

As for whether I can now go back to reading a Sunday paper after I've experienced Sunday Papers Live....well if the truth be told, while I was there chilling, I picked up a physical newspaper and still enjoyed it.
Reading the Sunday papers are a great British pastime. There's nothing like chilling at home with your feet up reading the papers but also there's nothing quite like Sunday Papers Live. A lot of love, passion and detail went into planning the event (sooooooo much bunting and even a radio and candles in the loos) so I totally salute the organisers. It was probably one of the best organised events I've been to in a long time...but it wasn't overganised in a regimented way, I liked the fact it still had an air of spontaneity about it.


 I recommend Sunday Papers Live to anyone who loves all the non-music bits of music festivals, are overdue meeting up with friends and want an excuse to hang out with them, looking for somewhere quirky to go on a date or just want to do something a bit different. With only three events under their belts so far it's still got cult status appeal so go along before others start ripping it off.

The next Secret Forum's Sunday Papers Live is on Sunday June 1st. 
Find out more here


Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Altering A Nightdress Into New Clothes


I picked up this incredible night dress in Kolkata last year. It was clearly too big for me, but I couldn't ignore the gorgeous green script print fabric and bold colour combinations so I decided to buy it with plans to alter it into something more wearable.
When it comes to be being ruthless I'm very brave so I started by cutting it in half to create a top and bottom section.
Originally I was thinking of changing the shape of the collar but when I tried it on it didn't need anything so I just brought it in at the sides to make it fit better by trimming off the edges with an overlocker before hemming the ends. 
The skirt was more complicated. I held it against me to choose the kind of length I liked and then decided to create a waistband which was cut separately. The waistband was going to be made from the excess green fabric but in the end I settled on a wide band of red cotton which was folded over and padded with interfacing. I also used a gathering foot to pull in the fabric to create a more wearable shape.
The most exciting part of this project was that it was the first time I used a button hole foot to affix buttons and make button holes. 
And here are the two finished garments just in time to wear for the summer! I love the flare the skirt has and the ''50s diner theme' of the top.

To be honest I feel like this blog post makes it look really simple but it did require patience, especially for the skirt which has a zip and buttons and there was quite a bit on unpicking but I got there in the end. It's definately given me the confidence to have a go at altering more garments - especially charity shop finds that don't fit! 

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Learning How To Ice Biscuits At Biscuiteers Biscuit Boutique

I had never iced a biscuit in my life until yesterday when I went along to a post-work icing workshop at the legendary Biscuiteers Biscuit Boutique & icing cafe in Notting Hill, West London.
For the uninitiated, Biscuiteers have made decorating biscuits an artform. Purveyors of the most creative cookies in existence, they bake and create biscuits decorated in every way possible. Often for major brands, usually for special events and every day for normal folk who can order their biscuits online or buy from their shop.
It's like biscuit heaven and a lot like what Willy Wonka's Factory shop would have looked like if he'd ever had one. 
It's not surprising then that Biscuiteers were asked to make the official biscuits to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Roald Dahl's Charlie and The Chocolate Factory.
Here's some close ups of some of my fave biccies in the boutique...
I've never been to New York but these are the next best thing!
And as for cute stuff, there are so many very sweet animal biscuits and dainty designs like these delicate birdies too. 
But that's all upstairs. Downstairs you'll find this....
...the space where the Biscuiteers team run icing workshops, events, have their cafe and hold  private parties.
For Icing Lates the table was all laid out for participants before we arrived.
Take a closer look at the wall - it's covered in cookie dermy!
We were each given the same shaped biscuits to decorate and a picture guide for how they could be decorated.
First up we learnt how to hold the bag. I confess I wasn't very good at this part. I'm right-handed but for some reason my left hand wanted to do the icing so it was a bit strange!
We began by outlining the biscuits with icing details then 'flooded' the insided with runny icing and then learnt a range of icing techniques.
Finding a natural rhythm to icing was hard for a newbie and I got a bit of arm cramp....professional icers (biscuiteers have 50 during peak periods) certainly need to learn about icing posture as well as possess some incredible artist skills.
Voila! My creations all wrapped up and ready to take home. They last three weeks but I suspect they actually won't - I ate the butterfly on the tube home!
I'm always keen to try new crafts and I had never considered icing something I'd ever do but it turns out it's a really fun activity. Learning from the best icers in the business is a lovely experience and seeing the team talk about icing and watch them do it with such passion is a definite highlight.

If you fancy trying out some icing yourself they have workshops twice a week - it's worth noting the up and coming dates above or head to their website.

Right. I'm off to munch on biscuit number two but which one, the pirate ship or the frilly frock?

Biscuiteers, 194 Kensington Park Road, London, W11 2ES
www.biscuiteers.com