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






Friday, 15 August 2014

Africa Fashion Week London

The first thing I noticed about Africa Fashion Week London was how well-dressed everyone was. There was some seriously cool street style going on - some of which got captured by Company Magazine which you can check out here to see what I mean.
 Now in it's 4th year, Africa Fashion Week is a celebration of designers from and inspired by the African continent. 
This year it was held at it's biggest venue yet, at Olympia in West London. It consisted of several catwalk shows over two days...
...and a marketplace filled with African fashion, accessories, food and books.
I'm a big fan of bold, colourful fashion and have long admired the African women I see on the streets of London wearing traditional dress; much of which is homemade, using the most incredible fabrics, so I couldn't wait to take my 'Frow seat' at this year's event to see work from emerging and new designers who specialise in African fashion.
Fareemah
Prints were everywhere, in every colour scheme imaginable and used for every kind of garment going.
Dearcurves
But the biggest surprise of the segment I watched was that this actually was fashion for everyone, not just slim models. Dearcurves showcased a range for larger women and was met with huge cheers and smiles. Their oufits were flattering and interesting which was great to see.
Thora Jewels
I also liked the statement pieces shown off in this jewellery segment.
Mia Nisbet
This collection interested me because it took African print and used it to give outfits 'accents' rather than use solid patterns.
Alabi Couture
My favourite designer however was Alabi Couture, outfits were very glamorous and consisted of great shapes and fits for men and women. There were eight catwalk shows altogether though sadly I could only attend one of them.
One of the most popular stalls at the marketplace was this headwrap stand, which I stood and admired...not sure if I could recreate one myself though.
I also LOVED all the accessories: there were shoes, handbags and endless jewellery pieces made from African print fabric which gave me lots of ideas for customising.
Such a brilliant way to make use of small fabric scraps - I immediately fell in love with the fabric collars (£20) by Akwabi Designs, handmade by this lovely designer. Her rolled version that she's wearing was proving very popular too. 

I'm now feeling super inspired to use the African fabric my friend Bosun brought me a few months back from his visit to Nigeria. It's currently in my 'to sew' pile but I've now got a few ideas for how to make best use of it which definately involves making a garment and matching accessories.

Find out more about Africa Fashion Week London at: www.africafashionweeklondon.com

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Festival Of Love At The Southbank Centre

Say It With Flowers tablecentres made at my workshop

If there's one thing I'm certain about in life it's that I will never get bored of The Southbank. It's my favourite place in London so it was a real honour to be invited to run two craft workshops as part of their summer Festival Of Love
The Festival explores and celebrates seven kinds of human love and each weekend there are events focusing on that type. My sessions took place over their Pragma Weekend celebrating 'Enduring Love'. 
Temple Of Agape
For last year's Festival of Neighbourhood the Southbank was decorated with colourful flags created by Bob and Roberta Smith and this summer the rainbow theme continued with this incredible staircase - The Temple Of Agape which you can walk up and down while admiring. Made up of hand-painted signs it's the kind of installation you can stare at for hours, but's it's not the only one...
As a girl obsessed with neon signage I love this area based inside the Southbank's Festival Village which doubles up as a bar and exhibition space. Step inside to discover a retro wonderland.
One of the workshops I ran was making 'Gifts Of Love' using letter beads to write a message to someone special. The idea was to take two heart shaped pieces of felt, stitch them together, fill with wadding and add a piece of ribbon to hang them up with. They were then decorated with words, sequins, gems, glitter and fabric scraps. 
The workshop was attended by different types of people; children, teenagers, adults and older folk - men and women, as well as friends and families. In fact my sister brought my nieces and nephew along and they all made a heart for each other.
This pair of hearts were made by a boy of seven and a family friend who was looking after him. 
One of the main features of the weekend was a special lunch that took place inside The Clore Ballroom which was attended by 100 invited guests - all of whom have a connection with Enduring Love. The guestlist included young carers, couples who've been married a very long time and people from care homes around London. To make their lunch experience extra special I was called upon to create tablecentres - made with the help of public participants.
The concept was to make something based around flowers so I decided on topiary style trees which in the end turned into cactuses, but more on that later! I picked up 10 plant pots from Poundland and my starting point was to paint them with acrylic paint - it took three layers to get good coverage.
I did some of the other prep at home too - spraying large polystrene balls with adhesive spray and smoothing squares of hessian and cotton gingham fabric over them. It was a quick and effective method but it ruined my nails so if you fancy trying this yourself I recommend wearing gloves. I bought wooden dowels to fix into the balls but my hacksaw broke when I went to cut them to size so I used straws initially but they didn't hold the weight of the balls so in the end I chopped them off and created cactuses instead!
The main session was a public drop-in craft workshop where participants made fabric and card flowers. These were then glued to the polysterene balls which were glued inside the plant pots. The 10 tablecentres were then placed on the dining tables for the special lunch on Sunday.
Elsewhere around the space there are so many more exhibitions and installations to discover and be amazed by.There's a full list on the Southbank website.


Alongside the workshops and exhibitions there are also a number of film screenings of classic romances...
And if you're visiting over the weekend be sure to show your stomach some love too by eating at Real Food Market. My favourite stalls are the two dosa stands. One is by Horn Ok Please! who create delicious, fluffy Masala Dosas served with chickpeas and bhel puri - it's a perfect light lunch or snack (£5) or if you like your food flavoursome and filling try the satisfying dosas from Dosa Delhi which are served with a very delicious coconut chutney (£6). Finish with a stop off for frozen yoghurt aboard the bright pink Snog bus (only downside being it's rather pricey ), but a nice treat and you get to sit on deckchairs or enjoy your yoghurt up on the top deck.


If you're visiting London this summer stopping off to see The Festival Of Love is a must, especially as films aside, it's FREE! Chill by the river, put your feet in the sand, relax in The Southbank roof garden, get married (there is actually a whole weekend dedicated to weddings) and take some time out to enjoying thinking about and enjoying love, whether it's on your own or with someone special. 

The Southbank Centre's Festival Of Love runs until 31st August 2014. 

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.