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

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

Monday, 7 April 2014

Crafting On Live TV!

Last week I was invited onto The Islam Channel to demonstrate some crafts live on air. I've never done live television before and I'm always up for promoting the world of making stuff so of course I said yes. The programme I appeared on is a daily lifestyle show called Living The Life. Each episode has special guests talking about specific topics. My craft segment followed on from a short film they showed about women in Syria who make and sell handicrafts to earn their own income. 
I spoke about the rise of crafts in the UK, The Make Escape craft night that I run and then got the presenters and other guests to make their own crafts.
The Islam Channel's offices are based in London, near Old Street. But as the show was aired at 7pm, it was pretty empty when I arrived. The channel has been in existence for 10 years, has approx 2.5million viewers in the UK and is broadcast in 136 countries. Wow!
Here's a peak at the studio where recordings are made which I took while waiting to go on air.
The other two guests were Imran Pasha, Head of Retail Banking at the Islamic Bank of Britain and also Ibrahim Thompson, Independent Financial Advisor, Citi Group. This was them waiting in reception. They had no idea what they were about to be involved in, having been booked to chat about 'professional stuff.'

Later they were asked to get busy with their hands. They both created their own canvas artworks with ribbons, trims and double-sided tape. If and when I get hold of a DVD copy of the show I'll try and add in a screen grab of what they made.
Although I don't generally cover my hair, I do when it's appropriate and I did for this in order to appeal to the viewer and to respect them and the channel. I actually enjoy wearing a headscarf, it's remarkably comfortable although on the tubes (London Underground trains) it did get a bit hot. It also opens up a whole new world of opportunity when it comes to styling and accessorising and as for the ways you can wear one...the creative options are endless. 

The good news is the team and producers liked me and have invited me to come back - so more crafty TV appearances to come soon, yay! 

The Islam Channel can be viewed in the UK on Sky, channel 813. 

Saturday, 29 March 2014

British Asian Fashion: Has it finally got its own identity?

Asiana Couture Catwalk (L-R Mani Kohli Khubsoorat, Ashan's and Aada by Gudu G) Image: Rafyl

I've recently entered my 5th year of working on a British Asian fashion magazine. I've lost count of how many fashion catwalk shows I've been to, the number of trend reports I've written and the thousands of images I've sifted through. 

The fabrics, designs, colours and embellishments are always extraordinary but unless you pay attention to detail, it's hard to sometimes tell them apart. There are some key designers who set the trends each season but over and over again you see the same things happening. It's like fashion in general: trends go around in circles so to someone who doesn't know much about Asian fashion their immediate reaction may be...'it all looks the same'...and truth be told I wouldn't blame them. 

If you were to look back at the last decade of British Asian fashion you'll spot similar things occurring: red Latin inspired ball gowns, red and gold churidar suits, heavy Mughal embroidery...is it because British designers are too lazy to start setting new trends, they keep going back to the old ones?

This doesn't happen in India; their designers seem to be far more progressive. Take Manish Arora...

These snaps were taken at Paris Fashion Week earlier this month and customary with his signature style they are are bright, quirky and have personality.

Similarly the calibre of designers who exhibited at Lakme Fashion Week in India also in March this year were at the top of their game for being influential. In fact if the mainstream fashion press ever do want to look at the what's happening in South Asian fashion they'll go straight to these established designers in India and won't even thinking about looking at UK talent.

Well it's time they did. 

A couple of weeks ago a new kind of fashion show took place in Birmingham bringing with it evidence that British based Asian designers are finally realising the importance of developing their own style. The Asiana Couture Catwalk held at Edgbaston Cricket Stadium was a showcase of contemporary fashion for men and woman and for the first time showed signs of originality and 'trends' emerging which could so easily impact on the wider, mainstream fashion industry.

I felt the standards were good enough to compete on an international scale. I don't mean that to sound patronising...I just honestly think the clothes have got better to the point they don't look like 'British Asian clothes for British Asian people', but have wider appeal. 
Here are some of the outfits to explain what I mean:

Bombay Stores (Bradford)

Gul's Style (Ilford)

Adaa by Gudu G (Birmingham)

Arinder Bhullar

Kiran's Creations

Ahsan's (Birmingham)

Kyles Collection (London - jewellery)

There is absolutely no reason a Western A'list celebrity shouldn't wear one of the bold, red evening dresses by Kiran's Creations, that a slender popstar star can't wear the gold lace catsuit by Gudu G or a British woman of any ethnicity wear one of the floaty, summer festival themed kaftans available from Bombay Stores. 

Similarly I've met white English men fascinated by Asian men's sherwanis - they aren't all cream and gold and made for weddings; this darker pair have a smart theme to them which could easily crossover as an 'acceptable' form of menswear in public by again, a man of any ethnicity, without him looking like he's just come back from travelling, or leads an alternative/New Age lifestyle.

So what does this actually mean and does it matter?

Well sadly I think we are still many years away from a mainstream Western fashion magazine featuring clothes by Asian designers...but if these designers continue to keep their standards high, try and push boundaries and 'design' rather than copy each other or rely on past collections then I hope one day they'll gain wider recognition and become a more valued part of the British Asian industry as a whole. 

And that's just for starters...
As for what I wore to the fashion show, I'm currently going though what I'm calling my orange 'Oompa Loompa' phase and this ensemble kind of just came together from things already in my wardrobe. I'm pictured with the best-dressed man at the show, jewellery designer Anees Malik. Whenever I see him he always looks unique, also I so rarely meet (or see) Asian men that have perfected their own original image so he deserve a special mention!

If you're interested in finding out more about what's happening in the world of British Asian fashion then you should check out Asian Fashion Blog, Author Nazma does a sterling job of keeping abreast of the industry and her blog is packed with great pictures and keep an eye on Asiana.TV. Enjoy! 

All catwalk images taken by Rafyl 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

My new project: Craft and Travel

You heard it here first! I have a new project on the go. I've just launched a website called Craft and Travel which yes, does what it says in the title. A resource that celebrates and showcases crafts from all over the globe. 

A long-term ambition of mine is to travel the world learning different crafts. Trouble is I've been sitting on this dream for too long. I'm still far from fulfilling it, in fact it may never happen...so this is the next best thing. 

Over the years I hope it will turn into a valuable resource that people from all over the world will turn to for information and inspiration - I also hope to engage contributors from every corner of the globe to share their stories and experience of different crafts. 

This is my chance to travel the world through craft, I hope you'll join me on my adventures by keeping an eye on it. 

I won't do too much cross-posting, as this remains my personal blog - but from time to time I may give a few links. Starting with a post I put up yesterday about Bangladeshi Rickshaw Art

Here are some photos taken from the article, from my recent visit to Bangladesh...

Which you can read in full here. 

Friday, 28 February 2014

Table Top Sale At The Forum In Greenwich

I'm a bit broke at the moment and I feel like I've outgrown my flat. So much stuff, not enough thinking space. So after seeing a sign for a Table Top Sale at my local community centre I decided to seize the moment. I signed up instantly, went home and started bagging up some of the things I no longer need: clothes, accessories, books, CDs, random bits and bobs...even a jar of unopened coffee and lots of unused toiletries and make-up.
The Forum is a brilliant space, it has a cafe, loos, baby changing facilities, a hall and various rooms for hire, a bit like a village hall only this is South East London so it's harder to find places like this that still exist!
My prices ranged from 10p-£10.
I had an entire suitcase filled with clothes and accessories for just 50p each!
But some of my 'posher' clothes in good condition were sold for a fiver.
I'm not sure why Jumble Sales turned into being called Table Top Sales, but I've always been an avid fan of rifling through other people's unwanted things so it was a fun way to spend a few hours being one of the sellers for a change.
The other stall holders were really friendly, I particularly liked this girl's merchandising.
And this gentleman was clearly a pro as he knew exactly how to make the most of his space.
This lady was selling handmade items as well as signed copies of a book she's written.
Stall hire at the Forum's Table Top sales is £7. They take place monthly on Saturdays 11am-3pm, to book one, pop in and sign up at reception or call 0208 853 5212 - the next one takes place March 29th.

As for how I got on, I did well for a first timer. Unused beauty products followed by games did the best - though I didn't sell any clothes or accessories. I made enough to pay for a 1/3 of a course I want to do. My idea was to Swap Clutter for Creativity - a mantra I'm going to keep repeating to myself. It also means I'll probably return to do it again soon...after all I still have some more money to make to pay for that course!