Festival of Natural Fibres & Saori weaving at Craft Central

craft central  craft central

 

Even though I live in London, I don’t often venture away from my neighbourhood or the centre, and I had no idea where the Isle of Dogs is until I looked it up on google. I have not been to the Craft Central‘s new venue since they moved across town more than two years ago. Their new space is a Grade II listed Victorian (1860) forge with many historic features located Isle of Dogs not far from Canary Wharf. The spacious industrial building was converted by Emrys Architects to provide artist studios and exhibition hall for crafts people and other creative professionals.

I missed the Festival of Natural fibre in Sept, but I attended part 2 of the festival in November. Organised by Khadi London, Freeweaver SAORI Studio, ONE and Craft Central, the festival aimed to showcase the best ethical and sustainable products, and discussed current trends and challenges in the revolution in the global textiles industry. Personally, I I believe that when the public learn more about the environmental damage caused by fast fashion, many are likely to change their shopping habits (though it takes times), and this festival highlights the beauty and sustainability of textiles and fashion made from natural fibres.

 

craft central  craft central

craft central  craft central

 

There were textiles workshops throughout the day, but unfortunately they were all fully booked when I tried to book. It shows the popularity of these craft workshops nowadays!

 

craft central  craft central

craft central

craft central

craft central

 

There was a demonstration of Indian Charkha wheel spinning, a craft that is often associated with Mahatma Gandhi and regarded as the symbol of the Provisional Government of Free India. The handwoven cloth spun by the wheel is called Khadi, which is usually made of cotton or other natural fiber cloth originating from India and Bangladesh. Also, the yarn used is dyed naturally, so it is much more sustainable than synthetic dyes.

 

craft central  craft central

house of tamarind  house of tamarind

Bottom: House of tamarind

 

At the event, there were some items that are woven with natural fibres in the Japanese Saori weaving style, which I found quite fascinating. Established by Misao Jo (1913-2018) at the age of 57, Saori is free style hand weaving with no rules or restrictions. There is a sense of freedom and liberation, and it enables the weaver to express his/her creativity through the weaving.

Although I couldn’t sign up for the workshop on the day of the festival, I did sign up for a workshop with textiles artist Erna Janine from Freeweaver Saori studio a few weeks after the event ended. Erna helped us to set up the loom and asked us to pick from a wide range of coloured threads from her studio.

 

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori

 

For next few hours, we were just weaving away and being as creative as possible. Since there were no rules, I decided to go a bit ‘wild’ and make a more 3-D piece with the wool I found. I absolutely loved the experience, and I wished that the workshop was longer. I used to think that weaving is a boring and repetitive task, but this workshop completely changed my mind, and I am hoping to learn more about this craft in the future.

 

craft central

freeweaver saori

freeweaver saori  freeweaver saori

 

Nirona village: Rogan art, copper bell & lacquer craft

Nirona

 

Kutch is a fascinating place; besides textiles, there are various other arts and crafts being practised in the region. Located around 35 km north of Bhuj, Nirona village is a small village famous for Rogan art, a rare traditional art form originated from Persia/Sindh, which almost disappeared until efforts to revive it in recent years. For over three centuries, one Khatri (Muslim) family called Abdul Gafur in Nirona has kept this traditional art form from vanishing completely.

There are only about 5000 people living in this quiet village, and there is nothing particularly appealing as you walk through the village, though I do like the bright colours and geometric patterns on the facades of the buildings.

 

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona  Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

Nirona

 

It is hard to believe that only one family in this world has managed to keep the Rogan art alive. The reason for this is because traditionally the art form was passed on only to the male members of the Khatri family. (Many ancient art and craft forms around the world have died out because of family secrecies, which is a big shame.) Today, Khatri Abdul Gafoor Daud and Khatri Sumar Daud along with five other artists, including a woman are the practitioners at their studio in the village. Abdul Gafoor Daud has also been teaching the art to local women in collaboration with a non-profit organisation as a way of reviving the art.

The family has been presented with the Padma Shri Award (2019), an International Designer award, 5 National award, 8 State award and 3 National Merit certificates over the last four decades. In 2014, Rogan art became internationally known when it was presented to Barack Obama (the then President of the United States of America) by Narendra Modi during his visit to the US.

Traditionally, the Rogan art was painted on bridal clothing of the regional tribes, and on ghagras, odhanis and bed spreads. Nowadays, though, more people used them as wall pieces and ‘Rogan kaam’ has gained immense popularity.

 

Nirona  rogan art

rogan art

 

The word rogan means oil or oil-based in Persian. Paint made from thick brightly coloured castor seed oil is used to paint on fabric. Castor is a crop commonly grown in the Kutch region of Gujarat and the artists source it from the local farmers.

To prepare the paint, castor oil is heated in a vessel and continuously stirred for more than 12 hours till it catches fire. The paint-maker has to take extreme care to ensure it doesn’t get burnt. The residue is then mixed with cold water until it thickens into a sticky elastic paste called rogan. This paste is then mixed with stone pigments to lend it different hues. Next, the artisan uses a six-inch metal stick to paint with a fine thread of rogan on cloth.

During our short visit, a young artisan demonstrated his skills and it was jawdropping to watch him apply paint onto the fabric with such precision and focus. If he makes one mistake, he would have to start all over again because there is nowhere to hide the mistakes. It is no wonder this art form is being so highly regarded in India and globally.

 

rogan art  rogan art

rogan art

rogan art  rogan art

 

After the visit, we went to the studio of a copper bell maker, Mr Husen Luhar, who has been making bell-making since the age of 12. The Lohar community is originally from Sindh, and Mr Luhar‘s family has been making copper bells for at least 7 generations. I have never seen a bell being made before, and I was captivated by Mr Luhar‘s skills and speed. Within 15 minutes of cutting and hammering continuously, he somehow turned a piece of copper into a bell that produces a crisp sound – it was like magic! Besides bells, he also makes wind Chimes, Xylophone and Jhumar etc. I have never given much thought on the different sounds produce by bells or other metal materials, but the visit to Mr Luhar‘s studio has opened my eyes and made me appreciate the craft of bell-making.

 

Mr Husen Luhar

Mr Husen Luhar  copper bell art

copper bell art

copper bell art

copper bell art

copper bell art

 

Our final stop in the village was to meet the artisans of lacquer art practiced a semi-nomadic tribe called Vadha. Traditionally, artists used to obtain the lac resin from insects found in the forests. Nowadays, lac is readily available in the market.

The resin is mixed with different colours and applied onto carved wooden objects such as wooden spoons, bread rolling pins, containers, toys and utensils etc. The tools to make these objects are very basic: a manual lathe, a hammer and chisels, but it is the bright zigzag patterns that distinguish them from other lacquerware.

It is incredible that such a small village can produce such an interesting variety of arts and crafts. I think all visitors who come to Kutch have to explore beyond the cities to appreciate all the hidden treasures in this region.

 

lacquar  lacquer

nirona village

lacquer  lacquer

 

 

Mandvi beach & the ancient craft of shipbuilding

Mandvi

 

I don’t know if Martin Parr has ever visited the historic seaport town Mandvi in Gujarat before, but if he has, he surely would be clicking away on the beach capturing the rather surreal beach scenes. Mandvi beach faces the Arabican sea, and was extensively used by ship merchants in the 18th century due to maritime trade. Now the beach is recreational but does not get overcrowded.

 

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

 

There are several interesting points about Mandvi beach that differs vastly from non-Indian beaches: there is a windfarm on the beach (I have never seen this before elsewhere); there are camels and horses everywhere (for rides); the oddest, though, is that there are no sunbathers nor swimmers! Perhaps it is due to religious and cultural reasons, but all the men and women I saw on the beach were fully clothed, while a hand full of people would go into the water to take selfies. Most of the activities took place on the beach, and few in the sea, which I found intriguing.

 

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

mandvi beach

Mandvi

mandvi beach

Mandvi

Mandvi

 

After spending some time walking barefoot on the sandy beach, we headed towards the shipbuilding yard to see Mandvi’s 400-year-old dhow-making tradition.

Founded by Maharao Khengarji I in 1580, Mandvi was a gateway to West Asia and Africa, as it was located at the intersection of the spice route and the camel caravan route. The Kharva community of both Hindus and Muslims became experts in building ships (or dhows) for the thriving maritime trade.

Amazingly, these ships are still being built today – by hand – using sal wood imported from Malaysia, Indonesia, Burma, and locally from Gujarat’s babool trees. The shipbuilders are mostly from the carpenter community who learned their skills from their fathers and grandfathers. Yet this is another dying craft as the issue of priracy in Somalia and Yemen is affecting the cargo trade, and fewer ships are being made now.

 

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

 

I have never been inside a handmade wooden ship before, and what came to my mind was ‘Naoh’s ark’ when I stepped in – undoubtedly the sturdy-looking ship can carry many animals, people and withstand a storm. I felt like I was in a time warp. There are hundreds of screws, nuts and bolts being used, and you can truly appreciate the craftsmanship and beauty when you are inside.

 

shipbuilding mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

Mandvi

 

Yet how can we preserve this ancient and dying craft if the demand for handmade cargo ships is dwindling? Can the craftsmen apply their skills to another trade? I don’t have the answers, but I think it would be a great shame to lose this craftsmanship, and only see this ship in a museum/virtual museum in the future.

 

Scottish Highlands: Ullapool

ullapool

 

This summer, I spent two weeks staying in Ullapool, a small picturesque port on the shores of Loch Broom with around 1,500 inhabitants up in the Scottish Highlands. Before this trip, I have never travelled anywhere beyond Inverness in the Highlands. Since Ullapool cannot be reached by rail, I had to take a bus from Inverness, which took about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Although it is only a village, it draws many tourists as it serves as the gateway to the Western Isles. Large ferries and cruise ships can be seen at the port, and tourists can be seen embarking and disembarking all through summer. The village is also known as the centre for the arts and music, with several music festivals taking place here throughout the year.

 

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ullapool

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Due to the peak season, I initially struggled to find accommodation for longer stay. After spending one week in a rental house, I went to the Isle of Lewis via ferry for a few days, then returned and stayed at a B & B up on the hill away from the centre. Luckily, the host told me that he has another rental studio by the loch in the centre, and that I could move over there after their guest had moved out. Somehow it all worked out, and I was more than happy to be staying in a studio facing the loch.

Ullapool is convenient as a base to explore the N.W. Highlands. I, too, used it as a base for my paper-making course in Elphin, and Geo Park tour. Hence, although I stayed in the village for 2 weeks, I did not get to visit the Ullapool museum, which was a pity.

 

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ullapool

ullapool  ullapool

 

Officially founded in 1788 as a herring port by the British Fisheries Society, Ullapool was designed by Scottish civil engineer and architect Thomas Telford. Although evidence of human settlements can be found along the coast and on the road side dating back over two thousand years. Some of the original 18th century buildings can still be seen facing the harbour.

However, the village is also associated with Scotland’s darker past as the harbour was the emigration point during the Clearances, where many crofting communities were evicted from their land by their landowners to make way for large-scale sheep farming from 1750 to 1860. During this period, many families in the Highlands left for the New World from Ullapool and never returned again.

 

ullapool

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ullapool

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ullapool

 

Since Ullapool is a port, seafood is a ‘must’ when you visit this village, and the best seafood place here is not a restaurant, but a shack. The multiple award-winning Seafood shack (9 W Argyle St) offers fresh local seafood at affordable prices, and the menu changes daily according to what is being delivered on the day. I went there a few times for dinner, and the food was always delicious with a contemporary twist. I also had fish and chips from Deli-Ca-Sea (West Shore Street), a small fish and chips takeaway near the Ferry terminal, where they serve traditional fish and chips.

There is also a pleasant bistro facing the loch called The Frigate (6 Shore Street) that serves a variety of dishes made form locally sourced produce. And on the last night, I had drinks and dinner with a new friend at the friendly and bustling The Ferry Boat Inn (26-27 Shore Street). The Blue Kazoo Seafood Cafe not only serves fresh and tasty seafood, you can also enjoy live music there in the weekends. We had a brilliant last night there and loved the vivacious atmosphere.

 

seafood shack

seafood shack

seafood shack

Deli-Ca-Sea

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

The Ferry Boat Inn

 

The inspiring landscape of the Highlands is alluring to many musicians, artists and artisans. Hence it is no surprise that many of them have moved up to the Highlands to live and work.

At the paper-making workshop, I met Jan, a geologist/botanist/bookbinder who co-runs a beautiful art and craft shop in Ullapool. Ceàrd (21 West Argyle Street) focuses on locally made products by Scottish makers. You can find paintings, prints, jewellery, ceramics, textiles, crochet, carved wood and many wonderful items in their shop.

 

ceard  ceard

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On the opposite side of the street is An Talla Solais Gallery, where they showcase practising artists across the North West coast of Scotland through their regular art exhibitions. I stumbled upon the opening night of local artist Peter White‘s exhibition and was intrigued by his nature-inspired work.

Peter collects stones from the hills he walks in, paints on them and eventually returns them to the summit of the hill they came from in memory of people who have died. Interestingly, I did encounter one of Peter‘s work when I was hiking up the hill one day (see below).

 

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Further away from the centre, there is Highland Stoneware Pottery (North Road) where visitors can visit the pottery workshop and purchase unique pottery handmade by craftspeople in Lochinver and Ullapool. They have a vast collection of tableware, and an online shop where people who live outside of Scotland can order and get the items shipped to them directly.

 

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What I enjoyed most about Ullapool is that I could easily go for walks or strolls by the river and beach without leaving the village. Nature and wildlife is abundance.

 

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ullapool  ullapool

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ullapool  ullapool

ullapool

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ullapool

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If you enjoy hill walking, then a short ascent up the Ullapool hill and the Braes would enable you to enjoy the panoramic view of Loch Broom and Ullapool. The highest point is the outcrop of Meall Mor with views inland of Loch Achall and surrounding countryside.

As I walked up to the highest point, the rain cloud started to move towards the village and it was engrossing to watch from the top. Luckily, I didn’t get too wet when I descended.

 

ullapool  ullapool

ullapool

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Last but not least, a trip to The Ullapool Smokehouse (6 Morefield Indstrial Estate) is a MUST before you leave the village. Located in an industrail estate, this family run business sells smoke fish, cheese, meat and eggs, using traditional wood-smoking methods. I bought some smoked salmon and smoked cheese and the quality is much higher than what you would find in the supermarkets. You can also order online via their webshop.

 

ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house

ullapool smoke house

 

Papermaking with plants workshop in The Highlands

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The scenery from Ullapool to Assynt

 

Scotland is one of my favourite places in the world. I love the landscape, wilderness, people and traditions; however, I am not so fond of its weather – a crucial element that has put me off moving up there. I have been traveling up to Scotland annually for the last few years to attend a meditation retreat in June, but I would only stay for about 1 week or less each time. This year, I decided to explore further and spend longer time there during my 6-month sabbatical. I stayed for three weeks in July. It started in Glasgow, then Fort Williams, Ullapool and and the Isle of Lewis.

I stayed in Ullapool to attend a paper-making with plants workshop at a local artist, Jan Kilpatrick‘s home/studio in Assynt, a remote area north of Ullapool. Since I wasn’t driving, Jan arranged her friend and workshop attendee, Jo, to give me lifts during the week as she happens to live in Ullapool. The commutes from Ullapool to Assynt were simply breathtaking, and I was capitivated by the sight of Cul Mor, Suilven and Quinag during these car journeys.

 

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Jan is predominantly a landscape textile artist, but she is also a paper and mosaic artist. However, most of the courses she offers on her website are textiles related, so it was lucky that I managed to sign up to her paper-making course, which seems to be less in demand (as we were told). Since there were only a few of us, we got to know each other quite well during the week.

The reason why I signed up for this course was due to my passion for paper and interest in plants/botany. I have previously attended one/two paper-making sessions that lasted less than an hour, so my knowledge was minimal and I wanted to learn more about the technique and craft. Besides, the thought of spending the week sourrounded by nature up in the Highlands was a huge draw for me.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop

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highland flowers  highland flowers

ullapool

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Over the five days, we spent most of the time working outdoors as we were quite lucky with the weather (except for the last day and when the midges attacked). Being able to pick many fibrous plants and grass from Jan‘s wonderful garden and use them as the materials of our paper was fantastic. The process of paper-making involves soaking the plants overnight, followed by boiling the plants with soda ash (or washing soda) and water. Then it is necessary to break down the plant fibres into pulp using a blender, and we mixed the plant fibres with recycled paper pulp to create different textures and varieties.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

paper making

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop 

papermaking with plants workshop

 

The next stage requires a mould and deckle (you can make one using picture frame and mesh), a vat filled with water and a bit of pva glue. Then it is time to add the pulp mixture into the water and let it dissolve in the vat. What followes is the most difficult part – using the mould to scoop the pulp from the back and bottom upwards inside the vat. When the mould is lifted you, it is best to shake it from side to side to drain the water and even out the pulp. This process requires patience and steady hands for consistency, and it may take several attempts to get the pulp evenly rested on the mesh. Sometimes the paper may be too thick or too thin, and it differs depending on the plant fibres.

 

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papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

 

The final stage is to remove the deckle from the mould and place the pulp on the mesh safely onto a wet paper towel. Then you need to press the pulp down with a sponge, add another piece of paper towel on top and place a heavy wooden board on top to squeeze out any excess water. After some time, you can lift up the board and hang the paper to let it dry on a rack.

 

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

 

We used a variety of plants like nettles, horsetails, daffodils, montbretia, dock leaves, and grass as our pulp, and we also added some flower petals as decorations. Since the process of paper-making is the quite repetitive, Jan suggested that we try mono-printing with plants, as well as eco-printing by arranging the plants onto the paper followed by steaming it.

 

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop  papermaking with plants workshop

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papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

 

After four days of making and experimenting, we spent the last day compiling everything together into a large portfolio book showcasing all the papers we made, and binded it together with some strings. We also created two mini plant books each featuring some of our handmade paper.

 

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

papermaking with plants workshop

 

The five days went exceedingly quickly, and I found the workshop extremely inspring and enriching. It was also lovely to enjoy the vegetarian lunches that Jan prepared for us daily using many ingredients from her vegetable garden.

On Wednesday, we crossed the road and visited the Elphin market where there were vendors selling food and craft produced by local farmers and artisans. I learned that many artists and artisans chose to live and work in the Highlands due to its remoteness and landscape and nature, which I have no dounts would make one more creative being in this environment.

It was sad to leave this place behind, but there was more adventure awaiting, so I left feeling quite joyous and refreshed.

 

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elphin market  elphin market

elphin market

elphin market