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Travel is not just for white women – why I’m unfollowing Instagram accounts that ignore diversity

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Today marks one year of me starting this blog. The last 12 months have been a learning experience. I’ve not posted nearly as much as I had intended to. I have a list of 40 posts waiting to be written, an Instagram account that’s barely touched and a Twitter account where I keep replying to messages a few days late. Oops.

It’s really hard trying to find my voice in the overcrowded field of travel blogging. Prior to this I had a lifestyle blog for 10 years that I wrote regularly, just for my family to read, but since then the whole environment of blogging has changed. There’s so much theory, best practice, schools of thought, books, online courses, talks, events and conferences that have led to blogging becoming formulaic, dull and most sadly, feeling a bit desperate.

Blogging is not something that can exist alone though; it’s part of the wider world of social media and ‘travel social media’ is an area I’ve been getting very familiar with over the last few months. Firstly I’ve learnt that it’s incredibly popular. We are all so fascinated by the fantasy of foreign lands and the beauty they represent.

There’s no denying that images of perfect unspoiled landscapes and glowing sunsets hovering above ancient ruins aren’t appealing. I’m a ‘liker’ of these images myself. When I first signed up to Instagram these were the accounts I followed. Next I got to know the important travel hashtags, including the right phrases to use, to get spotted and shared by influencial accounts. I admired these accounts daily, wondering whether I’d ever appear on one…and then it finally dawned on me: I will never get featured on these accounts because of the colour of my skin.

Nothing opens a person up to diversity and culture more than travel – so why is it that there’s such a lack of diversity in some of the most influential travel accounts there are, aimed at female travellers?

And yes I am going to name and shame. I used to follow all three of these accounts but with time it dawned on me just how un-inclusive they are; selling us an idealistic vision that travel is something that can only be enjoyed by attractive white females, and I’m not prepared to support this way of thinking because it’s Racist.

So here’s the culprits (figures as of date of posting this blogpost)

Darling Escapes – 145k followers 653 posts
Approx 13 of their posts feature women of colour (half of them fall into the white Asian category of being Chinese/Japanese, so there’s very much a lack of brown skin tones on their grid)
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She Is Not Lost – 151k followers – 636 posts
Around 10 posts feature women of colour and three of those posts are of the same person, lucky her!
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We Are Travel Girls – 256k followers 1,114 posts
I counted 15 posts that feature women of colour
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Of these three accounts there are around three South Asian women across them in total (see, I have no hope). But it’s not just the unequal percentage of Caucasian women appearing on these accounts that makes them so unattractive: there is no evidence of any woman whose body shape is anything other than a stick.

So essentially what these carefully curated lifestyle accounts are showing us is that only thin, white women go travelling. Need I say more?

The creators of these accounts need to know that this inaccurate representation of women is unacceptable.

I urge you to unfollow these accounts and those that are similar to them and to start leaving comments about why you are doing so because until we ‘followers’ say NO to this type of blatant racism, there will never be any change. Travel is for everyone and that needs to be represented in every aspect of the industry.

I know how privileged I am that I have travelled and I will travel more. I’m also aware that some people will never in their entire lifetime, leave the region in which they are born, but for those of us who are lucky enough to travel we can’t let these influential social media accounts continue to send out negative messages. Let’s make this stand against racist, non-diverse accounts together.

As for my blog, I love writing every one of these posts. It gives me so much pleasure. I’m far off from being a ‘travel blogger’ or ‘influencer’ but not my intention. I love the diary element of what I do, having a place to store my memories and photographs. It makes me feel so chuffed when someone likes my posts or leaves a comment. As I said, I’m still finding my voice and I will continue to try out different types of posts. I also aim to increase my content and stay true to myself by writing more honest opinion posts like this one.

Thank you to every one who has stumbled on these pages in its first infancy year. I hope you’ll come back soon and get inspired to take a more creative themed approach to your adventures.

Momtaz

Portrait photo: Horaczko Photography

 

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Indian Clay Bangle Making

 

A mesmerising watch.

I feel naked without bangles. They are the one accessory I have to wear and on the rare occasions I’ve accidently left my house without wearing any, I’ve gone to the nearest shop and bought some: that’s how bad my addiction is.

This demonstration of clay bangles was filmed in Jaipur. Every single bangle in the set is different but made in the same way by melting and moulding clay and tree gum. The colours are so vivid but the result is very delicate. I bought this set but shortly after, dropped a few on the floor and they broke into small pieces, so if you are going to buy clay bangles wear them and handle them with caution.

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The great thing about buying direct from a demonstration is that you’re giving money directly to the maker and with that in mind, because I saw him at work these are currently the most precious bangles I own. I’m so shamed I broke some of them so early on but the ones I still have are very special.

Given a choice I encourage you to shop similarly – why give money to a store when it’s the maker who’s done the work? I know it’s not always possible but it beats buying something quickly from a shop which may not even have been made in the country you’re purchasing it from, even though it’s labelled a ‘handicraft.’

Don’t worry about price either because in actual fact it’s cheaper to buy direct. These clay bangles were a complete bargain!

Have you bought anything from your travels that you watched being made? Share your story in the comments, we’d love to know. 

Nicosia, Cyprus has a seriously cool café called The Gym…

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Truth is once you leave behind the small labyrinth of markets filled with tourist tat that greet you in Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, you’ll find yourself in what could be a high street anywhere in the world. The same old chain shops and eateries line the roads, there’s even a McDonalds right next door to a Starbucks and not far from there, one of many giant branches of Costa Coffee. But before you either start to rejoice at the familiarity of the options or sigh for the lack of independent businesses, keep going towards the end of the stretch of where most people venture, to The Gym, a ‘gastro bar’ which offers a sanctuary of chicness away from the main hustle and bustle of the town. It serves up an impressive drinks menu (including mocktails and dairy-free milkshakes) and has clearly been designed with Instagramability in mind. But hey, I’m not complaining.

Spacious enough to feel comfortable, cool enough to make you feel like you’ve stumbled on somewhere special and with both indoor and outdoor seating, you won’t have a problem making yourself feel at home.

Décor
From the outside The Gym looks pretty inconspicuous, like an ordinary café but once you step inside, the L-shaped bar that you spy on entering makes you instantly realise that this is The Place to be because it really is different to anywhere else in the vicinity. To make British folk like myself feel welcome, there’s even a display of Marmite jars about the bar, whether they serve it hot in a mug, I forgot to ask.

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There are a few separate seating spaces that make up The Gym but if you head all the way past the bar you’ll find the most design friendly spot. There’s modern art on the walls plus props galore, most of which can be deployed into your own Instagram set ups. No one was in the garden when I was there two weeks ago, possibly because to Cypriots it’s too chilly but for Brits like me, the early 20 degrees is our dream temperature.

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Food & Drink

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Portions are generous I sadly couldn’t finish my main, the fish was huge and so filling. The menus are on the website if you want to plan your eating before your trip. I was more impressed with the drinks just because it was the most choice I’d seen of non-alcoholic drinks on my whole trip and in a region where wine is the most popular tipple, it was nice to find some decent alternatives.

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As well as a glass of chocolate almond milk I had a local speciality iced tea – lemon balm, rose, lavender and cardamom sweetened with agarve.

Gallery and Shop

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Why hello there! The bit that makes The Gym a definite place to seek out is that it also houses a gallery and shop where you’ll find the works of local artists for sale. Craft, fashion and art along side magazines and books give the gallery a creative flair and if you simply want to pop in and have a browse or a quick drink that’s perfectly acceptable. The only fail of The Gym (maybe it’s a future investment) was the loos), the sign upstairs to them was notably hip but the toilets themselves were ordinary and crying out for some DIY TLC. But that aside The Gym is well worth visiting.

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The Gym, Onasagorou, 87-89, Nicosia, Cyprus.
www.thegymconcept.com

Why the Old Spitalfields Market Colour Walk made me feel like Me

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There’s this ‘thing’ in the social media world where you’re supposed to find your tribe. But IRL (In real life) and in the online sphere I’ve never felt like I’ve belonged to a group, a niche or a tribe. I’m individual. Which has its good and bad moments. Some days I feel amazing, ruling the streets with my idiosyncratic style and other days I walk into a room and it feels as though everyone pities me and is thanking god they aren’t me.

So turning up to yesterday’s Colour Walk was a total revelation. I felt accepted, finally. I’ll explain why shortly, but first have a scroll through these outfits I came across at the event…a mere sample of the incredible artistry on display at the Old Spitalfields Market Colour Walk.

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With legendary Colour Goddess Sue Kreitzman
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The one-of-a-kind beauty Sophie Cochevelou
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Neon super heroine
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Fantastic energy from Akimbo Moonchild
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Sally from Golden Yoga making Japanese ski wear look super stylish
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Diane Goldie’s incredible appliqué jackets were a fave choice of outfit
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The Masked Minxs

 

 

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Now that’s what you call headgear! Florent Bidois

It’s nigh impossible to pick out a favourite, everyone had curated a look that signified something about them and that therein lies the beauty of fashion: wearing what makes YOU feel good.

In my mind I assumed I’d turn up and discover a clique of people who all looked amazing but were probably so tight as a group they’d be chatting away with in-jokes and me a newcomer would be there smiling but feeling very awkward. I could not have been more wrong.

The event, spearheaded by artist and fashion designers Sue Kreitzman, Sophie Cochevelou and Florent Bidois was a hive of activity when I arrived. And I felt immediately welcome. Everyone was chatting to eachother, welcoming new faces, telling everyone how amazing they looked and lots of cameras were flashing. Breaking into conversation was so easy. It wasn’t like all those horrific networking events where you find yourself in a room wondering who to make eye contact with and who to tag onto – this was a gathering of artists, creatives, lovers and appreciators of fashion and personal sense of style.

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Every single person I spoke to had a genuine interest in me asking about every outfit detail, where things were from, commenting how well thought out the whole ensemble was, every detail was appreciated and it felt amazing. It was also a very different feeling to when random strangers in the street mention what I’m wearing, sometimes that’s nice other times it feels uncomfortable. People call me ‘colourful’ and ‘colour queen’ all the time most just think it’s costume, but not here.

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Sue takes to the stage to introduce Spitalsfield’s Silk Series
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Close up of Sue’s jewellery

At the event Sue gave a speech where she reiterated that the event and colour walk was people being normal and being themselves that it’s  ‘just us’ and it was so poignant. I wear colour because colour fuels my energy and strength. On cold grey days (and we’ve had a lot in London lately) wearing colour is my fuel for living. To some I look like a clown or a novelty, or I’m dressing to young or too weird but at the Colour Walk everyone was ‘normal.’

It made me question all the other times I’ve tried and failed to fit into a tribe – I’m not a typical travel blogger, I’ve often felt rejected from the craft world, I don’t attract much of a South Asian following, I don’t fit into ‘alternative’ categories, I’m too old to fit in with Millenials, too young to use the hashtag #advancedstyle….but here in an East London market surrounded by likeminded rainbow hued souls I felt I’d found my place.

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Spotted the lovely ladies who work at The Southbank Centre, London

So thank you to each and every single person who stopped to chat to me and made me feel so welcome. If I have to pick a tribe to align myself to it’s this one – Colour Lovers of London. I am with you.

The Colour Walks take place monthly in Old Spitalfield Market, East London.
To find out when they are get in touch with Florent.

More pics from the event below. Enjoy!

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With Love Louie Lou
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Artist Ela Guru Art
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Serious duck dress envy

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Market stall holder at Old Spitalfields Market Chrity Tase

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Seriously amazing #advancedstye going on
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Saving up for Sophie’s egg top
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Sophie’s new jewellery collection launched at market at colour walk

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customised jacket

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A peek inside Sue Kreitzman’s exhibition

 

 

 

 

#LFW18 Modest Indonesian Fashion makes its debut at London Fashion Week

London is currently buzzing with London Fashion Week (LFW) shenanigans and shows all over the city. Yesterday (Friday 16th) the catwalk shows kicked off and in the line up over at Scout London, Freemason’s Hall was a different kind of show to the norm.

For the first time in Fashion Week history there was a show featuring ‘all modest fashion’ by Muslim designers from Indonesia. The organisers are clearly responding to the success of London Modest Fashion Week (LMFW) which is also taking place this weekend. Until now modest fashion has had a low presence at the show with the odd model in a few collections but at the House of Mea show (celebrating Middle Eastern and Asian fashion) there were five Fashion Designers from Indonesia showcasing their latest collections – Jeny Tjahy-Awati, Lia Afif, Aisyah Rupnidah Chan, Ratu Anita Soviah and Tuty Adib, all whose collections had a strong heritage aesthetic with handicraft techniques like natural dyeing, embroidery and beading combined with classic loose fitting and contemporary structured shapes.

Layered jackets with prominent floral motifs, wide puffy sleeves, hooded apparel, fur cuffs, metallic embellishing, velvet capes, floaty maxi skirts and patterned abayas were among the trends championed in the collections.

With an estimated 1.5million Muslim women in the UK, having modest fashion showcased at a national level is essential but how LFW can keep up with LMFW (two very different events) will be interesting to observe as they are both trying to appeal to and cash in on the same market. Still at least the consumer can finally be spoilt of choice.

What to expect when you travel to West Bank, Palestine (as a Muslim)

WARNING: this is a long post but I hope you find it of use!

I bracketed the title of this post because it’s inspired by the fact that so many Muslim people have contacted me after my recent trip to West Bank, Palestine, wondering how I got in, how difficult it was and whether it’s safe to go. So in one way this post is for those people, but in another way I’m also writing for those that don’t fall into the bracket because in truth anyone travelling to Palestine has to be aware of what it entails, whether they are Muslim, Christian, Jewish or other faith.  Israeli Police and Israeli Airport security take their jobs very seriously and whoever you are, whatever part of the world you reside in and whatever your name, be prepared to be questionned on entering and exiting the region and travelling around it.

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Outside Dome of The Rock

Once you do get in though you will have an unforgettable trip. I tallied up my travels last week and of the 42 countries I’ve been to, I miss Palestine the most. Never mind leaving your heart in San Francisco, I left a part of mine in the Mount of Olives. The natural aura of Jerusalem especially, captures you instantly with its energy and spiritual significance but more on that later. For now, here’s how I got on with my week away being a Muslim woman with a British passport, travelling around Palestine or the Palestinian territories, however you prefer to refer to them as.

Entering Israel

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T-shirt stall in the markets of East Jerusalem

The Israel tourism department invest so much into selling the concept of going on a dual holiday to ‘Tel Aviv and Jerusalem’, it’s likely you’ve seen some kind of marketing campaign painting it out as a beach and cultural destination but before you get to experience that there are some tough checks to get through.

First thing to note is you don’t need a visa if you have a British passport so it’s free to enter. Secondly you may have heard that if you have an Israeli stamp in your passport it’s unlikely you’ll be let into a Muslim country while you have that passport but this is nothing to be concerned about because there is a policy in Israel that they do not stamp passports. Instead you will be given a paper stamped visa on entry and another one when you leave. Whatever you do, do not lose this slip, it’s smaller than an average business card and you’ll need to show it if you’re later at check points and will most definitely need to show it when you check into any hotels.

Once you’ve disembarked from the plane it’s quite an epic transfer bus journey to the immigration control – probably the longest I’ve ever experienced so grab a seat if you can. The queues when you arrive will be long because the questioning takes a long time so go to the loo before.

When it was my turn it begun as a very light hearted conversation and general chit chat but then the immigration officer pulled me up on my blatant Islamic surname, Begum-Hossain, which he made me repeat to him three times. I then got asked my dad’s name (Mohammed) and then my granddad’s name. Here’s the thing my granddad died which I was very young I only met him once and I have absolutely no idea what his real name was so for ease I just replied Mohammed again.

As soon as I said that I my passport was kept and I was told to go and sit in the waiting room because I had to be interviewed by a colleague. It was 10pm and there were two other people waiting, one was Asian and one was white. After 30 minutes I was called outside and there were two immigration officers male and female who asked me the exact questions I’d been asked before. It’s not ideal to be a female travelling on your own so I explained I wasn’t alone and was being joined by company on a different flight (I was but if you’re not it’s a fair enough reason to give.)

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View of Tel Aviv from Old Jaffa

I was repeatedly asked why I had chosen to come here rather than anywhere else (seriously speaking having to justify going to Jerusalem is crazy it’s of religious significance the world over) but if you stick with the line you’re going to the afore-mentioned tourist hot stops of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem they cannot stop you from entering.

Before I left I had already made a decision that if I was asked where I was staying I would say Tel Aviv and on a piece of paper I wrote down the name of a hotel I had Googled just in case I got asked, it’s a good back up if you do get asked to prove it, just whip out the paper and say that’s where you’re going.

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Street art spotted on way to Nablus bus station

Never ever say you’re going to Palestine or that you know anyone Palestinian – even if you are going to visit friends, deny it because it will make them query you more. It’s not unheard of that they would then start to question who this person is and if they found any trace of that person having an activist background you’ll be denied entry. So stick with being an every day traveller and you should not have a problem.

Also try and have some knowledge up your sleeves – you may be asked where you are visiting, quote something generic like you’re going to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity so they have no grounds to say no. After about 10 minutes they let me go, handed back my passport and that was that. So entering the country was a bit time consuming but not that bad it’s best to remain calm and normal, don’t stress out, don’t try and be clever in answers or look agitated, it just gives immigration a reason to hold you up for longer.

All in all I thought this entering was fine. Exiting the country was far more difficult and I’ll come to that next.

Exiting Israel

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Street art in Bethlehem

On the day of me leaving I was again travelling alone. When I arrived at the airport there was station security outside the airport and though some people walked in I was immediately stopped and asked for my passport. I under went a thorough bag check and was asked why I was at the airport with such little time before the flight (2.5 hours is not too late in my books!). The man who pulled me over then called his supervisor who asked me a whole heap of questions like why am I travelling alone, why was I there, what did I do, who did I speak to, what did I think of Israel, I gave very simple answers and basically told them the country was beautiful and I wish I could have stayed longer. All in all if felt like a pointless conversation and just staff exerting some power so I just kept calm but upbeat until they let me go.

I thought that was it before the main immigration but I was wrong. There is a second level of questioning for everyone, before you can drop off your luggage. This is when I was really surprised. They held up people for ages asking them the same questions like what is your dad and granddad’s name even when they were blatantly white Europeans and more bizarrely I saw Orthodox Jews in full religious regalia still being asked the same questions so there really was no evidence of discrimination – they simply want to question everyone. But again a have responses ready and always answer with a preferred ‘I went on holiday to Tel Aviv’ not that you have just come back from Palestine the P word in any circumstance is a big no no.

After I finally got through and dropped my bags off I headed through passport control using automated gated thinking phew that’s it but after that stage there is another stage where some people get picked out for a thorough search and I ended up there.

What struck me was that I was one of two women and only person of colour the rest were ordinary looking white men but this again proved to me that it’s not just that they want to question Muslims, they will question and check anyone.

This next check took around 45 minutes and it ended five minutes before the gate closed to board my plane. This I understand is common as I have heard from other sources that they don’t let you miss your fight but make you feel like you will. They know when your flight is and they will end the search just before.

Every nook and cranny of my hand luggage was checked using a hand held detector this took a while then is passed through a machine and then I was asked to take a seat. Some time after sitting down I was called over as they wanted a full body scan. I had no metal on me, shoes were off and I had no jewellery but they made me do it three times. You’re then moved to another seating area where your back is to them and your belongings which is nerve wracking because you can’t keep an eye on them but then randomly it ends and you get your belongings back. So it’s true, when they say get to airport at least three hours before they really mean it.

Check points

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Banksy in Bethlehem

The checkpoints which are located throughout Palestine are strange but you will encounter them, and it’s guaranteed when you get to Bethlehem. There are two ways you will either enter, with a tour group on a bus in which case little happens, they will check the driver and may ask to see passports, or the way I went, crossing by foot.

To get to Bethlehem about a 20 minute bus ride from Jerusalem I took a public bus which ends at the checkpoint. To get in there is no checking being done as they don’t mind who goes to Bethlehem, the main check is who wants to leave and get back into Israel. There are some turnstiles to walk through, long gated fences and some barren land but then you are through.

On the way back there is a security point where you’ll need to show your passport. Foreign passport holders though may get questions really have nothing to worry about they won’t stop you (as long as you haven’t lost your visa slip!) – it’s mainly the movements of Palestinians living in Bethlehem that are restricted as they aren’t allowed to leave. This is a difficult thing to deal with when you talk to locals about their life before the check points were put in when they travelled far and wide and now that restrictions are in place they may never be able to leave again.

Visiting Muslim places of worship if you’re Muslim

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Dome of the Rock taken from Mount of Olives

The two key destinations that Muslims visit when in Jerusalem are Dome of The Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, both of which are accessed by the same entrance as the two are adjacent to each other.

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Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem

Whether you are male or female you will need to prove you’re Muslim to access them. If you have an Islamic name you can show them your passport as this is useful. In my case the first set of guards at the gates that surround the sites recognised that ‘Momtaz’ sounds Islamic as it’s a word in the Arabic language but these staff then went to ask their supervisor’s opinion.

The supervisor was also interested in my name but they also asked me if I prayed and read the Qu’ran and to prove it I had to recite a passage. Now don’t worry they aren’t looking for a huge recital. I said a ‘Colima’ and that was enough.  They then called me sister and let me through and I had no problems once inside.

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Inside Dome of the Rock

The grounds are impressive and so many people take photos, selfies inside and outside of both buildings. If you are not Muslim you will not get access inside however there is a specific entrance where you can at certain times pop in and see the grounds and this must explain why on Instagram there are fashion bloggers posing outside Dome of Rock  baring their shoulders as that sort of behaviour would never get them through the main entrance.

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Nabi Musa, West Bank

Arrive modestly dressed too. I carried a long skirt and head scarf (I don’t normally wear a hijab) and I wore these before I attempted trying to get inside. A male Palestinian friend I was with also visited the mosque earlier the same day and he said that he too, even being ‘local’ still had to recite a passage to get in. Another female friend of mine whose name does not sound as Muslim as mine tried to get into the mosque last year and she carried a photocopy of her dad’s passport and that helped her get in so just have a think about what you will say or recite before you go because you will be asked.

Out and about

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Monastery of St George of Choziba, West Bank

I did a lot of walking on the trip (oh, my all those hills gave my thighs a serious workout) but I never had any problems of any sort. In Jerusalem and Bethlehem there are so many visitors and tourists that no one bast an eyelid they are too busy doing their own thing. The is heavy police presence everywhere and seeing so many young people in uniform holding guns feels unsavoury but they aren’t out to harass tourists they are merely there to exert authority.

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Hisham’s Palace

When I visited in the Palestinian cities of Nablus, Ramallah and Jericho, again there was nothing to worry about. I did get my passport checked on buses but again the police aren’t out to get tourists, they are more interested in keeping an eye on locals.

 Don’t feel intimidated – give Palestine a go

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Poster at The Walled Off Hotel Museum

So that’s the round-up of my experience. Any kind of check or the airport hold ups are more an annoyance in terms of wasting time more than anything else. Visiting Palestine whoever you are is so rewarding. The landscape and architecture is sublime, you’ll never go hungry, fresh bread and delicious creamy hummus are in plentiful supply and the markets have a wonderful atmosphere. Jerusalem is a special place and everyone should go there once, whatever your faith.

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Staple Palestinian cuisine – warm pitta and hummus

Though I said in an earlier part of this post never tell immigration or police or check points that you have spoken to any Palestinians the truth is you must (just don’t declare it.) The only way to truly find out about the history, politics and culture is not to go with what you’ve seen in the news or heard about or been warned about, you have to speak to the people themselves. If you want to hear the views from both sides then I suggest booking a tour with a Palestinian tour guide and one with an Israeli tour guide as that way you can both sides and make your own mind up.

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Tea break at The Walled off Hotel, Bethlehem

I’ll be posting some related articles about highlights of my trip like visiting The Walled Off Hotel (street artist Banksy’s hotel in Bethlehem and how much I adored the city of Nablus and why you should go) soon, but it you have any questions of your own about visiting the region that you want to run past me please do get in touch. I can also recommend a Palestinian guide. If you are already planning a trip and you’ve got your guidebooks already then I’d also like to recommend this brilliant graphic biography Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City, it gives a fascinating insight of a British man living in Jerusalem for a year and it will get you excited about what’s in store.

 

 

 

Everything you ever wanted to know about t-shirts… ‘T-shirt: Cult Culture Subversion’ at the Fashion and Textile Museum

I’m so clueless about t-shirts that it wasn’t until I went on a tour of the new T-Shirt: Cult – Culture – Subversion exhibition that opened this week at The Fashion & Textile Museum in London that I realised they are ‘T shaped.’ I mean how can I be a fashion fan and not know that? Seriously that bit of knowledge completely passed me by, but maybe it’s because in truth I have absolutely no interest in t–shirts.

I don’t own any other than a couple from my youth (three band t-shirts which I didn’t actually wear, I bought them as memorabilia). You won’t even find me wearing them at the gym, I opt for vests, and when I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve been told to wear one as a uniform, I tend to revolt. That said I did once teach a how to customise a t-shirt workshop but then again, the object of the session was to transform them as much as possible from their original form. So when I heard about this exhibition I wanted to go because I realised this was my opportunity to get a better understanding of what this most common of, casual garment is all about. And while I have in no way converted, I have a new found respect for the humble tee…

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Andy Warhol t-shirts

feminist t shirt

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Gilbert & George art-shirt
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One of the sections in the main exhibition room

The exhibition ends on a ‘plain white t-shirt’ (I don’t even own one of them) but before you get there, there’s another 100 tees to look through spanning 50 years, sourced from the archives of artists, fans and collectors. It’s not a definitive history (t-shirt shaped garments are thought to be one of the earliest ‘fashioned’ items of clothing worn in as early as the 5th century – now there’s a fashion fact for you.) But what you will find is 11 distinct sections considered ‘milestones’ in t-shirt evolution.

‘The earliest t-shirt shaped garments can be traced back to the 5th century’

These include techniques such as screen-printing which opened up the ability to make them on bigger scales, band t-shirts which although are now considered a fan item actually originated as the uniform of the roadies and crew and political tees – and there’s me thinking they all came under the heading ‘slogan tees’, there’s so much more to them than that. The message you wear can broadcast a social, political or even musical message and if you truly want to broadcast with todays tech you can, there’s an LED t-shirt on display which can even display live Tweets.

One of the things that is fascinating that I didn’t appreciate before, is that t-shirts are universal because of their price point, you can pick one up for a few pounds, from an ordinary store or you can spend £700 on a designer one (why I’m not sure but it happens!)

Another aspect I found of interest is the ‘power of the t-shirt’ and this dynamic explains one of the reasons I’m not a fan. I like to look ‘unique’ different, knowing it’s highly unlikely I will cross paths with someone wearing the same as me, but because t-shirts are mostly mass-produced that’s not the case but also does that weaken their message too? If there’s one t-shirt with a political message on is that strong alone or will it have no impact and if everyone is wearing the same t-shirt does that empower the message or make it meaningless – so much food for thought? My original feeling at the exhibition was that it lessens the impact but now I think if everyone is wearing the same t-shirt with the same message then that message will make its mark.

Another aspect I found interesting was the smiley faced t-shirts, my association with them was the 90s rave scene but I a) didn’t realise that the smiley was actually from the 60s and 70s and more interestingly b) the current emoji faces are also versions of the smiley – yup that never clicked with me either, maybe I’m just really late but it does help me make more sense of why humans have taken to them so much, smileys in general have a universal appeal.

‘How does the meaning of a Superman t-shirt change when a woman wears one?’

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Contemplating the Superman tee

There’s also a display of unisex t-shirts. In stores you often find male and female sizes of the same t-shirt or variations (yes the pink and blue versions) but one could just ignore that and wear a t-shirt meant for a different body, and if you do is there any specific effect? How does the meaning of a Superman t-shirt change when a woman wears one? It’s again not something I considered but in truth if you asked me I would associate a girl with wearing a Superman logo as being Supergirl but now I realise I’m completely rigid in my thinking a girl can be Superman if she wants right?

A: The Typography of T-Shirts

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Featured in Susan Barnett’s photography exhibition

Separate to the main sections in a room of its own is an extraordinary exhibition by New York photographer Susan Barnett. Her work spans a decade during which time she’s photographed hundreds of people she’s spotted on the streets, from the back, and 65 of them are on display. It’s so striking to see all the same composition but each image telling such a different story. Her work touches on themes of identity and how you can form an opinion about someone just from seeing what the back of their t-shirt says. Susan was at the exhibition opening where she said: ‘Their choice of t-shirt tells us who they are, who they want us to think they are, who they aren’t – they want to be noticed, they are putting their message out there and it starts a conversation.’

‘You can form an opinion about someone just from seeing what the back of their t-shirt says.’

I’d never thought of it life this. Commonly I see people in what I think are ridiculous messages which I feel says nothing about their personality but in fact I have over-looked the fact that they have made a conscious decision to wear that t-shirt so it must mean something to them.

Susan has also made some fascinating observations about how messages can change over time, explaining that in the US in 2009 just after Obama has been elected in the States she saw a lot of people wearing hopeful messages but as time has gone on and people have started to get more angry and dissatisfied the more political their slogans become and the more swear words you’ll see.

While the main exhibition is all about the front of t-shirts, seeing just backs of them worn on people is a completely different experience because we get just a hint of the person, but we never see them. It’s a powerful piece and has really got m thinking about when I next see someone wearing a t-shirt, in particular with words or a slogan, I’m going to wonder more about what kind of person they are for choosing to wear it.

T shirt exhibition_fashiontextile

T-shirt: Cult Culture Subversion’ takes place at the Fashion and Textile Museum London from 9th February to 6th May 2018. Tickets cost £9.90 for adults and there are also a series of accompanying talks.

http://www.ftmlondon.org

 

Holy Cow inspired money box

When I was in Pushkar, Rajasthan last year I spotted these donation boxes outside the temples, all handpainted with cows. I saw a lot of cows too. In fact one in particular had its eye on me the entire time I sat by the water’s edge.

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It was absolutely blistering heat that day and the floors burnt my feet with every step.

There are a lot of tourist market stalls around when you first enter Pushkar, selling clothes, jewellery and usual touristy stuff but one thing they don’t sell which they should is a miniature version of their donation boxes. But hey I just found this instead…

MONEY TIN

Available from online store Scaramanga (£25) it’s the coolest home for spare pennies I’ve seen in a long long time.

And now for some real holy cows…

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Cows of Pushkar, Rajasthan, India

Puskar images: http://www.craftandtravel.com

Did you know Romania has a museum dedicated to Icons on Glass?

In keeping with tradition I escaped abroad to ring in the New Year and for 2018 I chose the region of Transylvania in Romania. Yes I did encounter Dracula but I’m saving that for a different post…

On New Years Day I took a trip to a small village around 30 minutes taxi ride from the town of Sibui called Sibiel, home of the one-of-a-kind Museum of Icons on Glass (The Zosim Oancea Museum). Yes it’s very specific but that’s what I love, finding specialist museums, odes to different crafts in the most unexpected of places. Sibiel is one of the smallest villages in Romania and houses one of the largest collections of icons painted on glass in the world. There’s around 600 of them in the museum which opened in the early 1970s.

What on earth is an icon painted on glass?
romanian glass painting

I hear you! It’s not something I had heard if. Essentially they are paintings of religious leaders painted on glass. These icons are respected Christian figures and were painted by monks and peasants. It’s an artform that began in Transylvania at the beginning of the 18th century with its peak creation from 1750 to the end of the 19th century. Although it is mainly associated as a Transylvanian craft, neighbouring districts have since made their own variations.

So what is the museum like?

sibiel church

When you arrive at the tiny village of Sibiel, you’ll first see a vast church in the centre beside a rather picturesque graveyard and adjacent to that is the museum. It’s spread over two floors and both floors have a number of rooms all with walls and panels filled with these glass painted icons and other Romanian crafts such as fabrics and textiles, beaded jewellery and egg crafts, though the focus is very much on the bold, colourful glass paintings.

museum of glass icons

It’s a fairly rustic space and the theme of the images does start to get a bit similar if you look at all of them however each one is very much an individual piece and they are in very good condition.

And now the art technique…

glass icons transylvania

If you head to any modern craft store today you’ll easily find a glass painting section with pens and pots of liquid paint you can apply to jazz up your glasses but the technique for these icons is far more complex – they are actually painted under the glass not on top of it. That way the art is protected by the fact there is a glass layer on top.

It’s thought that whole peasant families were involved in the process of painting these glass icons. This could be tasks like preparing pigments, tracing designs or even making the frames. The brushes used to paint the icons were handmade too from materials like hairs of cat’s tails and goose quill pens. Once painted the glass was varnished and the icon then placed inside a frame, often a decorative one.

Worth a trip?

Absolutely! The village has a real fairytale feel about it with wells and a stream running through it, it’s nice for a little wonder.

artistan_sibiel_craft shop

There’s a quaint craft shop in the village centre (only accepts cash so come prepared) and if you’re lucky, the museum staff will also open up the church for you to look in and admire further Romanian artistry.

sibiel church insideInside Sibiel’s church

sibiel_transylvaniaWell worth a visit!

There’s more about Sibiel on its dedicated website. http://www.sibiel.net

 

 

 

 

 

Yes you can look good: what to pack for snow

what to wear in iceland

At a travelblogger’s conference earlier this year I was horrified to learn that I am not a proper travel blogger. If I was, I would have written a dozen ‘packing advice’ posts by now. It’s the done thing: guaranteed to get you views. But hey I’m not fickle* and I’m not interested in packing posts. I can’t think of anything more dull to read than an article on ‘go to this shop and buy this’, just to wear once on holiday. Having that that, I did meet a lady whose sole ‘packing advice’ blog got so popular she now employs over 30 people.

So *this is not strictly a packing post, I merely added the word ‘pack’ in the title to test out if there is any ‘clickbait’ reaction. The main reason I am writing is a couple of weeks back the UK came to a standstill after ‘some’ snowfall. So I’m tying in ‘snow style tips’ with packing; this doubling up makes me feel less ashamed about writing a ‘packing post.’ (Seriously who are these hundreds and thousands of people around the world who read blogs about ‘packing’? Surely there’s none in my friendship network?)

On to the topic in question. I used to be so freaked out by snow. As a Londoner with little exposure to the white stuff I didn’t get how on earth you walk in it. One time on a ski trip in Slovenia the snow got to me so much I cried on the slopes. Much of my lack of confidence was that I just felt so uncomfortable. My hired ski suit was so un-me and I was handed big bulky boots that I’d never have chosen to wear myself. Leaving any fashion decision in someone else’s hands is a massive risk.

Last month, I faced my snow fears again by spending a few days in Iceland, only this time I was determined not to get upset by abiding by convention and wearing dull clothes. Instead I decided to pack as myself. The only addition I made to my normal wardrobe was thermals. When you’ve got thermals on under your clothes you can get away with wearing anything. Maybe that’s obvious but if it is, I’d like to know what the excuse is for there being so much blandness being worn at this time of year? (Minus the Christmas jumper which is as adventurous as most British people get.)

So here’s what I discovered about what to wear when it snows, or if you’re in a snowy place.

Hiking books? Whatever. You just need some decent crampons
snow boots_craft and travel blog

I did actually look into walking and hiking boots but any that were remotely pleasing on the eye were painfully expensive. I mean I only wanted boots for a three day trip, there was no way I was going to invest is a pricey pair and justify it by telling myself I’d wear them again. So I decided on the best possible option, buy the cheapest but nicest pair I could find that would do the job then add on crampons, a portable teeth-like device you place on your shoe which aids walking on snow and ice. They’re pretty cheap and discreet and make walking in snow a breeze. For the boots themselves I bought a pair from Ebay for £10 and they totally did the trick.  I only needed the crampons on a couple of occasions when the snow walking turned to snow trekking.

Dress up
snow style
See I’m the kind of girl that wears dresses pretty much every day. I don’t own a pair of jeans and I hate trousers, I find them annoyingly restricting. So I consulted my dress collection and picked out the ones which had long sleeves and came below the knee. Then I teamed them with two layers of thermals underneath and the result was I felt happy wearing a dress and I didn’t get cold. Win.

Colour
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I’ve come across a couple of travel bloggers who have declared it’s winter, so they will be wearing dark colours. Eh? Fine if you want to blend into the grey skies but there’s no law to say colour is just for sunshine. Truth is colour brightens up your mood and those around you. In a winter landscape, colour increases in vibrancy and as many would describe it, makes your photos ‘pop.’ (Yeah, I don’t know what that means either.) You don’t need to go out like a rainbow, think about a key colourful piece – like my red poncho – every time I’ve ever worn it it gets compliments. In fact it’s a travel staple. I take it everywhere, even warm destinations because it acts as an aeroplane blanket and shelter from the draft of air con.

Accessorise appropriately
what to pack for iceland

To be fair, I don’t normally put the words ‘appropriate’ and ‘fashion together’ but it does alarm me when it’s snowing, people complain and they aren’t even wearing a hat, scarf or gloves. When you’re wrapped up warm for winter your jewellery like necklaces and bangles may get covered up by your layers, but those key items that will be seen are a chance to enjoy your personal style. There’s a scarf type for everyone. And hats… we lose most body heat through our heads yet still there are folk that don’t wear hats. Don’t feel self-conscious, just get one that’s warm and snug – same for gloves. Part fingerless are my favourite because they allow you to do so much more than mittens do despite the fact visually I prefer a mit.

Get cosy in your coat
what coat you need for iceland
Your coat is your shield. Your armour. You could be wearing all the thermals in the world but your coat is what will keep the winds out. Yes they are a pain to travel with and mine is so huge it actually took up the same space as hand luggage but lugging it around was so worth it, especially in the waterfall areas of Iceland where the conditions are literally biting cold.

hotel ranga iceland _northern lights

So…should it snow again where you are, or if you’re off to somewhere snowy this Christmas or New Year don’t feel compelled to wrap up and look drab… snug can be stylish too.

Fancy going to Iceland. I was invited by and stayed at Hotel Ranga in Southern Iceland, which is an incredible spot in which to witness the Northern Lights as they have a policy that they give you a wake up call in your room at whatever time they come out whether that’s midnight or 4am, you won’t miss them! 

Image credits: Craft and Travel

It’s my birthday so I made my dream outfit: A Bat Girl Sari

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Seriously. What is it with people who do nothing on their birthday? It astonishes me when friends claim they ‘don’t bother anymore’, ‘they are too old’, blah, blah, blah. The day you were born is an essential celebration in my books, after all; we’ve survived another year. If we honestly care about ourselves, then birthdays are the time to show it.

Creating a ‘birthday suit’ is something I love doing. In previous years I’ve sewn new dresses, but this year I wanted something a little bit different. So I thought about all the things I love. Batman is high up on the list. My favourite superhero, I’ve long wanted to be Bat Girl. And that’s when it clicked; I’d create my own Bat Girl Suit…but not a conventional one. I designed an ensemble that  represents me and my story: my very own Bat Sari. Keep reading to see how I created it…

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Make-up, styling and photography: Halima @MakeUpSurgery

CHOOSING MY DESIGN
Clothing is a form of self-expression though not everyone takes advantage of the possibilities. Designing my own sari was a chance to play with six whole metres of fabric so I opted to tell my own story through the design.

It starts from the bottom: my very own pink Bat Girl logo. Every super hero has their own logo and a pink bat was exactly what I wanted: fierce yet unashamedly kitsch. I then created a border of a Gothamesque city but it’s not a crime ridden fictional town, it’s infact a silhouette of the Taj Mahal: built in India to commemorate the Mughal Empress Mumtaz after her death, who I’m named after. I mounted it on a photograph of a sunset I took one Christmas in Brighton, where I was a student. It looks like a painted backdrop but it’s an untouched actual photograph of a magical horizon.

bat girl sari sunset
Sunset in Brighton (no filters or re-touching!) just Mother Nature

I’m a sunset chaser, every time I travel seeing the sunset is my number one priority so seeing one on my sari makes me happy and proud, knowing it’s my phoneography skills.

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Collage samples & embroideries I created

The main visible section of the sari is called the pallu, this is the area that gets styled over the shoulder and this was the area I couldn’t wait to create. As a crafter I’m most comfortable when I’m sewing and collaging so that’s what I did.

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Materials from my stash

I gathered all my fabrics, beads, sequins, gemstones, broken jewellery, made some handmade paper, raided my trim stash and used these items to create a pattern that depicts my love for colour and appreciate of textiles and texture and were all sourced from different times of my life, including a beaded trim I bought in Kenya and a sample from a handbag I made back in 2001.

DIGITAL PRINT FABRIC

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Visiting Fashion Formula HQ

I am utterly obsessed with digital print. If I was Graphic Designer I would be translating all my ideas onto fabric…hang on a minute. Should it stop me just because I don’t have the skills? Hell no. I may not be a dab hand with Illustrator, In-Design or Photoshop (or whatever other packages designers use) but I do know how to sew and craft things. And I know designers – a perfect excuse to collaborate. So that’s what I did. Of course there was also the question of printing fabric. My friend Tree who knows about these things suggested I check out Fashion Formula who allow you to print your own designs onto fabric and wallpaper and then sell your designs via their website.

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OOH. So much lovey fabric at Fashion Formula to choose from

They have over 50 fabrics to choose from, from craft felt (imagine the possibilities) to luxury velvet and waterproof shower curtain material. It’s mind-blowing when you think about the potential but I had to reign myself in. I was looking for the perfect sari fabric, that had to be light and floaty. I had no idea where to start so I popped into their West London office to have a good feel of their fabrics. Oh my. It was like being in fabric heaven. Seeing so many different textures lined up isn’t something you can witness in normal fabric shops. You don’t need to trek to West London though, Fashion Formula send out sample books. They are only £1 and they help you compare the feel and weight of the fabric before you choose.

I knew I wanted something floaty and light to give my sari a touch of Bollywood romance (I’m a sucker for watching those) so I asked the Fashion Formula team what they recommended and they suggested a silky soft, light crinkle chiffon lurex which has a natural glistening stripe to it and is new on their fabric list. As I knew my sari would feature images of shimmering, glittering stones it was perfect.

DESIGNING MY SARI

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The design for my pallu

My sari is a collaboration piece, I knew I couldn’t do it all myself to I had a think about all the awesome people I know and Graphic Designer & Stylist Sally Hughson came to mind. She designs the fliers for the Craft Night I co-run with my friend Mia, The Make Escape and her ideas are always so imaginative. Sal helped me turn my collages into a digital design while my friend Tree also assisted with creating the patterned section on the main body of the sari. The three of us constructed the design of my dreams, and it was great to have their support rather than me spend hours alone trying to figure out how to cut out and blow up photos of giant jewels.

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SARI STORY

It took Fashion Formula just a couple of days to print my sari and though they post out nationally and internationally I was too excited to wait, so I went to collect it.

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First look at my printed sari fabric at Fashion Formula

When I arrived the sari was wound around a cardboard pole, I actually couldn’t believe my vision was alive. Alex from Fashion Formula unwound the fabric to show me the pattern and I was utterly amazed, the finished print surpassed all my expectations. The material printed faultlessly and the patterns were so clear and beautiful.

BIRTHDAY PHOTOSHOOT

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Checking into the MakeUp Surgery

Again collaboration was in order. I teamed up with Halima @MakeUpSurgery who shares a similar vision to me about fashion and styling: that it’s a form of art and expression and that there is absolutely no reason to conform to any ideals other than your own.

Halima @MakeUpSurgery doing her thing

We spent an afternoon at her East London ‘creative surgery’ where she did my make-up, styled me for the shoot and did the photography – with this much skill, she’s clearly a Wonder Woman herself. Halima opted for purple lashes and a gorgeous white shimmer on my skin and dressed me in Adidas tracksuit bottoms and white gloves. I felt like I could conquer the world. We took over 1000 photos and all of them were incredible.
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I felt so proud wearing a sari that represents me: a British, Bangladeshi, South Asian, Muslim, Londoner, Colour Addict, Craft Queen, Batman loving, Urban Warrioress who is a firm believer in freedom – freedom to be who you want, live where you want, love who you want, go where you want and do what you want as long as it makes you happy. Life is precious and short. Sieze it, do it, say it, be it. And as my friend Karen Arthur says ‘wear your happy.’

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Oh and I’ve decided Birthday Photoshoots should be A Thing so celebrate being alive and do one too.

VOILA!

Happy Birthday me!
It’s my birthday today and my sari is the ultimate present to myself. Making it was one of the best uses of my time all year. Every second I spent on it made me happy so I’ve decided not to stop here. In 2018 I’ll be launching my own range of sarees, designed for the modern woman who loves dressing up. I’m also keen to collaborate with other designers and artists so if you want to work with me on a sari, get in touch.
Now where’s the cake…
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My birthday sari was a collaboration with these awesome people:
Fabric printing: Fashion Formula
Make-Up, Styling & Photography: Halima @MakeUpSurgery
Digital/Graphic Design: Sally Hughson Additional design: Tree @StitchlessTV Re-touching: Richard Elsley.
THANK YOU!

 

 

 

Daytripping in Winter: Dreamland Margate ticks the boxes

British summer time and seasides make for the perfect daytrip, but does it still work as a December activity?

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roller disco

Since it opened back in May this year following a £25 million investment, the oldest surviving amusement part in the UK, Dreamland Margate has become one of the most Instagrammable destinations for colour lovers. It seems to always be on my feed, colour-hunters, meet-up groups, crafters, bloggers, attending in their hoards to get selfies in front of the rainbow ‘Born Slippy’ slides and the retro themed roller disco. To say I’ve been suffering FOMO would be an understatement, I so wanted to visit but I never quite made it before it closed down for the summer season. Booo!

But then I heard it was opening back up for Christmas with a Frosted Fairground so I hotfooted it down to the Kent coast to see what all the fuss is about. Yes it’s winter. Yes it’s cold, but if you layer up (I had my thermals under all my normal clothes) there is much fun to be had.

helter skelter

My 5 reasons why you should visit Dreamland Margate in winter

Short days
Margate is highly Instagrammable during the day but a fairground really comes to life in the dark and in winter it’s dark by 4pm so the fairground lights come on quicker (plus there are extra Xmas ones too.) I call that a Win. It’s also really fun to be able to go on the rides in the daytime and at night to compare, especially the legendary Scenic Railway – the oldest rollercoaster in the UK which no matter how scared you think you’ll be, you have to go on.

Ice skating
Yes, you can go to the Roller Disco in all seasons but let’s face it, skating off- season isn’t the same. It’s best done in December. Can’t skate? Neither can I. Thankfully I found a guide to help me over the course: a plastic penguin!

Banish grey skies
Going to Dreamland on a grey day is no bad thing because there’s so much colour in the rides, signage, details that it eases the depressive nature of bleak winter days.

Good vibes
While other places you visit during this time of year (shopping centres, bars, restaurants) are all playing the same old Christmas pop CDs, Margate maintains its vintage vibes by playing golden oldies rather than chart music Xmas mash-ups. There’s also live DJs and a huge stage giving it a fun festival feel. Infact it’s good vibes all round. Compact in size, friendly staff dotted around the place, rides for all levels of bravery and yummy food carts, all of which create a perfect daytrip experience.

Xmas Shopping
Swap the high-street for the boutique shops of Margate and pick up something a little more interesting. Dreamland is just five minutes walk from Margate train station, five minutes walk to the beach and seafront and five minute walk to the old town shops. A destination couldn’t be better designed. And if you are down for Dreamland, Margate has much to explore. The Turner Contemporary Margate Art Gallery is free to visit and has a quirky gift shop which is also a fab place to shop, as is the colourful and curious A Little Bit Margate.

See, daytripping is not just for summertime. And if you’re one of those folks that wants to visit Margate but can’t hack the crowds it attracts on sunny days, winter is the perfect time to experience it.

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Dreamland Margate is open every day from December 16th until 3rd January. (Closed Christmas Day). It’s also open weekend of 9/10th December.

Entrance is free rides and skating are paid for separately.
Tickets available from dreamland.co.uk/events