Monday, 10 October 2011

Quantum Entanglement, or Rapunzel's Lament

The Wind whips fingers through my hair,
Lifting random tendrils in the air.
I meant to plait it, but forgot
And now it's flying everywhere.
He plays with them until I've got
My tangled tresses tied in lovers' knots.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Dance Kit Check!

Off to Cardiff yesterday to perform at the Masquerade Belly Dance Ball with some of the lovely women who come to my Imago Belly Dance classes.  For two of them, this was their first belly dance performance; one has only had a couple of months of classes, and is feeling seriously challenged but resolutely goes for it. We must have danced the piece about 25 or 30 times, but there are still some sticky points, made worse by nerves, anxiety and frustration; everyone working so hard to get it right.  It's a relatively short, simple choreography with a lot of repetition, but it's slow and slinky, which needs muscles and control.  And we're wearing masks and using feather boas.  My workroom is adrift with white feathers and bits of glitter. At the end of rehearsals, the room looked like an explosion in a chicken plucking plant.  It's amazing there are any feathers left in the boas. (Admittedly they were cheap, but even so, seriously underwhelming in terms of quality.  Even doubled up, they are straggly and fluffy.  Both of my cats have also tried to kill them; they may be a heap of feathers, but they're obviously not dead enough yet!).
I'm an old hand at performance, but I still get anxious trying to remember all my kit. I packed a small suitcase for the Cardiff show, and received comments from the assembled company in the house at the time that they took less for a week's holiday (though I can't work out how!)  There are a few haflas coming up too, so here is my current and commented list for dance kit:

Body: Costume(s).  I wear everyday clothes for travelling in, with an extra coat or sweater for later. Check you have all the bits of the costume for all your pieces, clean, mended if necessary, admired from all angles in a mirror to ensure you're not unintentionally revealing anything, and rehearsed in to ensure there are no problems. Remember that beaded belts and skirts are designed for dancing, not sitting around in.   If you're wearing bedlah, you might want to take a galabeya to change into for sitting around and perhaps the dancing at the end, or if not, then a ...
Costume cover-up, even if it's only a large silk veil.  And a veil is also a nice prop to shimmy around with at the end, too.

Appropriate underwear!  Note; match knickers/boy shorts to the colour of the skirt.  I like to take a change of underwear, so that I can change into something fresh and dry to avoid getting chilly on the drive home. 
Props.  In this case, mask and boa, and a spare mask and boa in case someone forgets theirs. (I know, I'm just a mother hen!)
Sagat (aka zills, finger cymbals), if you like to play them while shimmying around with if there's a disco at the end.  (If you see me playing air sagat backstage, you know I'm having a few pre-performance nerves!)
Jewellery. Earrings, necklace, bracelets; something to max the bling which won't catch on the boa or mask.
Other bits like emery board, lip salve, moisturiser, body glitter and bindis.
Talcum powder, to try to stop the boa sticking to my sweaty hands!
Small towel and/or wet wipes or similar.
Feet: Dance shoes to match costume.  I might take two pairs, one ballet, one 'ballerina' flat.  I took only the latter to a hafla last year, and they were so grippy on the mucky tile dance floor, I could hardly move!
Face: Make-up and mirror.  For a local show, it's best to go ready made-up; there's seldom a dressing room with a mirror, reasonable light, space and time to do a good job.  We went up to Cardiff quite early and did our make-up in the canteen while we were waiting for our food to arrive.  Note, if you're travelling any distance in make-up, you'll probably still want to touch it up.  If you're in fantasy make-up, be prepared for some strange looks at motorway services when you wander in looking like Dr Who extras! 
Hair: brush, comb, hair clips (hair bands and so on just slip off my head), hair ties, flowers,braids, tikka, dreadfalls, whatever, etc.
Mending kit, with thread to match costume pieces, safety pins, scissors
And various 'handbag' bits such as:
Money, keys, business cards, diary and pen
Phone (with charged battery)
Camera (with charged battery and a spare SD card ... and spare battery in case the first goes dead.)
Music, spare copy on CD
Bottle of water
Address, directions and notes on parking
Tickets, if these have been sent in advance
A copy of the choreography notes (I often go blank!) and tech sheet.

Both my cats get rather upset when I pack to go somewhere, and start being a bit obstructive ...
I don't care if your sparkly galabeya is in here, this is currently my bed.

Friday, 7 October 2011

Recipe - Sweet Spicy & Quick Stir Fried ...

I seem to be very busy, if not terribly productive, at the moment and needed a very quick lunch the other day, also a bit of a ginger and chilli fix.  I had some leftover marrow (they seem to go on forever) and did a spicy hot, sweet and quick stir fry.  This works just as well with cucumber, if you have a summer glut, courgette or squash. I love it, so I thought I'd share it.   I had it as a main dish, but you could have it as a side dish instead.  The quantities are approximate - adjust to your needs and your taste.

Approx 4" length of marrow, peeled, deseeded and cut into roughly 2" sticks
An onion or rather large shallot, cut into wedges
An inch or so of fresh ginger and a couple of cloves of garlic, cut into strips
Sweet chilli sauce (or you could use finely sliced fresh chilli, or some chilli flakes) and mango chutney
A little vegetable oil

Heat the oil, add the onion/shallot and fry - I like mine starting to caramelise around the edges.
Add the ginger and garlic (and chilli if you're not using chilli sauce) and toss around a little, then add the marrow.
Stir fry until the marrow starts to cook through, and add a tablespoon or so each of chilli sauce (if you're not using fresh chillies) and mango chutney.
Stir around some more so that the flavours cook through into the marrow. Serve with some rice, noodles, flatbread .. whatever you like.
Spicy hot from the ginger and chilli, sweet from the mango chutney and very quick! Bon appetit!

Monday, 5 September 2011

100 Words

Looking for some part-time, freelance work recently, I applied for a job as a design researcher, which apparently involved surfing the interweb for examples of good interior design and compiling them in a list, for a couple of days a week. In a strange sort of phone interview one evening, (after I had sent my CV and cover letter 3 times!) the prospective employer expressed his doubts that I could do the job, considering that I have no qualifications in design or architecture. He wanted 100 words back to him that same evening on why I would be a perfect candidate.

Well, okay.  It's true, I'm not really a 'designer' although I can surf around the interweb and compile lists in my sleep.  As far as I can see, much of what passes for 'interior design' is really just fashion.  The same size and shape of sofa in the same place in the room, with the same size and shape of cushions, but this year we're wearing, as it might be, contrasting stripes of Telephone Black and White White*.  (Oh, you noticed those slashes of red across the wall? Yes, it does look like arterial spray, but actually our painter had a bit of a tantrum when we changed our mind from the original palette of Cornish Cream, Strawberry and Bitter Chocolate.  It's such a talking point, we decided to leave it.  No, unfortunately, I can't give you his number - he's disappeared.)

Good design does have some rules, so inspired by Dieter Rams' 10 Principles for Good Design, and some thoughts of my own, I put together a paragraph relating elements of good design to my own characteristics.  I was so pleased with this piece of creative writing, I thought I would record it for posterity:

  • I am useful, practical, easy to understand, unpretentious and honest; what you see is what you get.  I am beautiful in my own way, and at 50 years old, quite durable and long-lasting.  I am conscientious, accurate and thorough; details are important.  I can stand alone to make a statement or work alongside others, blending in harmoniously and unobtrusively.  I can be functional and innovative to provide good solutions.  Interested in wildlife conservation, I am environmentally friendly.  I dance, combining space, flow and rhythm.  I transcend changing tastes and fashions.  I am an example of good design.  Pure and simple.

I didn't get a reply.  After a week or so, I called back.  He was relieved that I wasn't one of his sponsors calling him, but when I reminded him I had applied for the job, he said he didn't remember me at all.  I left it at that.  Some things aren't meant to be; I think I might have had a lucky escape.

* Flanders and Swann: 'Design for Living', which you can listen to here (starts at about 6 minutes). And, like so many of their songs, as true now as it was then.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Organised Chaos

I like to think I'm quite organised.  I’m very untidy, but mostly manage to work with a sort of organised chaos, relying on knowing where I put something.  And then, at some point, it all descends into complete chaos, where I can’t find anything and feel as though I can’t move for standing on my hands, as it were.  That’s where I am at the moment.  I can’t find the buttons I bought recently at a couple of charity shops.  I have a pile of odd socks.  (This drives me crackers.  Where could they go?)  I have fabric and paperwork everywhere but can’t find the particular fabric or set of papers that I want.  Oh, to have a place for everything and everything in its place, but I’m a hoarder and my stash is currently exceeding the available storage.  I’d do some stash-busting, but I can’t find the buttons …

Needing some inspiration (displacement activity, really), I picked up my Belly Dancer’s Treasure Pack.  This is a set of cards and a ‘guidance book’ written by my belly dance colleague Guinevere Clark. She worked with a number of artists who provided the lovely illustrations on the cards, and I did the proof reading for the book.
I’m always amazed at the way you can select Tarot or Oracle cards and there will be something which speaks to your situation.  Putting aside the 6 cards which constantly call to me (Transformation, Dreamtime, Isis, Goddess, Self-Acceptance and Sensuality) I shuffled the other cards.  Pick 6 cards, let’s see what they say. 

So … Organisation (ha!), Breath, Hands, Learning, Flow, Synergy.  Of course, the affirmations and notes to go with the cards relate to dance, but it seems to me the message is:  Allow and create space and time to get organised.  Take a deep breath, start to pick things up.  Learn from this; lack of organisation interrupts your flow.  You’ll be more productive when you get it all together.

Of course.  I just needed a little message of encouragement from the universe.  Now I’ve stopped thinking so hard about it, I’ve remembered where I put those buttons!

Current earworm: Muse - Supermassive Black Hole

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

What's in a Name?

A couple of years ago, I came to the point where I really wanted to find a name and some sort of logo for my belly dancing classes and performance for myself and the class troupe.  I had been trawling through names of goddesses, Celtic/Welsh and Arabic words or names and getting nowhere; they were either taken, or somehow not appropriate.

I toyed with using the local Celtic tribe’s name – Demetae Tribal sounded good.  Trouble was, every time I put it into Google, it assumed I had spelt it wrong and corrected it to Demented Tribal.  I shared this with a couple of belly dance friends and we had a merry few minutes playing with how fast we could whirl through Basic Egyptian with half and full turns in a mad sort of way, until we fell about laughing and agreed that Demented Tribal was probably right in some respects, but not ones I wanted to advertise!

I wanted something which reflected the way I thought about belly dance and its effects, and echoed my personality.  Something short and memorable, neutral enough to cover different dance styles, unique, or at least not widely used.  The logo, if not the name, should be something I could also use for my creative output as well.

I’ve identified with moths for a long time.  Mainly nocturnal, attracted to light and scent.  Most aren’t overtly beautiful like butterflies, but have a more complex and subtle appeal.  As I thought about moths, butterflies, dragon- and damselflies, they started to appear in my dreams.  I started to see images of butterflies and moon moths everywhere, in clusters and in unexpected places.  It was a sign.  My favourite moths are large and furry, with round tummies.  Hence the name Dancing Moth for this blog and my creative side.

These insects have been through a metamorphosis, becoming more beautiful with age and change.  I am convinced of the transformational power of dance movement in general and belly dance in particular.  Dancing regularly in a non-judgemental, supportive atmosphere can do great things for self-esteem.  At the point where you decide you can dance in front of others and even perform, you know you are well and truly out of the cocoon.  Lost in the moment and the music, it is as if belly dance releases an inner beauty and you glimpse the soul.  This is especially true for older women, who dance with a subtle elegance. 

In Greek mythology, the Psyche is the Goddess of the soul, and her symbol is the butterfly.

For me, the analogy was complete.  The winged, adult form of insects such as butterflies, moths and dragonflies is the imago.  The word stems from the Latin imago: image, with its root linked to words like imagine, imagination.

Here she is, emerging from her cocoon, spreading her wings and releasing the beauty within.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The Bees are Back in Town!

Last week I took my car in for a service. It was supposed to be a chilly day - we've had over a week of winds coming from the north-west, north and north-east.  However, it was sunny and nicely warm. So I gave myself permission for some time out and took the opportunity to spend a few hours at Poppit Sands.  The tide was out, so I pottered along to the rocky end of the beach to have a look in any handy rock pools. Not a lot there.  Nice patterns in the rocks and sandy ripples, and sunlight glinting off water kept me entertained for a while. I had a nice chat with the lady in the RNLI shop, where they had some lovely things which made me want to redesign my bathroom.  Lacking the money for that, I settled on buying a couple of second hand books, which no doubt will be recycled in the same way when I've read them.  Then I treated myself to lunch in the newly and nicely refurbished beach cafe (local cheeses, fresh bread, salad, chutney, mmm!)
Near the lifeboat station, I was admiring a mound of brambles in flower.  Is it my imagination, or has there been a lot of bramble flower this summer?  We might be in for a good blackberry season.
Gazing at the insects taking advantage of the flowers, I suddenly realised I was looking at several honey bees.  I haven't seen honey bees for two summers and had begun to forget what they look like!  I love our various bumble, solitary and other bees, but was beginning to feel distressed about the lack of honey bees here.

A friend dropped in last night, having been at his neighbour's farm the other night when a swarm of bees flew in and started to settle around a wooden post.  A local beekeeper was called, who happily gathered the swarm to give them a good, new home.
When I first moved here in 1999, we saw a swarm in early to mid July every year for the first few years.  Our next door neighbour at the time had a colony of wild bees in a tree hole.  However, I think they are long gone and I haven't heard about any other wild bees.
This started me thinking about the old rhyme.  Why is a swarm in July not worth a fly?  (Goes off to Google it.) Ahha!  Thanks Biobees!  It's apparently because a late season swarm may not be able to build up enough honey reserves to overwinter.  However, as someone on the forum pointed out, if it's a choice between a July swarm or none, a beekeeper would go for the swarm, and give the bees TLC and supplementary feeding if necessary to help them overwinter.
Our friend has talked about wanting to keep bees recently and commented that my next-door-but-one neighbour (well, she is about three-quarters of a mile up the road, but that's how it is around here!) is also going to start keeping bees.  Very cheerful news over a cup of tea!

We've had rather changeable weather this week until yesterday, which was a great day for getting the washing dry.  So it slipped my mind that I should be doing some butterfly counting.  The sun came out this afternoon, so I went out to look.  The Big Butterfly Count only requires you take 15 minutes at a time, so it's easy.  Go do one!  There was quite a chilly wind and nothing much to see round by the pond, so I went out of the gate to have a look at the roadside buddleias. It started to rain every day as soon as they were ready to open their flowers, resulting in some rather tatty, browning blooms.  But they still smell and there were a few butterflies visiting along with ... yes!  Honey Bees!
(Goes off to do a happy waggle dance in honour of honey bees).

Friday, 20 May 2011

Dancing Shoes

This rather long post is the first in an occasional series addressing what to wear for belly dance class, haflas and performance.  We mostly dance on our feet, so what to wear on the feet is an important and frequently-asked question.

In general, it depends on the venue and your own preference, but I’ve realised this isn’t a very helpful answer for newcomers.  My preference is to dance in bare feet, but I have ‘sticky’ feet and need to wear something if I’m doing any one-foot turns. Trying to turn whilst stuck to the floor results in ‘knee torque’ – very sore, damaged knees from twisting the knee joint.  Dance studios are few and expensive hereabouts, and very few rooms or halls have a lovely, clean wood or vinyl dance floor. Tile floors can be very cold and hard.  Most rooms are used by people wearing outdoor shoes, so even floors which have been swept or vacuumed are often so dirty you end up with black feet!  Even carpet can be surprisingly dirty and most ‘industrial’ carpet is quite coarse and prickly, making it difficult to turn on, whether in shoes or bare feet.

Unless you have really tough feet, they will need protection.  It’s especially important to have shoes to perform in if you’re not sure of the stage or floor surface.  Other dancers may have dropped beads and glass beads in particular can cut and get embedded in your feet.  The smallest things can result in cuts, as I found when I stepped and turned on a tiny, sharp piece of slate, which carved a slice in the ball of my foot.  Since then, I wear shoes most of the time.

I have ultra-wide feet and finding shoes is an issue, as some wide-fitting shoes really aren’t wide enough. Even though you can borrow hip scarves, items of clothing, veils and other props, shoes are personal.  It’s worth looking for shoes and getting a few pairs for different surfaces and occasions.

Dance shoes must have a flexible sole, enough room to spread your toes, stay on your feet and have the right balance of slip and grip.  For classes indoors, trainers and Crocs aren’t good as they have too much grip and too little flexibility. Toe-post sandals, flip flops and mules are also not good, because they come off the feet quite easily. High heels affect posture and balance and are not appropriate for class.  Although it’s nice to keep your socks on and your feet warm on a cold floor, on some floors they can be dangerously slippery.  You should also avoid shoes with trailing ribbons or tassels, big floppy bows, large buckles which could catch on your other foot or ankle and cause you to trip, and shoes which are so highly decorated or brightly coloured that it’s distracting for anyone watching.

So, with special emphasis on wide feet and with sympathy for those at the other end of the scale with narrow feet, here are some suggestions and links:

Belly Dance Shoes
These have an elasticated topline and lamé fabric or faced leather upper.  Some have hard soles, but a suede sole is better.  Gold and silver are the most common colours, but you can find them in other colours as well. With my wide feet, I have to go up a size, but I also find the pointed (also known as ‘almond’) toe looks strange and am thinking of a way to sew across the upper and sole to produce a rounded toe.  These would look very nice for performance.

Ballet Shoes
These come in leather, canvas and satin and more recently, Spandex, with full or split soles.  Several brands have styles which come in wide fittings; look for Freed, Starlight, Capezio, Sansha, Roch Valley, Katz and Grishko. Some of these do narrow fittings too, or try Bloch.  The different fittings won’t be available in all styles, but you should be able to find some sort of ballet shoe to suit you.

Ballet shoes often come up small, and many shops advise you to take a size larger than your normal shoe size, so check in the details or call the shop for advice.
Part of the problem with wide feet is that although the shoe upper is soft and adjustable enough to take a wider foot, a narrow sole feels uncomfortable, particularly if the ball of your foot rests on the edge of the sole.
I have a pair of black leather full sole Starlights for class, which were quite hard to start with although they’ve softened up now.  They came with the elastic already sewn on, but it was too far back and tight on me, so I replaced it with new black elastic.  Although it matches the shoes, pink or white elastic would be less noticeable and would probably look better.
I noticed that the Bellydance Superstars often perform wearing flesh pink ballet shoes, so I’ve recently bought some pink leather full sole Katz (see photo).  They are very soft and comfy, with slight padding under the heel. (For those who don’t know, the usual way to find where to sew elastics on ballet shoes is to fold the heel up and attach the elastic just forward of the fold. You might want to just safety pin it first and check that it’s comfortable there.  It shouldn’t cut into the front of your ankle.)
I also have a pair of pink Capezio canvas split soles which are a wide fitting, but the toe pad is a bit small for a wide foot.  They are quite comfortable though, especially when my feet are hot.  However, I put these on in one dance studio and it was like wearing ice skates! When the floor is very slippery, you might need something with synthetic soles, like …

‘Ballerina’ Shoes
These have been in fashion for a while, are often quite cheap and are widely available. The downside is that they are generally made of synthetic materials and can get a bit smelly! Some have very pointed ‘almond’ toes, some round toes, so pick a style which matches your foot shape.  They don’t usually come in wider fittings, but it’s worth checking – these are from Store Twenty One, though I had to go up a size as well. Look for ones with flexible soles – some of them have hard, rigid soles.
There are some which are already decorated with sequins and acrylic stones for instant bling, but wide fitting shoes are generally only available in black.  Still, they can easily be decorated with some stick on diamante if you want something flashier.

You could also try other styles of dance shoes, such as jazz shoes, which sometimes come in a metallic finish.

In general, shoes should be flat, but some dancers find that having a low heel can take the strain off sore heels.  In this case, you can try low heeled character shoes or Greek sandals, although I haven’t found any in a wide fitting.

Some dancers prefer not to wear shoes if they can avoid it, and just need some protection for turns.  There is a growing selection of ‘foot thongs’ (look under the ‘lyrical and contemporary’ sections in the online shops). I have tried on the Capezio Sandasoles as they seem very popular with dancers, but couldn’t get them onto my ultra-wide feet properly.  They are suede, so I expect they would stretch, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to get my foot in and stand the tightness to break them in.

Hermes Sandals
The ultimate in flexibility for foot width has to be something you just lace up over your foot. These have a flat heel and suede sole which is just wide enough.  You just slip your foot under the cords, tighten and tie around the ankle. They are light, flexible and cool.  I find they look a bit strange with cabaret style costumes, but they are rightly popular for tribal style dance.  These are from Pedralta.
I find these laces cut in a little if I tie them too tight.  I see the sandals now come with flat cotton laces, which look a like ribbon and can be bought separately.  To size these, they suggest dropping a size from your normal (UK) shoe size. However, they are only going to be offering the sandals in sizes 2-6 in future.  Normal shoe size 7 seems quite a small size for an upper size limit – if you’re larger than that, get in touch with them!

All of the above supposes that you are in a class or performance space indoors.  I have danced in wellies and hiking boots at muddy festivals.  I used an old, worn out pair of ballerina style shoes to dance on wet coir matting in a yurt and flat ankle boots (to give my ankles some support) teaching a short workshop on a grassy slope at a family day out (not something I’m going to do again in a hurry!)  If you are doing a carnival or festival parade, and you’re not riding on a float, you want something which will protect and support your feet.  They may tell you it’s only a mile, but while other parts of the parade are strolling along, you might be doing dance steps and it will feel like a lot further. Wear supportive shoes, trainers or jazz sneakers (again, difficult to find for wide feet) decorated with sequins and stick on diamante stones. (Another idea for parades - if you’re in the UK and especially if you’re in Wales, you can expect it to rain, so take a long umbrella.  Furled up, it can double as a Saiidi stick and maybe it’ll stay sunny all the way!)

I know, most of these shoes contain leather so would not be favourite for some people.  Please feel free to leave comments about your favourite dancing shoes.

These aren't necessarily recommendations, but I made a note of these as sources when I was trawling the web trying to find wide fitting dance shoes, together with a couple of suppliers mentioned above:

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Flowering Inspiration

I feel I should apologise in advance, because the following reads like an advert.  But I’m not going to, because I love this place and think everyone should visit on a regular basis!
Note: Clicking on the photos will give you a larger, more detailed view.

One of my favourite places is the Great Glasshouse at the National Botanic Garden of Wales. I feel happy and relaxed as soon as I walk in.  There’s something about the atmosphere; light, airy, warm and scented by flowers and the essential oils and resins from the plants.  The dome protects plants from Mediterranean-type habitats on five continents, so there is always plenty to look at.  Sparrows and robins come in through the open windows and nest in the walls.  There is a little café and a seating area where you can have something to drink and eat while you feast your senses and the birds will come to tidy up any crumbs you may have dropped.
I especially love it in April, because the Sweet Broom Teline stenopetala is flowering and the scent from its glorious display of yellow flowers fills the glasshouse.
It’s in the lowest part of the glasshouse in an area of laurel forest, with water trickling down cliffs into a pool.  I stood for about a quarter of an hour beneath the flowers, breathing in their scent, looking at them, stroking them (very soft), watching the fish and birds.

At the top of the cliff, a Tenerife Bugloss Echium wildpretii ( I think) had sent up a flower spike like a tower of rubies.

Some of the Puya sp started to flower in April this year.  These members of the bromeliad family are native to the Chilean Andes. The rosettes of long, viciously spiky leaves form offsets, growing into large, dense clusters of plants.  The spikes are angled backwards; apparently birds and small mammals unlucky enough to get caught in a clump can become trapped and die, their decaying bodies providing nutrients for the plants.  I couldn’t find a handy gardener to ask what they’d been feeding the plants to make them flower.  Perhaps an unwary visitor had gone too close and been grabbed.
Puyas are slow growing and may take years to flower.  Once a rosette has flowered and seeded, it will die, but what flowers!  The flower spikes are at least 2 m/6’ tall, topped by a great head full of flowers.
I couldn’t get very close to the yellow Puya chilensis flowers, partly because of the rosette leaves and the height of the spike, and partly because of clumps of students.

However, the Puya berteroana was also flowering and I could get a closer look at the flower spike.  The flowers are a sort of steely blue in bud, opening turquoise-green-teal with bright orange anthers, arranged in clusters around the base of pale green sterile bud spikes.
I was fascinated by the colour combination of pale green, steel blue, jade/turquoise/teal, orange, and golden beige.  The lilac flowers from a member of the mallow family (didn’t catch the name of it) looked lovely beside it, too.  I recently bought a bead mix which turned out to have a high proportion of orange beads.  Much as I love copper tones, orange seems to clash easily and I was looking for examples of how to use it as a contrast colour.  It’s so eye-catching, the orange glows out from the centre of each flower in the spike.  Best in limited quantities as an accent colour, perhaps.

I took lots of photos of other plants as sources of inspiration and reference (although my project list is long enough at the moment!).  Just looking at the photos brings back the sensual experience and the happy, relaxed feelings of being there.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

How to Make a Bag from an Old T Shirt

I love T shirts.  Mine never find their way to the recycling or charity shops because I wear them until they fall apart.  Then I cut them up for dusters, as they make good lint-free cloths which can be washed and reused until they fall apart or get used for such mucky jobs that they just have to be thrown away.  I don’t have room for more dusters under the sink, so now I’m making old T shirts into bags.  These are handy for shopping, sewing and knitting projects-in-progress and for belly dance costumes.  I put my veils into one, to keep them from being snagged by the coin belts in the same holdall I take to class.  One of my friends saw it and said ‘Ooh, you should make and sell them!’  Well, where would I get a supply of worn-out T shirts?  Especially since Mary Portas has had such an influence on charity shops that many are slowly and surely removing all their old bric-a-brac that crafters love and rely on, to concentrate on selling quality goods.  If, dear reader, you are local to me and have some old T shirts which you’d like me to turn into bags for you, just let me know.  But if you use a sewing machine, it is really easy to do, so here are some instructions so that you can have a crack at doing it yourself.

Step 1: Take a T shirt which has seen better days.  Mine often go under the arms and start to fray around the neck.  (You could use an old vest or spagetti strap/camisole top, in which case you can skip straight to step 5.)

Step 2: Cut off the sleeves and …    Step 3: Fold the T shirt in half lengthways, and cut a scoop neck.  You can see from the picture that I’ve cut a curve about 7” deep.  Keep the off-cuts.  There'll be another tutorial sometime which uses them!

Step 4: Oversew the raw edges where you cut the sleeves and the neck, to reinforce them.  I use my overlocker, but you could also use a zig zag stitch.  My overlocker was already threaded with purple and I was not about to rethread it to match – nothing fancy here!  Anyway, I think the contrasting thread looks nice.

Step 5: Turn the T shirt inside out and sew across the bottom.  This will be the bottom of the bag.  You might want to cut the hem off the bottom of the T shirt first, to reduce bulk, or use the knife and cut as you sew, with an overlocker.  If you want this bag for shopping, reinforce the seam by sewing it twice.

The next two steps are optional; they give the bottom of the bag a square profile.  If you’re not bothered about that, skip to step 8.

Step 6: Still with the T shirt/bag inside out, spread the fabric either side of the bottom seam, so that the end of the seam forms a point.

Step 7: Sew across at right angles to the bottom seam, two or three inches in from the point.  Cut off the resulting triangle of fabric.
Repeat at the other end of the bottom seam.

Step 8: Tidy up loose threads by knotting them and/or sewing them in and trimming them off.  Tip – if you’ve cut the thread a bit short, push your needle in reverse through a few stitches so that the eye comes up next to the short threads.  Then thread your needle with those threads and pull them through.

Step 9: Turn your bag right side out.  You've finished it!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Birdsong and Music

Spring is well and truly here and I'm surrounded by birdsong.  Which is great, and very loud at 5.30 on a sunny spring morning!  I do rather like waking early and opening a window to listen to the birds while still snug under my duvet.  Unfortunately, I often either fall asleep again or sleep through it entirely.  I can't understand why some people complain about the dawn chorus waking them.  Much better to wake to birdsong than an alarm, surely?  There are those who complain about cockerels, too.  Okay, so they're loud and not the most melodic of birds, a bit repetitive.  My cockerels start the day with a good crow and I love the sound.  Each has a different voice and I can tell who is crowing by the sound they make.  When I go out to feed the chickens and let them out, I can hear cockerels on farms across the valley and it can sometimes trigger a conversation of sorts between mine and the distant cockerels.

The dawn chorus is coming to its peak now and it's not long until international dawn chorus day on 1st May.  The Wildlife Trusts usually hold some sort of events, but it means getting up and out very early.  If you don't hear the dawn chorus at any other time, it's worth making the effort on just one day to listen to the birds.  When it comes down to it, mostly the birds are saying things like 'I'm bigger than he is, mate with me!' or 'This is my spot, go away!' but some just appear to be singing because the sun is shining and all is right with their world.  It makes me want to sing with them.  I especially enjoy playing question and answer with a blackbird, trying to mimic the song and hearing another line sung back to me to copy, like Jeff Beck's 'Blackbird', where he mimics the song on guitar.

I’ve just had an email from the Goldsmiths College Music, Mind and Brain research group, inviting me to participate in part II of their Earworm (involuntary musical imagery) project.  Not that I have recorded many earworms since last October, when I did my original questionnaire and wrote about it here.  Most of my earworms since then have been fleeting, each displacing and replacing another in succession.

Part II is by invitation only, to do a second questionnaire, this time with an emphasis on musicality.  I found doing the questionnaire quite fascinating.  The questions weren’t challenging, but made me think about how I see myself and my relationship to music.  It’s not something I would normally reflect on, so this was a small journey of self-discovery as well.  It made me realise how important music is to me, even though I might not play it all the time and I very rarely listen to it completely attentively, without doing anything else.  Since birdsong is also music, it might only be a matter of time before a bird's song gets stuck as an earworm.

Current earworm: Desert Rose – Sting feat. Cheb Mami.  This one has been going on and off for a few weeks now, and it’s so beautiful I’m not feeling inclined to replace it.  It makes me think of silk veils, the light catching them as they ripple and flow.  I feel a choreography coming on ....

Monday, 18 April 2011

One Size Doesn't Fit All, Revisited

(Apologies in advance a) that it’s a bit of a rant and b) that all measurements are in inches – just feeling my age a little!)
A recent shop conversation got me started on the clothing sizes issue again.  I was chatting to three other women (like you do …). Coincidentally, two of us were size 10, two were size 24.  Two were 5’1”, two were 5’9”; we covered the permutations for the four parameters short/tall thin/fat.  To somebody watching, we looked probably like OiIo.  The young, bored assistant looked at us as if we had all crawled out from under a rock.

Size of a top?
(Disdainfully) It says on the label - Large.
How large is large?
Size 14.
These skirts?
Well they’re elasticated, one size.
What does that mean?
One size fits all.
But the elastic on this one only stretches to about 40 inches, so that’s at most a size 14/16? ….

Too small for the size 24s and potentially too loose for the size 10s.  They all appeared to be the same length - too long for the 5’1, too short for the 5’9”.  I doubt the sales assistant cared, but 4 women x 2 items of clothing = 8 potential sales.  Score for the store = 0/8.  And I don’t care if they can order one in (what might be) my size, or have something made to measure.  It would have to be absolutely perfect to make me forget about making it for myself.

I first encountered the 10/small, 12/medium, 14/large when I was a teenager.  I remember my much younger and slimmer self, at a time when size 12 was average, hating that at size 14 I was considered Large.  It was like name-calling.  You’re large = you’re big, you’re fat.  So a 16 would be Extra Large and beyond that?  Huge, giant, gargantuan?     I used to wonder whether very slender women at the other end of the scale minded being extra-extra small?  Come to think of it, I’m not sure there was much in the range of size 6 clothing then.  If you were that small, you probably had to shop in the children’s department!  At least the range of available sizes has improved since then.

Anyway, size 14 isn’t Large!
The average size for UK women is now 5’4” 14-16 (Bust 39-41”, waist 32-34”, hips 40-42”*).

(*Source: Fashionworld, part of J D Williams & Company Ltd.  They have done a lot of research into clothing sizing and specialise in providing clothing in larger sizes as well as different lengths.)

There has also been quite a shift in clothing sizes over the past 30 years, particularly in the waist measurement.  When I was a teenager, size 14 was generally 36-26-38, (although the ‘ideal’ was 36-24-36), so 10” between bust and waist size was usual.  Now 7” seems to be the norm, much to the annoyance of those with curvy hourglass figures.  Were I the same size today as I was when I was 18 (I wish!) then I would be wearing a size 12.

The difference implied by the words Average and Large is enough to make you forget that there’s only nominally 2” difference between sizes. Sizes may also differ by 2” between one manufacturer and another.  And then there’s fashion ease, the designers’ idea of how loosely or tightly a garment should fit, another 2” or maybe more.  Plus or minus 4”, (that is, roughly 10%), may be insignificant or may be the difference between something fitting, or not.

In the end, the clothing size label is only a guide, but we get hung up on sizes and measurements, as if we’re defined by them.  Our bodies’ measurements, in all their variations, are just numbers reflecting our individuality.  My advice is, know your measurements, carry a tape measure, try things on in any size you think will fit (if it’s available!) … and remind shop assistants that one size does not fit all, and a size 14 is not Large!

Sunday, 27 March 2011

Quietly Up To Something

I’ve just realised that I have been mute on this blog for 5 months!  It didn’t help that I had a few problems with my computer.  In trying to do too many things quickly and all at the same time, I was making it thrash around in confusion, time out and crash.  Now I’ve vacuumed quite a lot of dust out of the poor thing, and deleted stacks of rubbish, and learned I have to shut windows and exit applications, it’s feeling a lot happier and more cooperative.

I admit, I’ve been hibernating a little, but still seem to have been busy.  I’ve renewed my first aid certificate, done training in child protection, been to meetings on business planning and funding strategy, done some choreography, lesson and workshop planning and completed the JWAAD Foundation course.

I’ve pretty much given up trying to find a job for the time being.  There’s so much competition for the few jobs out there, which all seem to want a qualified, experienced person who can be completely flexible with their time and travel large distances whilst being paid the minimum wage.  So I’ve been plotting plan B, with plans C and D not far behind.  Spring is here and I feel positive, hopeful, inspired and full of creative potential. And in a few weeks time, I will be 50 ….