A Moroccan Adventure

•January 15, 2012 • Leave a Comment

In early July I was lucky enough to visit the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco, for 4 days. This being my first adventure into Northern Africa is truly was a culture shock, and an experience. I am hooked. I cannot wait to visit some more exotic destinations.

Marrakech is a small but busy city, split into two main sections. Gueliz forms the new town, home to the rich and famous, whilst the Medina or ‘Old City’ is a walled maze of dusty streets, market stalls and the smell of spices. There is so much to see and do here that 4 days was definitely not enough.

We stayed in the Riad Elizabeth, a beautiful Riad in the northern part of the Media, accessed via the souks. This was an absolutely amazing place to stay, relaxed and friendly atmosphere, beautiful architecture and rooms and just close enough to the main city to not feel left out. It was around a 15 minute walk through the souks into the main square of Marrakech (Jemaa El Fna) which was perfect for us.

The Jemaa El Fna is a world heritage site, and it is a spectacle to be seen. Henna women sit under umbrellas in the burning sun calling out to you whilst orange juice sellers encourage you to come to their wagons for a glass of fresh cool orange juice. In the evening it is even more bizarre a place, with snake charmers and dancers attracting attention among the busy night market food stalls, restaurants ‘air conditioned’ by the cool breeze that blows through the square in the evenings.

The souks are a big attraction for tourists, and especially for me as a shopaholic. The souks nearer the square tend to sell low quality good, but the deeper you go into the maze the more bargains you find. The items are made with excellent workmanship. Brightly coloured babouches (traditional Moroccan slippers) and brass stalls selling teapots, trays and lanterns completely engulf you as you try not to get lost.

We managed to get lost for about an hour and a half trying to get back to our hotel. The souks really are a fun place to get lost, although the stall owners will shout at you again and again to show you the way. It is best to ignore them, lest they lead you off to their friends spice shop, or further into the souks.

My shopping list from Marrakech mainly consisted of spices, with Marrakech is famous for. Harissa, ginger, cumin, amber and more can be found on almost every stall. We became fond of sitting in the small Cafe Des Epices in the main Spice Market and watching the sellers pedal their wares to passers by. I also had a cooking lesson with the girls in the Riad where I learnt to make aubergine salsa, Berber salad and many other gorgeous tasting dishes. Moroccan cuisine is beautiful, a mixture of African food with an influence of French pastries, pastillas filled with meat and spices, and meats cooked in all sorts of flavours.

We also visited the Maison de la Photographie, a French run museum of traditional Berber and Moroccan photography, set inside a beautiful riad. The museum boasts some interesting antique photography which gave a real insight into the history of Morocco over the 20th century, and earlier. For a few dirhams this is worth the visit, if not for the hospitality alone (we finally had a chance to taste those gorgeous cactus fruit we had seen everywhere, delicious!)

Marrakech is somewhere I would urge anyone to visit if they fancy something different from the typical city break that you so often find. The fact that Air Maroc has finally stepped aside and allowed EasyJet and other low cost airlines to fly into Morocco means it’ll soon be opening up as a new tourist destination, and with the Western influence already very noticeable, it may only have a few years left of charm before it turns into another hot, sunny resort for European travellers.


Birds in Hats

•August 5, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Needs no real introduction, does it? Birds in Hats.


So yeah, I found this artist, Alice Tams, whilst flicking through Etsy in search of the weird and wonderful, and instantly fell in love with her Rock Pigeon in a Top Hat.

Birds in Hats is a quirky and cute set of illustrations, available to buy as notecards. They’re available through Etsy but I am still awaiting a reply from the artist as to whether she can put her feathered friends on any other products, I’m desperate for  ‘Nightingale in Princess Beatrice’s Royal Wedding Hat by Philip Treacy’ on a cushion!

Visit Birds in Hats on Etsy here.

Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge

•July 29, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The Moulin Rouge and Fin de siècle Paris has always been a fascination of me. Probably brought around by the 2001 film which, I am not going to lie, has remained one of my favourite films for most of my teenage years. My general love for art, theatre, dance and fashion has all come together quite nicely with this obsession.

I recently attended the exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril: Beyond the Moulin Rouge, at the Courtauld Gallery at Somerset House, London. We attended a special ‘Moulin Rouge Late’ starting at 6pm with food, drink, exhibition talks and even a can can dance performance! It was truly a fantastic exhibition in its own right but the added layers of entertainment funded by the Art Fund, of which I am a proud member.

The exhibition is the first time the relationship between Toulouse-Lautrec and Jane Avril (her psuedonym, real name being Jeanne Richepin) had been explored through art, and it proved to be a really interesting collection. The exhibits not only included art my Toulouse-Lautrec himself, although of course this was the mainstay of the exhibition, but also photographs and memorabilia from the Moulin Rouge, medical documents and sketches of the ‘hysteria’ which was believed to be what have Jane Avril her eclectic and ‘almost epileptic’ dance style.

Some beautiful prints and sketches of Jane Avril by Toulouse-Lautrec were exhibited, including the famous 1983 Jane Avril poster plus the original sketch on which it was based. I found some of the original photographs of Jane, possible keepsakes and memorabilia to give out to clients of the Moulin Rouge, incredibly interesting. Too often we see these images and paintings and forget that these are real people.

We had a talk on several of the images from a student at the Courtauld Institute, a very insightful talk about a particular painting Toulouse Lautrec au Moulin Rouge, his only work to include himself and Jane Avril in the same image. This image was a favourite of mine as it included so many characters I had heard about, such as May Milton and La Goulue, other dancers famous around the time of the cafe concerts.

One great thing about this exhibition had to be the entertainment. After the talk we were invited down to another room which contained some interesting images of the same themes, by different artists, for a performance from a dancer named Ruby Blues, a really fun can can dance performance!

Overall I’d have to say this is one of the best exhibitions I’ve ever visited, it was insightful and full of fantastic stories and history behind each piece. Having read so much around the ‘character’ of Jane Avril I know feel I know her so much better.

Portraiture – first studio photography attempts

•May 16, 2011 • 1 Comment

This is something I actually did back in November, but have only just got round to posting.

I’ve always wanted to do some form of studio work, and luckily as part of my course we had to create a studio shot using all the photography equipment.

I’m pretty pleased with the result, created using softboxes which were on constant (not flash units).

Vintage and Antique Cameras

•February 16, 2011 • 3 Comments

I haven’t posted in a while so I thought I’d spend some time to introduce you to my small but rather growing camera collection.

My Grandad gave me most of these as he is an antique camera dealer (and general oddity dealer; cameras, binoculars, pens, guns, militaria and god knows what else). There is a collection of box cameras ranging from 1926-1950s and also a few sixties and seventies creations.

All the box cameras take 120 film (or 620, which is no longer around). I’m currently perfecting my 35mm B&W developing so I can start testing out the box cameras and develop them cheaply. Sadly the only one I have been able to test so far cost me a fortune to develop (there are only 8 exposures per roll of 120 as well!) and only 3 photos came out! Very irritating. So far I’ve tried twice to develop, with thanks to the university Photographic Society (of which I am a member) and the President Alison who has helped me process 🙂 The first two films didn’t come out as expected, but I think I’ve ironed out the issues some third time lucky 🙂 Hopefully I’l have some pictures to share by next week.

'How to Hold Your Camera' from Pentax Asahi S1a Manual

'How to Hold Your Camera' from Pentax Asahi S1a Manual

The first camera is the one I am currently using to take shots for 35mm, its not actually mine, it is on loan for the photographic society which is great. Its a lovely camera, feels really robust and mechanical which is just the kind of thing I like! It seems to be in working order bar the exposure counter which curiously starts at 26 rather than zero :P, so I just have to count how many photos I have taken 🙂

The camera is a Pentax Asahi S1a, I believe this model is from 1960. I was lucky enough to find the manual online courtesy of PentaxManuals.com, you can download it here if you’re after it (Hint: password is Pentax).

The next camera I have to show is my oldest. This is a 1926 Kodak Brownie No.2 Hawkeye Model C. One of the proper old Brownie cameras. I managed to locate a manual for a similar model (there are so many types of Brownies!) here if you are interested. Its in pretty good working order and I have managed to get several photographs from it, although the rest lightleaked, which I guess is just what you get from such an old camera. The thing about cameras like this is that there is no focus or aperture, its all about having a go and seeing what you get back. You can see some examples of the photographs I have managed to get from it here. I am currently in the process of learning ore about developing my own film so I can get some more pictures out of this, its really expensive to send film away just to find out that nothing came out!

The third (and final – for today at least) camera I will share with you is one i have not yet used, but it will be my next. Its probably my favourite of the bunch just for its cuteness. Its a 1950 Coronet Twelve-20. A really lovely little retro camera. The parts all seem in working order so lets hope we get something from it! Its quite interesting too as it has a colour filter so can take black and white and colour too, and it also has a time lever for long exposures. You can flick the switch on the front for ‘distant’ or ‘near’ – I guess you could say that means you can focus too? 😛 I’ll be working on this one in a few weeks and trying to get some pictures from it so watch out 🙂

BurdaStyle Feature

•January 17, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Just a quick one, so excited, the waistcoat I have mention in the post before has been featured on the front page of the BurdaStyle page! Check it out at BurdaStyle.com

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Waistcoat for Rhys

•January 16, 2011 • 5 Comments

The last week I’ve been working on this waistcoat for Rhys, using Burda pattern 7799.

The waistcoat is made using what I believe is worsted wool, which I bought from Abakhan Fabrics in Manchester years ago and use to make my Jenny skirt last year. The back of the waistcoat is polyester taffeta and its lined with a brown anti-static lining.

The waistcoat also features a welt pocket which was very complicated to make! I used wzrdreams one-piece welt pocket tutorial from Burda Style. It took me a practice to get it right and I still struggled with some of the steps, but I think the pocket on the final garment worked OK, although I chose to only do one breast pocket as I did not want to do a pocket across the dart seams.

After I made this garment I decided to have a go at making a quick scarf to match. This is made

using fabric I found in a tiny shop on Brick Lane. It took about 15 minutes and I think they look great together!

Pattern Review

I used Burda’s 7799 Mens Waistcoat pattern, the pattern was odd and I

haven’t sewn a commercial Burda pattern before so I found the instructions quite complicated. I decided not to do the pockets as specified but did the welt pocket instead. The pattern also did not contain any instructions for lining, which threw me completely! So instead I had to draft a piece for the inside lining and add the facing to it. I then sewed the entire waistcoat again in lining fabric but left a slit in the centre back seam, sewed all around the edges before turning it through the slit.

Overall this pattern is great if you can figure out how to make a waistcoat and are OK with basics like darts and buttonholes, anything else and it might be a bit lacking. To be honest I only read the instructions briefly before deciding I’d rather do it on my own initiative. It worked out far easier than I thought and I only had to unpick one seam! 😛