Sunday, December 05, 2010

Textiles as Inspiration

My tapestry design.
TDIC, The Abu Dhabi Tourism, Development and Investment Company, who is the master developer of key cultural events in the area, hosted a wonderful exhibition of Islamic Embroidery entitled, "A Story of Islamic Embroidery in Nomadic and Urban Traditions." Stunning pieces of embroidery from the Turkoman, Uzbek, Morocco, and Algeria regions dating from the 19th and 20th centuries formed the core of the exhibition.

These textiles told the story of the women who lived and worked in these times. As quoted from the Curatorial Statement of the book "A Story of Islamic Embroidery", The world of women's craft is a fascinating yet hidden one, where most women work in discreet intimacy.  Embroideries, however, provide us with the perfect gateway into their minds and lives. Behind every piece of embroidery are the efforts, the tears, the laughter, and the ambitions of the woman who created it.  It is thus a very intimate world that is shy to reveal itself, as embroideries are the demonstration and living testimony of what many women do in their secluded domestic world."

I visited the exhibition several times and was awestruck by the workmanship and intricacy of the designs. Many of the pieces incorporated not only embroidery but quilting techniques as well.

TDIC teamed with The Prince's School of Traditional Arts of London to host a workshop in which participants were to design their own pattern for a tapestry inspired by the works on display within the exhibition. Our design tools consisted only of a compass and a straight edge. We mixed our paints from pigments and tea dyed our paper to create a design reminiscent of tribal times. It was a wonderful way to immerse ourselves to an even greater extent in a truly inspiring exhibition.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Global Quilt Auction

Recently I was asked to contribute a quilt block to Global Change. Quilters from around the world were asked to join together to help provide sanitation to schools in Central African Republic by contributing quilt blocks from their country which would be made into quilts for the Global Quilt Auction.  The quilt you see is the first quilt to be completed. There are more to come.

Global Change is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide safe clean water and basic sanitation to people living in extreme poverty throughout the world.   Visit their website at to read about their mission, projects, made a donation, or to place a bid for one of the Global Quilts.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Wild Women Do

Our local quilt guild's summer challenge was to create a quilt based on your favorite song. I thought I already have one of those hanging in my studio. I call it "Wild Women Do" based on the song by Natalie Cole, made famous in the movie "Pretty Woman."

It is hung right above my sewing machine. I keep it there as a reminder to myself..."what ever you do in life, make it fun."

Remember...Wild women do and they don't regret it. What you only dream about, wild women do!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Off to Thailand

I have been missing in action! Missing from my life here in Abu Dhabi. So many travels and wonderful places to visit in the last few months. I think...No! I KNOW...I am addicted to traveling. Every time I pull my suitcase out to pack, I feel that tingle of excitement, that sense of adventure, that niggling thought that I am going to experience something special, something to marvel about, something wonderful. Whether it's watching a storm blow in across the water, petting the new hair on a baby elephant's head, or finding a special treasure in the local market, I know it's going to be a good time. Happy feet will take you so many fun places!

My favorite part of Thailand is all the wonderful food. Yum! From the exciting floating markets to the fresh fruit markets, it's a wonderland of sense, smell, and taste. So far I haven't found anything in Thailand to eat that I didn't like. I know I will never be super skinny because I like too eat too much!
It was really fun to participate in a Thai Cooking Course so that we could bring some of the taste of Thailand home with us.
It was great fun to eat all the dishes we made and we did graduate so I guess I'm good to go on Thai cooking.

These look live real flowers but actually they are carved from Dove soap bars and painted these wonderful colors. Exquisite craftsmanship and they smell wonderful as well.

Baby elephants are so soft and just want to take them home with you! Mike loved this little guy.

Buddhist statues and temples adorn the country and are everywhere.

I found this an especially beautiful temple, done all in white. It was in the remote country side, near a small village.

If you love textiles you will love the wonderful silks produced in Thailand. Such vibrant colors!!! It was fascinating to watch this young woman weave the delicate threads into a piece of cloth with very intricate designs.

A visit to the Bridge over the River Kwae and the JEATH War Museum was a sobering reminder of the number of POW's who died during World War II in the construction of what came to be known as the Death Railway. It was a strategic railway built between Thailand and Burma. Japanese engineers predicted it would take at least 5 years to construct the railway, but the Japanese army forced the prisoners to complete it in only 16 months. Over 116,000 workers died during the construction due to disease, starvation, and lack of medical care. Allied forces destroyed the bridge during the war but it was later repaired and is still used today.

A visit to the Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno Forest Monastery or the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi was the highlight of our trip to Thailand. The wildlife sanctuary was established in 1994 when the monastery took in injured jungle fowl. When a wild boar stumbled into the monastery the monks cared for him until he could be released back into the forest. This boar returned with his family group of about 10 animals and took up residence on the sanctuary. Villagers also started to bring in unwanted pets and injured animals and soon the menagerie of animals began to grow.

The first orphaned tiger cub arrived at the Monastery in February of 1999. Though the tigers in this area are protected, poaching still occurs rather frequently. A Thai poacher will make US$ 5,800 for killing an adult tiger (several year's salary for a farmer) making the profit well worth the risk. When the mother tiger is killed the cubs are taken as a bonus or left to fend for themselves in the jungle. Slowly the number of orphaned tigers on the sanctuary began to grow. As the years went by, the tigers grew up and to the monks surprise and delight started to reproduce in captivity. The monks were soon faced with the need to create more living space for the tigers and as early as 2003 a plan was launched to create a large land space to house the tigers. Through donations and volunteers the monks now work to re-home the tiger cubs in a more natural forest environment, rehabilitating the new generations of cubs prior to their release back to the forest where they belong.

These four month old tigers are still being bottle fed. They are cute and playful but already you can feel the power that they will display when they reach adulthood.

Guiding the adult tigers to the canyon for their daily walk.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Camel Beauty

Have you ever been to a camel beauty pageant??? Well, let me take you there.

Each year more than 2000 camel owners from throughout the Middle East Region bring together more than 24,000 camels to participate in the Al Dhafra Camel Festival held in the deserts of the Western Region of the United Arab Emirates.

The festival seeks to highlight Bedouin culture, activate heritage tourism, as well as activate economic movement in this remote region, while highlighting the UAE handicrafts that reflect Bedouin heritage.

As far as the eye can see, tents and camels blanket the desert. It's a family event. It's the Bedouin women who keep the traditions and skills alive and who make the colorful decorations that you see adorning the tents and camels. We are eager to see all the events and to view the camels to see if we can pick a winner. They are just as curious about us and in the end we get up close and personal!

Camel Beauty

The main event of the festival, the Camel Beauty Competition called Mazayina, aims to preserve the pure bred local Asayel and Majahim camels. Prizes worth approximately US$ 11 Million make for a very exciting competition! From the very young camels to the more mature, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

So what are they looking for in the competition??? Is it perfect eyelashes?

Or maybe it's a perfect nose or nice soft lips. Or than again maybe it's a perfect set of gleaming white teeth!

Camel Beauty

A sense of humor is always good!

Maybe a pleasing profile?

Strength of character is a plus!

Congeniality and a sense of community spirit not to mention awareness of what is going on around you will definitely take you far.

Whatever it is they are looking for in the most beautiful camel, you can only admire these unique creatures that can survive the harshness of desert life.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

A Day of Sharing in the Desert

It all started with my friend Karin Jackson's purchase of an antique camel bag at the Al Dhafra Camel Festival (which I will tell you about in my next blog entry). As we wandered through the Souk at the Festival, the local Bedouin weavers were admiring her purchase and through them we had the pleasure of meeting Leila Ben-Gacem, Manager of the Entrepreneurship Development Department of the Khalifa Fund, here in Abu Dhabi.

Leila is from Tunisia and has come to the United Arab Emirates to work with the Khalifa Fund to help keep the country's heritage skills alive. She travels to the farthest western reaches of Abu Dhabi Emirate to the two most remote towns of the region, Ghayathi and Sila, to search out local women with traditional skills; specifically the Bedouin art of weaving. For the past year she has been organizing a network of women operating in tents, caravans, and homes. These women are improving their skills and with the help of Leila, local co-ordinator Moza al Mansoori, and Design Consultant Yaza Hussain, market opportunities will be created to enable them to reach their potential through their creativity and handwork, while supplementing their family income and helping to meet their needs.

During our chat with Leila and our discussion of the difficulties and struggle to place a monetary value on handwork and determining a fair price for these items, she learned that we were quilters. She thought the ladies would love to see our work and of course they would love to share their weaving skills with us and she suggested we all meet. We were thrilled to be invited! A date was set and we invited some fellow quilters to join us.

6:30AM eight quilters met to head to the desert and Ghayathi, a 2 1/2 hour drive into the desert from Abu Dhabi. Once we leave the greenery of Abu Dhabi island, it is a sea of sand, as far as the eye can see. We arrive at a local girl's school in Ghayathi, where we are greeted by the weavers who have come to show the weaving they have produced since their last meeting and to consult with Yaza on some new design ideas. There was a show and tell of quilts and weaving. Leila and Moza were kind enough to translate for both sides as the local ladies speak very little English and we speak almost no Arabic.

A Day of Sharing in the Desert

One of the ladies gave us a brief history of weaving which was used in the past for camel bags and straps for the camels, udder bags, floor cushions, tents, etc. and also showed us how they spin the goat and camel hair into yarn. Today they weave pencil cases, shoulder bags, purses, book covers, laptop cases, key rings, wallets, table runners, etc. They are now artisans working for a modern market.

A Day of Sharing in the Desert

To help explain the art of quilting, I gave each of the ladies a copy of my latest book "Quilts from Paradise." Though they could not read English, they could understand the illustrations and could appreciate the amount of time and effort involved in a quilt.

Of course we did some shopping! Like all artisans, the weavers were proud to be photographed with their work. The lime green table runner which I purchased was this woman's first sale. Those of you who have sold your work know and remember how exciting that first sale is. It's a lovely piece which I will treasure as a wonderful memory of our day with the weavers of Ghayathi.

A Day of Sharing in the Desert

Following our gathering at the school, one of the weavers invited us to her home to see an actual loom that is used for the weaving. It is a very simple frame of metal pipes laid on the floor. She also shared with us samples of her weaving.