Friday, 28 May 2010

Day 160-In Search Of Edgar Allan Poe

This is a quaint and curious tale about three good friends on an epic journey to meet their 4th.  It is also really about a big black bird which was destined for greatness.  If I may just start from the beginning,  or should I say, the end...

Once Upon A Midnight Dreary,

a penniless poet chose to die hanging from a tree in a remote part of India. Despondent as his poetry could find no publication, he had thought that Death might  bring him the fame that had eluded him and that he could perhaps be vindicated by history.

If you can't live by your pen, you might as well die by it, the Poet thought, after all, a pen is mightier than a sword! And so in that sad poetic moment of mixed idioms and terrible grammar, the giftedly bad poet kicked the bucket he was standing on, right next to where he left his pen.

Unfortunately, no one ever found the dead poet. No one that is, except his pet raven. Adopted only for its endless supply of feather quills, he was the only one who heard the Poet choked on his last word "Nevermore.."

Meanwhile, lying Weak And Weary

was a vain and shallow Rajah on his red and luxurious bed. Consumed- if only he had-by an obsession to stay slim, the anorexic Rajah had alienated himself from friends and family for there was never any meal to share. And so on his last day when one should be dressed in only his best, the Rajah laid lamenting  how none of his fine clothes could fit anymore.

Luckily, I still have my  "silk taffeta hat", the dying dandy thought, right at the moment a raven sat on his head. 

Before the Rajah could ask the raven why his beautiful feathers were missing, his hungry heart stopped beating and he died with the bird ceremonially on his head instead of his pretty turban. Nevermore, the raven screeched, like a final nail in the coffin. Thus all hopes were dashed for our dead dandy to ever be decked out again.

Speaking of deck, now, on the same day In That Bleak December

a "bad influence" was to be punished for the unprecedented success of infecting a whole village of men with a love for drink and gamble and no more care for work. 

The heads of the village being all the wives of these men thought and rightly so that the rotten apple must go. With a unison cry of Nevermore, the women strung the rogue up high to put fear in the others before sending him to prison. Alas, just as the  same raven perched upon his bust, the drunk was already dead from alcohol poison.

Dreaming Dreams No Mortals Dared Before

And so thanks to the Raven, the three met and found in Death what they each could not get in Life. 

At long last, the Dead Poet had his audience, fans  who could not tell bad prose from poetry and after a few drinks, seemed to enjoy every single painful rhyme.

Dandy Rajah made "just as skinny" friends and to add icing on the cake that they never had to eat, "No Skin and Bones" would finally, according to this woman's magazine be really, really "in".

Last but not least, Dead Drunk found warmth and acceptance with his new poker pals and so inseparable they all seemed  that  the trio were soon dubbed Three of A Kind.  

Let Me See, Then, What Thereat Is..

This bliss lasted for what seemed a lifetime when really, it was not before long when discontent settled in. 

Dead Poet begun to yearn for wider readership. With his volumes of new work, inspired or not, he needed more and more.

Dandy Raj started to wish for new admirers.  What  was the point, he asked,  in being "in" when the crowd was only three?

And when Dead Drunk discovered "Bridge", a game for pairs to play, it was  the  final straw.   Three's no longer company, they must now make four.

Poring over an ancient map one day, the  Raven  pointed to a star. A nova in between heaven and hell,  "Al Aaraaf" was  a stop for the afterlife. The fowl stood  still by a grave  decorum and  with fiery eyes he seemed to say : That's the home of your 4th friend, Poe, the soon to be legendary Edgar Allan Poe.

The 3 friends smiled and knew at once that Poe was just the guy. He was a writer, like the Poet, always obsessed, like dear Dandy and thanks to a mounting gambling debt,  was  almost never sober.

How clear it was to sundry and all, that the fates of the Raven and the men of four would inextricably intertwine, forever more. 


On Day 160, our 3 dearly departed souls began with their prized possessions,  their long journey across the seven seas to find Poe.

In 1845, Poe's dark poem of lost love, "The Raven" shot him to fame. 

It was often said that in Poe's last days, he was almost always found  delirious, mumbling and laughing to himself. We know now, don't we, that Poe was not insane. He was not alone. 

In the fashion and style popularised by Helene, may I end this post with the following Credits:

3 skeletons bought at Daiso during Halloween 2009, now I finally know what for 
Whiskey bottle bought at the Miniature Museum of Taiwan
Raven is modified from a yellow bird bought from Bangkok and made with mainly styrofoam
Map is part of a printed wrapping paper I bought at Il Papiro in Venice
Luxurious red "bed" is actually a fabric sample for high end upholstery (Teflon finish, 59% Acrylic, 41% polyester) from Luxuriate Furnishing
Dandy's turban bought at Little India 
Deck of 55 cards (full suite with 2 "joker"cards and 1 spare forgot which card) made with graphics from wrapping paper called "Carte da Giogo" bought from il Papiro on one side  and on the other, individually designed card with the central theme on ghouls and monsters which I found on the internet
Wooden box for card made with ice cream stick and filigree piece from Chinese fan
Quill pen made with real feather from a raven,which incidentally is more commonly known as "crow" here. As Faiz puts it when I queried why the 2 names, he told me "Crows' for the movies, Raven, poetry".

Saturday, 22 May 2010

Day 158 & 159-Mum, Meli and My New Toy

MUM-I got a call from mum sometime in mid April to tell me she was giving me a sewing machine since she owned two. But Mum, I protested a little, I don't know how to sew! I will teach you, she said and without wanting to hear more whining, she bade a quick goodbye and hung up. I felt  a little reluctant -lazy to learn a new skill especially one I know I would not pick up fast- and yet, excited-learning a new skill and one I had always wished I had. I am contradictory that way but Mum knows me best.

MELI-A few days later, I read a post on Meli's blog about these sewing-machine pincushions and I left a comment to tell her how they were really cute and laughingly added that my mum was going to teach me how to use a sewing machine.  Darling Meli immediately responded to ask me which model my mum would like and that it would be a pleasure for her to send one to her. How lucky for you, she added, that I was able to count on my mum! I was speechless! Meli, you are too generous, no, no, no. No,no ,no, Meli insisted. 

MUM- I wrote Meli when I received her package on the17th of this month that I would show her Mum's reaction when she opened the package so here it is, Meli ,a very impromptu photograph. Mum was a little concerned that she was not given time to put on some makeup. 

But more than that, Mum could not get over how someone who did not know her would  send her something so pretty and handcrafted. I told Mum that I mentioned her on my blog sometimes or in my emails and she told me I must stop advertising her to be someone greater than who she really was and that she was just an ordinary mother.

Not wanting Dad to feel left out, I also showed Dad Meli's gift and told him I would post this picture so he strategically placed the pincushion to hide the fact that he was only appropriately dressed -or not-for bed. I don't think I am bias but isn't my dad  undeniably charming even when he is indecent and photogenic even with panda eyes?

I only found out that this is the pincushion that Mum is using for this sewing machine when I took this picture 2 nights ago. It is a coincidence that I had given Meli a similar one. I  thought it had a special significance as it is made in a classic vintage style of little Chinese children holding hands, signifying friendship. Look, Meli, my mum had no problems poking needles into them!

MY NEW TOY-This beauty is an antique Singer, a hand cranked sewing machine passed down from my dad's mum. It was probably made in the early 20th century.

Hand crank machines were made before electricity was invented. Mum told me learning to use this machine would be really easy because of the crank. Slow but definitely steady, this machine is very useful for simple stitches.

With details as intricate as these on the silver plate, they really don't make machines like this anymore. I thought these can pass off as Indian motifs. 

And here is the barely visible decal work which lined the machine in many places. This particular one sits in the middle of the base of the machine.

MUM- And since I was already there at her home to give her Meli's gift, Mum showed me how to use the machine.As you can see, Mum takes care of her look.

Here is a close up of her impeccably manicured hands. Always the brightest of reds, I have never seen her nails, fingers or toes , unpainted. I seriously don't think I am bias but don't you agree that there is no way my mum looks like she is already 69 years old?

Thanks to my dream to build My Maharajah's Palace, I am closer to my mum now more than ever because of our shared love for crafting. I cannot express in words, my love for this special, modest and beautiful woman who is talented in so many ways. Thank you, Meli, for making my mum happy and bringing the blogging part of my life to her.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Day 156-157-Ingredients For A House

How does one begin...

..the foundation for a house that is at once humble  in its exhibition

And yet rich in history and traditions?

What Will One Need....

... to build walls that tell a million tales

and place them side by side silently deafening ones?

When is the day ..

.. if indeed there is such a day 
that I may master even the shadows to shed light 
and blind the world with brilliance?

I hope this cheesy introduction makes a good advertisement for the products that I have used to build The Rolla's House. 

I am sure it comes as no surprise to you that I have only used household items seeing that Singapore does not have dollhouse shops unlike other civilised country. In the picture are some very commonplace household items that are often not very good for their real uses but make wonderful materials for my  dollhouses. Here is a list of the items with place of purchase, in no particular order:

"Plaster" wallpaper (Malay Village), S$1,00 wrapping paper with henna motifs, (Tang's), "wood" laminate drawer lining (S$2 shop at Daiso), plastic table cover and  impractical coasters that look like mini blinds (peanuts at Mustapha), already spray painted sand paper (a few cents at hardware shops), and last but not least,  bamboo table mat (picked from rubbish bin when out running).  

First a little diversion. This is my operation table. As you can see (or maybe not),  my village house is lying on its "face" which is actually its "porch". I don't really know how I am going to do it with the other 3 bigger houses. The Ikea lamp though nifty is not recommended because it is too hot. Back to the household items.

I have posted earlier about how the tribal women in Orissa often decorate their homes with rice paste paintings. This wrapping paper which I found quite by accident was ideal for its colour combination and the motifs. I didn't like the gloss though so I "decorated" the murals with paint and sand paper. Wood slats were simulated by painting laminate drawer linings, for the ceiling of this room to match the floor upstairs. I also used the bamboo table mat for the floor of this room (see previous pic). 

I had started work on this house since late morning Friday. I eventually went to bed at 5am and then started  again at 10am this morning right after my run.  I stopped when I realised at 6 pm that I hadn't  showered after my run!

I needed a mud look for the room. So I used the "plaster" wallpaper and painted it muddy peach, if there is such a colour. I used sand paper for the floor after spray painting it "terracotta" .

The bulk of my work went into the "mud relief" decorations on the walls. The women in my village house, like their counterparts in Kutch embellished their homes with very elaborate decorations using mud, clay  and mirrors. I have posted about them when I wrote "Planning Rolla's Bungha" in July last year. For the decorations, I cut out little patterns from the plastic table cover and created my own designs. It took me probably about 6 hours to finish the work around this window  and by the time I took this picture,  I must have looked like  the hunchback of Notre-Dame.

This doorway was done on Saturday by which time, I have acquired so much practice that  I could fashion "peacocks" out of circles and squares.  I know you won't recognise them but they are at the top of the doorway. The Javanese from Indonesia believe that peacocks are  the guardians at the gate of heaven which may be the reason why they are often depicted in this manner by women in Kutch. It is not obvious in the photographs but some of the silver from the plastic table cover shines through and look like embedded mirrors.

Broken wood slats blind made from coasters. I seriously doubt you can balance a glass on this, even when they were coasters and not broken Venetians. Its ability to protect is also suspect as water will seep through. They should really sell these as miniature blinds in dollhouse stores and priced them100 times more.

Even the flowers are household items. They are real dried flowers sitting in Indian beads. Only the 2 tiny cups are real [sic]. They are from the Tree of Life dining set gifted by Rosanna. I thought they look like they belong on the window ledge and so I dirtied them a little and placed them there, that being the last thing  I did for the house, until tomorrow that is.

I wonder if my Rollas will think this too shabby. I think they are expecting a spanking new house

Sunday, 9 May 2010

Day 154- Selecting Banjara Tapestry

A Vintage Banjara toranam or door hanging

I have always loved textile, especially folk and tribal ones. Even when I was a poor student, I would buy traditional fabric or textile whenever I travelled, usually  in nearby countries like Malaysia (batiik) or Indonesia (ikat),  They  cost very little then but today, they are regarded as vintage and rare pieces. For those of you who love folk textile like me, I want to share with you some facts I have found out about Banjara embroidery. 

 Most of my material came from this book, words in italics are verbatim from here

The nomadic Banjara community who trace their origins in Rajasthan, create beautiful embellishments on cloth. The Banjara women, locally known as Lambani, make symmetrical embroidery by lifting the warp thread  of the fabric with a fine needle and making triangles, diamonds and lozenges, parallel to the weft thread, giving the effect of an extra weft weave. 

The base cloth is usually handwoven madder (red-coloured cloth) over which embroidery is done in yellow, green, red, off white and black. Referred to as "Banjara" embroidery, this style is accompanied with the extensive use of mirrors, beads and cowrie shells. Our women arrange vintage textile patches with Banjara embroidery in a harmonious fashion to create fascinating wall hangings or tapestries.

While the usual criteria such as  shape, size and colours apply to the Banjara tapestries as well, there are a few nuances that you should look out for in selecting an exquisite piece of craftsmanship. 

Extensiveness of Embroidery 

This is possibly the most important factor that impacts the beauty and the price of the Banjara tapestry. The best patches from vintage textiles and dresses are extensively embroidered. Wall hangings that are made primarily using these patches display a greater range of colours and motifs and are usually more expensive than the rest.   

Mirror Work and Bead Work 

If you multiply the number by 12, there should be 468 mirror beads (not including the big ones) in this piece of toranam.

Embedded mirror work in various sizes along with beads (usually wood, bone or metal) , old coins and cowrie shells add to the sparkle, weight and price of the Banjara hangings. In most cases, wall hangings with mirror work produce a glittering effect- the exceptions are cases where the mirror work has been exposed to the elements and is rusted. Wall hangings with patches over 20-25 years old can have cracked or missing mirrors.  

Cowrie shells are considered auspicious because they represent Lakshmi, the goddess of prosperity and most banjara tapestries will have a few of them. 

Pattern Arrangements

Banjara embroidery hangings tend to have a more ordered placement of textile patches compared to say, the Indian sari beaded wall hangings. The visual appeal of the two patterns is quite different. Some feel that much  more care and creativity goes into placing the patterns of a Banjara embroidery than the haphazard manner of the other. 

It is important that the pods (bottom part of the valance) should be as similar in size and shape as possible. They are usually made of simpler fabric and not as embroidered as the upper piece. Nonetheless, pricey vintage pieces show remarkable workmanship even in the crafting of pod pieces. 

I hope you have enjoyed the  facts as much as I have enjoyed making a piece of Banjara history.

All important photographs  courtesy of FaiZ and his super expensive new Canon.

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