Camping, single mum style…..

As you may or may not know, I am a single parent.

Those of you who are not parents will not understand why this has been made as a statement.  Those of you that are may now understand why my posts are erratic, why my “making time” as Blackwillow the accessories designer (and belly dance teacher) seems to become such a focus point for me at various times…..

To share a little with you I have been a single parent for some time, but I only split with my now ex other half just under a year ago.  For the sake of my children (and my own sanity) I was able to keep up a front for some time……

When we did split up, one of my first thoughts was, “Where I am I going to go on holiday with the kids??”  I very quickly found a website devoted to this very situation.  That I felt comfortable with.  There are more than one that cater to people in my situation, that of being single with kids, but this was the one I am most happy with.

Last summer I met up with a couple of mums and their kids at a park but wasn’t brave enough to do anything else.  I’m quite shy really.  (No, really….being a belly dancer is about putting on a costume, a face, a persona….)

But, here was a weekend in the New Forest, and even if I wasn’t brave enough to go and introduce myself to people, the kids would be bound to make at least one new friend each.

The New Forest, Brockenhurst, UK

G now has two new friends that I hope we will see more of because they don’t live far away, and J……well, J tagged along with a couple of boys that were camped close by and most importantly had an epithany.

He spent most of Friday evening and most of Saturday saying, “Mummy, I want to go home.”  He’s two years and nine months old.  But then at about 6pm on Saturday he decided to take all of his clothes off and run around naked for an hour, wiggling his bits at who ever would take notice.  It was hilarious and beautiful all at once.  One of the children we had befriended (older at seven and more at home with the idea of shame) asked, “Isn’t he embarrassed?”  I was proud to say, “No, at his age it just feels good!”

After the heavy and torrential rain of Friday night it was a relief to have a dry night in the tent, and on Sunday morning when we woke up it was misty and I was happy in the knowledge that the day was set to be fine.  It was.  By 11am the sun was out and shining and once the tent was put away and the goodbyes said I asked the children where they would like to go and before it was even optioned J said, “The beach!”.

Off we went to the nearest beach, a mere 15 minutes away.  Although a pebble beach they and Had great fun jumping and dodging the strong waves for a good four hours before ice creams all round and then a long journey home.

This photo is a little like something from Inception, where you never see the children’s faces.  You will never see my children’s faces.  I love and protect them.  But today I want to love and share them……

On the way home we spent a lot longer in the car than I would have liked, but as someone either had a very bad day, or met their demise on the M3, we kept the energy up by playing Eye Spy.  “Eye Spy something in the colour of red.”

“I/we give up…..”

“A crane lifting a cow!”  (nowhere to be seen but when you’re playing with someone who’s not quite three then some artistic license is allowed).

We all had a great weekend.  I made some new friends and met some I’ve talked to online and I am ashamed to say I didn’t catch up with everyone who has been so supportive to me over the last (almost) year.  And more importantly, the kids made friends and had a FAB time. We’ll definitely be doing this again.


Spiderman and Supergirl

It’s a shame I’m so precious about posting pictures of my children online or you would get to see a cracking photo of my son (two years and nine months) in a Spidey costume (complete with muscles) and wearing a red sequined cowboy hat…..

For now you’ll just have to imagine it….

Two nights ago I wore a sequined Baladi dress for a talk I gave at a branch of the local Women’s Institute here in the UK.  I figured practice clothes were too boring, full on costume bling might have been a tad too much.  So I wore a Baladi dress and took some other props and based my talk around costume genres and changes within belly dance culture before doing a touch of teaching to end the night.

But the point is my daughter (aged seven) was blown away by the dress and asked if she could have it when she was big enough.  Apparently I looked like a Princess (sometimes even a compliment from a child is a massive compliment!)

Tonight, when she should have been getting ready for bed she decided to go and dig through the box of dressing up clothes and found an old Shalwar Kameeze dress (sans sleeves that I have used for a costuming project) and came down-stairs, resplendent, happy that she had something similar to what I had worn.

To keep up with the gang my son came down, Spiderman costume in hand, insisting he put it on.  I helped him put it on and much laughter ensued as they danced for me (he in costume and aforementioned hat), before they played Super-baby (where he jumps off a chair into her arms which always ends with a banged head to at least one of them and tears and a cuddle before bed).

Twenty minutes later, Spiderman and Supergirl (as he called his sister) were dispatched to their beds after the foreseen bump and a cuddle (by Supermum no less, although I’m pretty sure that internally they were calling me something less flattering).

Supergirl was happy to step out of her costume.  Spidey was less happy, and so he has gone to bed in a padded acrylic costume, worn over his pyjamas.  I guess I now have to go up and relieve him of his super-powers or I shall be awoken by a very hot, smelly boy at a ridiculous time in the morning (ie, earlier than I would like and not quite early enough to get another couple of hours sleep in before we all have to get up).

Wish me luck.

Being Ethical

This is about what I make as a designer and I dare say I may meander into other areas…..

Tonight I made this.

Titania Headdress

As Blackwillow I get to make and sell things.  I do this because I have a creative streak that really only gets going once the children are either in bed or when they are with their dad (ie tonight).

But, this is about being ethical.  Here’s why this particular item is ethical.

The fabric used for the base I bought some 15 years ago from a charity shop.  It’s a beautiful brocade sari and choli (I used a sleeve from the choli) and it’s taken me this long to get around to cutting it up because it’s SO beautiful.

But I had the urge to use it this week. The sari is hanging in my bedroom at the moment and may well become something else (a skirt or trousers).  The choli had been taken in at least three times so there was a lot of stitching to undo but it was worth it.

The flowers I have had in my collection for some time too but don’t ask me how long.  They came from a charity shop too as most of my items do – you can count into that the jewelry and the pearls and beads and lace that I added.   All of those things came from a good friend of mine who works in a charity shop and puts things aside for me.

The earrings than brooch that form part of the design are pretty old, probably vintage (I do as much research as I can into designs).  The beads and wire part at the brow were second hand.  Inside the base is a belt I bought some time ago (from…guess where, a charity shop) and the elastic that makes up part of the ties is one of the only things that was bought new.  So I can’t claim that the whole item is ethically sound.  Just 90% of it….. maybe even 95%…..

Why is this important?

Because if I use things that have come from charity shops (goodwill or op-shops depending on where you live) then I am re-cycling or up-cycling.  Sustaining the life of an item that someone had decided they had had enough of.

The recent upsurge in fast fashion disturbs me, even though it suits my single parent pocket.  Even more so that I am now reading *To Die For* by Lucy Siegle, and then two days ago there was the rehash of a Panorama (BBC) programme about children working in sweatshop conditions for one of the biggest retailers of fast fashion here in the UK.  The BBC said that they were going to apologise for showing a programme that had *flawed footage*, apparently made up footage by the investigative journalist Dan McDougall.

If the footage was faked then I am disappointed.  That means that many people will continue to disregard the reports (that they cannot ascertain as true for themselves) about the working and living conditions of those who are subcontracted to make and decorate the fashion items that we now all take for granted as being as cheap as chips on the High Street in the UK, the US and in Europe.

But.         Think about it.        If you can buy a hand beaded top in Primark or a Walmart store for less than £10 then someone is not being paid properly.  Full stop.  I KNOW how long it takes to hand bead something.  I can’t bead a vest top, let alone a dress or a skirt for the price I could buy one for.  New.

In fact I can’t make my own clothes for less than I can buy them in a High Street store.  I certainly can’t grow, harvest, weave, dye, cut, sew and embellish a top for less than £10.00………….

But someone (in fact lots of someones) does all of these things in order for us to get such cheap fashion.

So how can we all play out part?  Do our bit?  Feel as though we have made a difference?

Get the most out of what you buy and wear.  Wash and care for it correctly and it’ll last longer, ensuring that you don’t have to buy more often.  If you’re going to buy something new then maybe buy something that is better made, better design, better quality.  BUT don’t be fooled by Fairtrade labels.  Fairtrade labels only refer to the growing of the cotton, possibly to the way it was woven.  They do not refer to the making/sewing/embellishing.  Sorry to burst the bubble……

Another alternative is to buy second hand and make alterations to ensure it’s unique to you.  Buying second hand makes sure that an item does not end up in landfill.  That it does get a second or maybe third lease of life.

And the hardest one?  Don’t be seduced by fashion.  Fashion is fleeting.  An industry that WANTS our support, but that does not need it if you are able to follow your own path.

DO NOT buy into the fantasy that buying a cheaply made top/skirt/dress means that someone somewhere IS getting a fair wage that will feed their family and keep them employed.  Consider this.  If there is no other work than the work that is offered by subcontractors for the clothing industry, then where are you going to get a job?  When you have worked a shift (8 plus hours) and your manager is under orders to complete and order and s/he instructs you to work another 8 hours 9through the night) before your next shift, are you going to ask your children (aged 5+) to help you or not?  Take a guess.  If you live in one of the many locations that are subcontracted into this work then you probably will tell them to help you.  Many hands make light work.

Take a stand.  Buy second hand.  Buy from people that up-cycle.  Have a go at making things yourself.  Wear things for longer.  Don’t be fooled by the foolishness of fashion.

End of rant.  You may now switch off.

Using my camera like a pro….

Ah. I’m almost embarrassed to tell you how long it has taken me to work out how to get a great picture with my camera, but do you know, I think I’ve cracked it.

Having a tripod helps, good lighting is a must but is tricky in a terraced Victorian house and no extra lamps for illumination.

Today I managed to snatch half an hour when the sun was out and the children were occupied to get some new pics done.  And then I snatched a bit more time cropping and tweaking with the camera itself before putting it all up in some software and doing final image sizing.  What a difference!

I may even get good at this!

I already knew how to add a few effects (not I’m trying to trick your eye, it just adds a vintage look to the photo with that darker edge) but hadn’t worked out how to zoom into a shot.  I love it!

I would have played around some more but the kids came upstairs and both started crying and arguing about who loved The Very Hungry Caterpillar the most (the stuffed toy that accompanies the book, not the book.)  TVHC War was diffused and my time was up…..


So tonight, once the children were in bed I was planning to make a KILLER headdress.

Killer as in fabulous fabric, chains, dangly jewelry bits, feathers, flowers – the whole shebang.  But in order to clear a bit of head-space I needed to do some house-keeping first. NO!  Not house-work, but check my bank account, do my books, tidy up the boring stuff.  That allows m the creative space I need.  And what do I find?  That I just paid for my ex’s motorbike (a hunking piece of rust) to be insured.  What…..?

Last year, when we were still pretending to be in love, I paid for his motorbike insurance from one of my miniscule bank accounts (ok, I’m a Taurus so I have more than one and one day they will all be filled with moolah…)

I had forgotten about this and didn’t realise that when it was due to be paid again they would write to him, and would then automatically take the payment from my account…. (because he never opens letter, that impinges on his life too much and *ties him down, man*).

In fairness he responded to my text message about it pretty quickly and I will get the monies so that I can sort out the debt but FFS.  That messed up my creativity big-time.

Tonight’s lunar eclipse is supposed to be a significant one, and for me one that relates to monetary matters.  *Rolls eyes*.

So instead I’ve just spent the last two hours adding to my blackwillowbellydance website and SEO’ing for all my life is worth.  Well, got to do something constructive…..

It’s now 11.03pm and I’ve got bread in the oven so that I can eat Tricolore Salad before bed (I am willing the avocado to be ripe enough…..)

In other news I found out tonight that the first campsite I am going to with the kids is on rocky ground so I’ve had to buy rock pegs and a claw hammer to accommodate this…that’s ok, I don’t want to return the tent I’ve borrowed with 20 bent pegs at the end of the summer.  I’ve only borrowed a tent because the one I have is huge and takes up three very heave bags because when I bought it I wasn’t a proper camper and didn’t look at how it was constructed, only at how big it was.  The tent I have borrowed is just as big but fits into one bag and I can put it up by myself.  I do have a girly tool box that contains a hammer, but it’s not a claw hammer so hey, I needed one didn’t I?

And tomorrow I will again give the killer headdress a couple of coats of thinking about during the day when I am busy with my small son, and tomorrow night might get around to getting the base ready for some magnificent accessorizing.  Fingers crossed eh?