Archive of ‘crafts’ category

global warming

Sorrow and bereavement touched our extended family this weekend.

For comfort, I burrow into this friendship quilt that I made eleven years ago, some time before the events occurred that culminated in the past couple of days’ sadness.

The quilt is queen-size, draped now on my new double bed made from an old twin-size bed of Canadian pine.

The old bed, almost fifteen years old, was widened from 36 inches to 54 fore and aft over the weekend by a master furniture craftsman using sixty-year old tanguile (lauan) wood left over from when the racehorse stables beneath our little apartment were destroyed.

It is a reused and recycled bed. The quilt is recycled too, made with scraps of fabric left over from other projects. Both are made with organic materials – wood, cotton – and time – years and years of time.

Quilts, like furniture, are built artifacts.They are constructed. Each element is cut with allowances to permit joining; careful attention is given to shapes, patterns, and the way they are put together.

Sometimes mistakes are made in cutting the quilt squares or the wood for a bed leg or post. Adjustments must then be made – a tuck in the sashing here, an additional inch of wood glued on there.

Life is like a quilt, or a crafted bed. We build our lives by hand, with materials organic to our individual journey – tears, laughter, sweat, mistakes, sorrow, joy. We reuse and recycle experiences and feelings. We make decisions that may be right or wrong. We learn from them; sometimes we do not.

For a quilt, the finishing touch is the tag at the back. On it are written the name of the quilt, the date it was finished, and other information that the quiltmaker wishes future owners of the quilt to know. It tells the history of the quilt and the maker.

I had not used this particular quilt in years. The words on the tag brought back memories of the way things used to be, and how I have moved on from that place in that time to where I am now.

This weekend’s sadness stems from events that occurred mere months after I finished this quilt.

The quilt was done long ago.

The bed was done this afternoon.

The story begun in sorrow eleven years ago ends now, also in sorrow.

Let it be done. Let the lessons be learned. Let life go on. Let years roll by that will cover over the heartache and allow the moving on.

I burrow under the quilt and hope that happiness returns soon.

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pop goes the world: namaste, a place of wonder

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, published on 13 August 2011, Saturday

This article has already appeared on this blog in a somewhat different form here.

Namaste, A Place of Wonder

Namaste Art and Objects in Baguio City  is said to be the only shop in the Philippines that sells Nepali and Tibetan fine goods and art; they also carry  crystals and semi-precious stone beads to be made into custom jewelry.

Located at the ground floor of Porto Vaga Building along Session Road, the shop is small, yet filled with wonderful things. Everywhere is the gleam of brass or perhaps gold leaf, the shimmer of fine pashmina wool, and the sheen of beads displayed on countless racks.

Palanca Award-winning writer German Gervacio in front of Namaste. (April 2011)

I visited the shop last April. Its windows are crammed with an overload of interesting objects. Since they are informed by Buddhist Tibetan and Nepali culture, the meaning behind much of the things escapes the usual visitors.

In the center of the window was an intricate brass figure, winged and haloed, perhaps an avalokiteshvara (bodhisattva of compassion). Yet another gleaming Buddha sits serenely in the window, behind a quartz geode and metal elephant. Elephants (gaja in Sanskrit) symbolize fertility, abundance, richness, boldness and strength, wisdom and royalty. In Buddhism, the “Precious Elephant” means strength of mind, a “symbol of the calm majesty possessed by one who is on the Path.”

There is no wasted space in the shop; every available inch holds something. The walls of Namaste are adorned with paintings, carvings, masks, and a stringed musical instrument, while from the ceiling dangle bells, wind chimes, patchwork fabric hangings, and more.

Buddha figures in all shapes, sizes, and forms abound. One of my favorite tableaus on a high shelf featured a Buddha in the center, flanked by a warrior and a horse. In Chinese mythology, horses stand for virtue and power. From obvious associations, it also connotes speed, intelligence, and natural forces like the wind and waves. In Buddhism, the “Precious Horse” is one of the “Seven Jewels of Royal Power”, said to “travel among the clouds and mirror the Buddha’s abandonment of or “rising above” the cares of worldly existence.

Placed on eye-level on another shelf was a triptych, maybe eight inches high, carved from wood and painted in turquoise, pink, and gold. On the center of the left-hand panel is the Sanskrit symbol for OM, the “eternal syllable”. Buddha sits upon a lotus, and one is carved on either side of him. In Buddhism, the lotus refers to the “complete purification of body, speech, and mind.”

More brass Buddhas sit atop a pile of silk and wool fabric – shawls and what-not. From the ceiling in front of them is suspended a wooden charm carved and painted with the Chinese symbol for good luck.

The shop has many displays of bracelets and necklaces made from crystals and stones.I asked Namaste store attendant Meg Reyes to make me a bracelet. She asked me, “Ano’ng kailangan mo?” I asked her, “Ano ang tingin mong kailangan ko?” She looked into my eyes, while her own narrowed. Then she said, slowly, “Maraming naiinggit sa iyo.”

I was taken aback by that; it was unexpected. But then I recalled two Enochian card readings I was given last year, in November and December; the reader, Malou Mallari, told me both times to be wary of workplace envy. For the same issue to crop up again was an uncanny coincidence; I decided to take heed, and let Meg guide me in the choice of stones for my bracelet.

She put in a mix of power (creativity, health, success, etc.) and protection (anti-negativity, anti-envy, returning back ill-wishing) stones. Because the power stones cost more, I got only one of each, while the rest of the length of the bracelet was made up of the less expensive jet black “anti-negative” stones.

Meg chose various colors of tourmaline; clear, rose, and cherry quartz; and amethyst, jet, lapis lazuli, and angelite to make my bracelet. She placed my chosen beads on a makeshift cardboard stand, like a Scrabble tile holder, and strung them on several strands of elastic thread, then knotted the ends tightly and fused them in a candle flame.

I was also drawn to a tiny brass Buddha statue less than an inch and a half high. (I carry it with me every day in a pouch in my bag, putting it in front of my computer monitor when I get to work in the mornings.)

Before handing me my items, Meg “blessed” both the bracelet and the mini-Buddha in a Tibetan metal “healing bowl”, running a wooden implement around the rim to create a ringing, echoing sound, while telling me to think of good things. As I drew the bracelet on my wrist, Meg advised me to wear the power stones close to the pulse.

Prayer wheel and blessing/healing bowl.

Fast-forward to late May. Now one of the protection stones on my bracelet has cracked in half, and half of the bead beside it has changed color, from black to a murky gray. I was puzzled – I don’t slam my hand around, while the color change is frankly inexplicable.

Then the other day at work I learned that several people whom I thought were friends are backbiting me about my position, though  they admit that I have never done anything against them either professionally or personally.

When the green monster rears its ugly head, it spells the end of friendships. Or not, because now I realize these people were never my true friends, and I’m glad I found that out early on.

I can’t help thinking now that my bracelet took the hit of all that negative energy. A coincidence? It’s still uncanny. Three friends (a writer, a lawyer, and an editor) to whom I showed the damaged bracelet pushed it away and averted their eyes“Nakakakilabot,” they said.

I plan to go up to Baguio on the next long weekend and visit Namaste again, this time to ask Meg for a bracelet made entirely of the “anti-negative” stones as a pangontra. Though I believe luck is what we make it, some coincidences are just too strange and cannot be ignored.

It will also be a treat to immerse myself once more in a world of wondrous things replete with symbolism, a trove of exotic treasures from a different place, a haven for unraveling stress and instilling a sense of deep peace. ***

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art nouveau, scots-style

From my bookshelves: Mackintosh, by Tamsin Pickeral (Flame Tree Publishing, London: 2005). Part of “The World’s Greatest Art” series.

Glasgow-born Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868 to 1928) was a leading light of Art Nouveau design in the United Kingdom. With his wife, artist and designer Margaret MacDonald, he created a body of work that today is still admired for its lightness, airiness, and singular vision.

This is an art book, on each page a photograph showing some aspect of Mackintosh’s work, from architecture and interiors to paintings and textiles.

He designed homes and buildings from without to within, preferring to keep a tight control on all artistic aspects of a project. He often worked with his wife, whose style mirrored his own; some critics say she was the better artist and that she influenced him. It was Mackintosh’s gift to present the entirety of their collaboration as a package when working on projects.

Motto image here.

His style is unmistakable and enduring; a font that he designed for signage (as was used for the Willow Tea Rooms) is still as fresh and timeless as when he created it over a hundred years ago.

A design for a music room, with panels by MacDonald, that they entered in the “House for an Art Lover” competition in 1901, reflects the changing sensibilities of the period away from the dark and heavy Victorian aesthetic that had been the style for decades, towards a freer, lighter, more artistic trend.  The design duo favored white backgrounds, bright pastels, and florals, with a stylized pink rose their signature motif.

Music Room interior here.

The clean, simple lines, vibrant colors from nature, and organic curves paired with lines and angles represent the successful blending of art and logic, of  beauty and science, that was the zeitgeist of their world.

Glass panel detail showing the stylized “Mackintosh Rose”. Image here.

CRM portrait here. Caveat: these particular images are not in the book.

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fragrant smoke

UPDATE: This piece was published in slightly modified form in the 15 July 2012 issue of Sunday Manila Standard-Today.

My late father was into yoga in the 1970s, during the hippie age here and abroad. He said he even helped the first Krishna devotees set up in Manila, having met their founder guru (an American man) at the airport, and befriended him. He helped find an apartment for the group. One thing he could not forget was how the guru insisted on glass or ceramic things for drinking and eating, never plastic, which he said were unclean. Or couldn’t be cleaned properly. Or something like that.

In any case, that meeting heralded the start of my father’s interest in Eastern religions and rituals. He would sit cross-legged with eyes closed, at night, in the dark, in the living room, with only an incense stick burning, as my sister and I tiptoed hush hush around him, wondering if he had fallen asleep sitting up. Later he said he was “meditating.” We wondered if that was another word for “napping uncomfortably in places other than the bedroom.”

He continued his vegetarianism (begun when he was an adolescent and a Seventh-Day Adventist), and avoided over-processed food  - no white sugar, brown sugar and honey were his preferred sweeteners; brown rice instead of white; wheat bread instead of Tasty; cottage cheese instead of cheddar from the supermarket.

He took us with him to eat at the now-defunct Gandharva restaurant in Manila, which smelled more of incense than food. It was a self-service cafeteria where one took trays to a counter, piled them with curries and rotis, and took them to eat at tables besides walls hand-painted from ceiling to floor with colorful murals of Krishna and Arjuna and Radha. We always wondered why Krishna’s skin was a striking deep blue.

He burned incense nearly every night that he was home during the yoga years.

So when I saw these incense sticks and incense case at Scent for Senses in Megamall last week, I made sure to take them home. The incense box is studded with inlaid brass stars and has a carved fretwork lid and sides, which allows the scent of incense placed inside to waft gently into the room, even when the incense is unburned.

Rose incense smells of the flower; clove and myrrh remind me of the scents my father used to burn, the names of which we did not know. I do remember he also had sampaguita and sandalwood sticks.

Inside the box is a groove to catch falling ash. The sticks shown here are rose-scented masala (hand-dipped).

The metal disks are for incense cones. The holes at the sides at the box are for holding the incense stick while burning.

A compartment beneath the box is for storage.

In Hinduism, as in other religions that use incense in their rituals, the burning of incense is used during worship as a vehicle for prayer to reach the gods. The fragrance reminds worshippers of the positive attributes of the deities that they must imitate. One of my father’s friends  named me after the Hindu goddess of peace - Shanti Devi. I have been trying to live up to the name ever since; not succeeding all the time, but getting better at it.

An image of Lakshmi Devi, Goddess of Wealth and Health, who is also the Goddess of Peace in one of her 108 avatars. Image here.

Sometimes peace doesn’t come easy. Sometimes you have to work at it by examining your life and consciously making decisions to eliminate causes of stress, and finding whatever you enjoy that puts you in a more relaxed state of mind. Let it all flow from there.

These nights, as the scent of roses wafts up from my incense box, I remember my father, who is at peace. And I am grateful I have reached a point where I have that in my own life as well, where serenity and calm are as fragrances to my nostrils.

As they say at the end of the Upanishads – “Om shanti shanti shanti.” Peace peace peace.

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crayons bring happy

Wikipedia will tell you that crayons are sticks “of colored wax, charcoal, chalk, or other materials used for writing, coloring, drawing, and other methods of illustration.”

They are more than just that. A box of crayons is a box of explosive vibrant color the very sight of which will elevate your mood, enhance your endorphins, and increase your brain cell activity.

Well, maybe not quite all that. But for sure they bring happy happy joy joy.

The holiday “tree” on my office desk poses with a box of Crayola crayons from the US. I prefer the US crayons because they smell like the ones I had when I was a child, unlike locally-available ones that have no scent; I find it takes away from their “personality”.

Crayola was the only brand I knew back then. A box of crayons triggers strong associations for me – excitement, a creative rush, contentment, joy, peace, a feeling that all is right with the world.

Simple things like these make me happy.

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hack you

Muji is a terrific little Japanese shop which carries houseware, stationery, and even clothes, all in neutral colors. It’s almost like Ikea but not quite because it doesn’t have the same staggering selection of goods. Still, it’s a place to get interesting stuff. Last week I visited the Powerplant Mall, Makati branch close to closing time; not having much time to look around, I went home with only a few items – a couple of erasers and this yummy kraft-paper covered notebook.

The cover is actually quite smooth, as is the creamy unruled paper inside. But the cover was excruciatingly plain. So I hacked it.

How to hack a boringly blah notebook or something of similar persuasion:

Step 1: Wait for an inspiration to come like a lightning bolt.

Step 1a: In the event that no creative brainstorm occurs, open drawers and rummage through stuff to quickstart the process. I found red and purple ink stamp pads, a flex-nib fountain pen, ink, and a great poem.

Step 3: Using the materials you have found, use them to embellish your notebook by gluing, painting, writing, drawing, cutting, folding, verb+ing, and so on.

Step 4: Enjoy your one-of-a-kind modded thing!

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a collection of j. herbin inks

“La Perle des Encres” – “The Jewel of Inks”. Thus now are known the inks first created in 1700 by sailor-entrepreneur M. Herbin in his atelier in the Rue des Fosses Saint Germain in Paris. The company, known as J. Herbin, has been in existence since 1670; they began as a purveyor of fine sealing waxes.

Using inks in fountain pens and sealing wax in correspondence is an enjoyable visit to a splendid age, when the educated people of that time wrote long letters on thick paper in an elegant hand, carefully sealing them afterward with colored wax, an impression from a seal or a ring, and perhaps a kiss.

It is a marvel that we today can enjoy these same things. J. Herbin still makes fountain pen inks from natural dyes; their neutral pH is fountain-pen friendly. Here’s my latest haul of J. Herbin, from Scribe Writing Essentials in Eastwood Mall.

The packages are very chic, a designer’s dream.

The ink bottles are also beautiful, as are the labels. And the names of the inks, in French, will make you fall in love. Je t’aime.

The bottles are of glass and come with plastic caps.

There is something so very satisfying about a well-made and well-designed product.

The bottles are a special shape – the caps are set slightly back to give space for a groove that functions as a pen rest.

The bottles are works of art in themselves.

Even the bottom of the ink bottles are lovely.

These simple writing samples show how spectacular these water-based, lightfast inks are. Can you imagine using one of these colors in a pen to write a letter to someone special? Or using several colors to create a watercolor artwork?

This new year, make it a resolution to tap in your own creativity. What is it you enjoy doing – writing, drawing, singing? Express yourself through that channel, do whatever it is that makes you happy, and renew your spirit in words, color, or sound.

Photos taken with a Nikon Coolpix L21 at PICC Complex, Pasay City.

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nat’s happy wraps

There are some artists who work in several media in at once. It is as if the creative urge within needs to be expressed in different forms; or perhaps another medium is chosen when one is deemed unsuitable or inadequate to convey the artist’s message or whim. Palanca Award-winning poet Joel Vega writes for a science publication and also creates fantastical sculpture.  I write creative non-fiction and do needlework – embroidery and quilts – reveling in the colors of embroidery floss and the patterns of cotton fabric, working with my hands and not only my head. And my classmate, writer Natasha Gamalinda, creates one-of-a-kind costume jewelry from beads, bits of rawhide string, and lengths of chain.

Nat belongs to the Gamalinda family of writing fame. A poet, essayist, and short story writer, she is completing her master’s degree in Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where I met her in Dr. Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo’s creative non-fiction writing class.

Her venture into jewelry art is called “Happy Wraps“. Nat designs and creates custom pieces in happy colors that make the soul skip with a glint of a glass bead, and fingers tingle with the feel of grainy leather.

Knot anklets, which may be worn as bracelets.

Pastel pearl beads and a blue glass star charm make up this cutie, suitable as a christening gift for a baby girl.

Nat created this choker for me in my chosen flavors of chocolate, strawberry, and vanilla. She added a unicorn charm in the center, referencing my two-decades’ long involvement in the Philippine thoroughbred industry. I’m happy to own a statement neckpiece that turns heads and is also a souvenir from one of the most exciting young writers in the Philippine literary scene.

A choker Nat designed for me in the “choco-strawberry” colorway from her “I Love Ice Cream” line. Other flavors include pistachio and wildberry.

With the holidays just around the corner, why not ask Nat to create bracelets or neckpieces for your loved ones in their favorite colors and materials? Email her at or search for ‘Happy Wraps’ on Facebook to see photos of Nat’s work and get your own custom wearable art pieces from this talented artist.

Photos by Natasha Gamalinda/Happy Wraps.

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china’s ‘four treasures of the study’

China possesses one of the world’s oldest scholarly traditions, dating back millenia. Symbols scratched on oracle bones found in Jiahu, a Neolithic settlement, suggest that the evolution of Chinese writing began around 6600 BCE. A trove of classical works from 770 BCE onwards enriches Chinese literature; these were appreciated and added to by the intelligentsia and, upon the invention of woodblock and moveable type printing, were widely disseminated and read by the learned for generations.

From carvings on bone and turtle plastrons for divinatory purposes, Chinese writing evolved into logosyllabic characters of ink brushed on paper serving practical (record-keeping) and artistic (literary) functions. The art of writing and calligraphy became skills cultivated among the upper and middle classes.

The tools of calligraphy were highly prized. Chinese scholars called them “the four treasures of the study” – the inkstone, inkstick, brushes, and paper. Other tools used were carved seals of stone, wood, or ivory; seal paste of cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands or plant fiber; sculpted or carved paperweights; and desk pads.

Calligraphy is still taught in Chinese schools to the present day, all over the world. Filipino students work with writing sets, learning to imbue characters with emotion using deft, fluid strokes with an ink-dipped brush.

UK-based AL Merginio-Murgatroyd, a friend from school days, sent me this set. The cardboard box is covered with green silk that shines bluish in sunlight; the pattern is embroidered with violet-gray thread.

Inside, on red felt, three of the ‘four precious things of the library’. This set includes a seal and seal paste.

The seal is marble, uncarved, waiting for me to choose a special sign to have engraved upon it. The inkstick has a golden dragon upon it – it’s too beautiful to use!

Inksticks were traditionally made from soot and glue. They often have carvings or were molded into whimsical shapes like flowers. Many inkstones, especially antiques, are works of art and cherished by collectors.

To use, drag water from the inkstone’s ‘well’ on to the ‘plain’; grind the inkstick against the stone until the water in the well runs dark enough.

Seals are used like rubber stamps – dab the carved side into seal paste, and gently press it onto the surface of the paper, rocking it back and forth to ensure a good impression. Remember to keep seal paste containers covered and in the box to prevent it from drying out.

As I hold this box in my lap, I think of many things – the sheer weight of the thousands of years of Chinese culture; the literature classics written with materials like these, from the Tao Te Ching to the Confucian Analects; that practical things may also be works of beauty, and uplift to an art the labor done with them; how writing tools have evolved through time in various civilizations; and more, and more.

Most of all I think of how a friend now in a cold country far from her motherland’s tropical warmth, who taught me Math and conversed with me when I was in elementary and she in high school with license to ignore the small fry yet still kindled the fires of friendship, a friend whom I have not seen for more than two decades, keeps our connection burning with this and other tokens of remembrance.

Thank you, AL. I hope one day to see you again, and embrace you again, and show you my gratitude for your love through the years. Be blessed.

Photos by Alex Alcasid; inkstone and seal ‘how-to’ images here.

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