Posts Tagged ‘crafts’

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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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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this little piggy went to market

Just off Plaza Calderon in Sta. Ana, Manila, is a little street lined with shops that sell many different things.

We took a walk there one day to see what we would find.

There were pirated DVDs at three for a hundred pesos (US$2).


Clothes, perhaps from China, Vietnam, or Thailand, most of them only available in small sizes.


A rainbow of handbags.


Plastic beads attract with color…


…as do children’s toys.


Ripe golden mangoes, summer’s sweetest fruit.


Vegetables beckon with color.


Eggs come in many sizes and prices.


Name these fruits in ten seconds – go!


Cookies and bread in a bakery window.


The pig bread has raisin eyes. No pigs were harmed in the making of this bread.


Rice cakes of different kinds.


Hot roasted peanuts – garlic, spicy, and “skinless” – are scooped into a small glass a little bigger than a shot glass, then poured into a little brown paper bag.


Parrots for sale at a pet shop.


Tricycles lined up to take shoppers home.


Apart from things, we also found life – teeming, noisy, vibrant, full of itself, basking in the summer sun.

Photos taken with a Nokia XpressMusic cellphone camera.

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frankenpen; or, a pen reborn

Oh joy of joys! A frankenpen for my very own from frankenpen creator Tom Overfield!

The term “frankenpen” is used by fountain pen collectors to refer to a pen that incorporates parts from other pens – say, a cap or a barrel. The prefix “franken-” comes from the fictional monster cobbled together by Dr. Frankenstein.

Tom, an IT expert and a FP user and collector, makes entire pens from vintage Sheaffer parts. Like works of art, his creations have titles or names. This is “Thinenstein”. It has other siblings, all Sheaffer Snorkels – the first one he made was called “Frankensnork”, followed by “Son of Frankensnork” and “Bride of Frankensnork”, and all in the collections of Filipino penfriends.

Thinenstein is made from Thin Model (TM) parts and has a Touchdown fill system and a Triumph nib. The parts are of different colors – the cap burgundy, the barrel blue, the end cap green, the section dark amber.

“Sheaffer TMs were made for only a few years,” wrote Tom in an accompanying note. A Penspotters article says that the TM pens were introduced in 1950 and were fitted with the Touchdown system until the switch to the Snorkel filling system in 1952. For the bodies of their pens, Sheaffer used Radite (celluloid) until 1948, then brought in a new synthetic cast resin called “Fortical”.


Thinenstein’s section is a translucent or “visulated” dark amber plastic, which could not be used later on with the Snorkel “because of the need to house the Snorkel tube.”


The 14k two-tone gold Triumph nib is a marvel of design and engineering. It is a firm and sturdy nail, without the slightest hint of flex, making it more than robust enough for daily use.  Slightly upturned at the tip like a Turkish slipper, it lays ink in a consistent line.


It is is steady, reliable writer, one that can be counted on to perform day in and day out.

Its appeal also lies in its origin. Made from rare, old, and unusual but discarded parts joined to create an object of function that is at the same time an original work of art, Thinenstein is a perfect road warrior, combining the charm of vintage things, the attraction of beauty and exclusivity, and the practicality of performance.

Thank you very much, Tom, for this token of friendship that I will always treasure!

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art on the move

On the Coastal road to Naic, Cavite, last Saturday, I saw these funky passenger transport vehicles in Imus, Cavite. They were smaller than a bus but larger than a jeepney, and as flamboyantly decorated with folk art. Let us call them “beeps”.

Beeps have the characteristic artwork common to jeeps – the “title” on the signage above the windshield; the names of the owner and his family painted all over the vehicle; and colorful motifs.


The design on the back of this beep reminds me of Hawaiian quilt appliques.


This artwork shows Mickey Mouse as a cruise director – implying, perhaps, that this beep is your own cruise ship to your destination.


The backs of beeps, like taxicabs, often bear the names of the owner’s wife and children and some motif that has special meaning for them. The splashguard at the bottom will often have either the name of a patron saint or some quotation.


This beep’s rear splashguard bears a quote about love. Filipinos are, in general, a romantic folk. Why the matching prawns? No idea. I saw several beeps with the prawns.


The airbrushed art on this beep is eye-catching. Note the color-coordinated passersby. Photography is a serendipitous activity.


Motifs from popular culture are often used. This is an anime-decorated beep. The side panel shows characters from “Kingdom Hearts”.


The bishop’s miter and crook are also common motifs for Cavite beep artwork. The back art of this one – a  guardian angel watching over two children crossing a log footbridge – is beautifully and painstakingly rendered.


Since beeps have more surface area than jeeps, there is more scope for folk artists to let their creativity run free in creating large designs. This kind of art work, executed on a moving canvas, reaches a wider audience than if it were just hung on the wall.

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favorite chinese things

A recent trip to Hong Kong yielded some interesting finds from the markets. Much were tourist-y gimcrack doodads, but since I was, after all, a tourist, I flung myself into the role with enthusiasm and poked around for items to take back.

I fell in love with a personalized seal and a watch.

On our first day of our trip, we headed to the Stanley Market for souvenirs to take home as pasalubong (lit., “to welcome”). It is part of Filipino culture to take home gifts to family and friends.

After looking at countless tee shirts, silk bags,  and other things, a seal engraving shop caught my eye. Run by a family – the mother, who sp0ke English, was the sales person while the father, son, and grandfather did the custom engraving, drawing, and other services – the shop offered countless blank seals to choose from.

I’d always wanted my own seal, ever since my Mandarin teacher at the Ateneo, Prof. Songbee Dy, gave me a Chinese name – “Ai Fei Fei”.

“Ai” is from the “A” in Alcasid, and “Fei” means “luxuriant and beautiful”, from the “fer” in “Jennifer”. Prof. Dy had thought about the name over a weekend, putting much effort in coming up with something special. After all, it was like she was naming me all over again.

I told the seal lady and she wrote the characters down for me, asking me if they were the right ones. We were taught to speak a little Chinese, not read it, so I wasn’t sure. I gave her the meaning; she nodded and asked me to choose a seal.

Since my zodiac animal in Chinese astrology is a Sheep, that’s what I chose, along with a red box. I was told to return in twenty minutes.

When I came back for my seal, it was beautifully engraved. My Anglo name “Jenny” was added at the bottom, rendering it invalid for use as an “official” seal. Still, it is special as a souvenir of this trip.

The box is of red brocade and fastened with a plastic splinter. Formerly, deer horn was used.

Closeup of the seal, with my Chinese name engraved in the ancient seal script.

The interior of the box is lined in red silk, with hollows for the seal and the covered dish of seal paste.

Playing with the seal.

The seal is marble, while the seal paste dish is porcelain.

The underside of the seal and the dish of seal paste. Seal paste is made of pulverized red cinnabar mixed with castor oil and silk strands to bind everything together.

At the Night Market at Jordan, one subway stop away from where our hotel was in Tsim Sha Tsui, I got this watch.

I don’t usually wear watches. But I couldn’t resist this old fashioned clockwork one, which features Chairman Mao constantly waving his arm up and down.

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