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Development, Dependence and Difference

18 Jun

Akam bulte! (Just casually mixing in some Oromifa, ‘cause I can),

This is a post that I’ve wanted to write for a long time, but have been unsure about how to broach it sensitively, or whether I should talk about it at all. But it’s the reason I’m here, so I feel that I need to.

Ethiopia is a developing country, albeit one that is definitely on the make. Everything is getting better here all the time, and the rate of change is unbelievable. I walk past building sites that seem to change at lightning speed, and there is always activity going on everywhere. So in that sense, development is very much happening.

However, there are also fundamental issues, and the main worry that people I’ve spoken to have is about resources. Ethiopia is a country twice the size of France, with a population that is accelerating constantly. The problem is that food production is not increasing. Water availability is not increasing. Access to education, employment and services is not evenly distributed throughout the country, and the drive from Addis to Dire Dawa all that time ago made this abundantly clear. Tiny communities dotted along the roadside were dominated by US Aid tins and foreign food-handout stores. Even in Dire Dawa, those Aid tins are ever present, unrolled into flat sheets and used as makeshift bricks for temporary homes. The contradiction never fails to shock me.

The other big thing that has been occupying my thoughts has been the begging and street children. At first, my attitude was ‘this would never be allowed to happen in the UK’, as I pushed through swarms of children grabbing my clothes and bag and screaming for 1 birr. It was frightening and upsetting, and I wanted to make them go away. And then I stopped to think. The UK can pay to hide ‘undesirable’ situations from the public; Ethiopia cannot. And keeping the problem hidden is far worse.

We have homeless people in the UK. Of course we do. But they are part of this secret world that we choose to avoid. They do not approach us to ask for help, but wait for help to come to them, as a pound dropped into a hat. We have children without parents, who are HIV positive, who have no home to go to, who are disabled, who are starving. But our culture hides them. We put children into care homes, segregate the poor into council estates and forget that our child poverty rates are among the worst in Europe. We congratulate ourselves on our welfare system, our health service and free education. But the UK now has as much of a dependence culture as Ethiopia does. Just as some children in the UK will grow up believing that the state will provide everything, and that education has no value, some children in Ethiopia are taken out of education to beg for money (parents believe it is a better use of their time),. If the plug is pulled, what do these children do? If begging does not make money, they have no education to fall back on, and there is no safety net to catch them. The best scenario is that an NGO finds them and is able to intervene.

I now remind myself that the children who wait at bajaj stops for ferenjiis may well be the same kids that the volunteers are working with on their placement. We find them so appealing within the safe confines of a school or orphanage, when we can control the situation. But flip that round, and when you find yourself being trailed by 6 or 7 5 year olds asking for money, it’s more difficult to be sympathetic.

Last week, the volunteers had their first Global Citizenship Day on the environment. We met with some of the 3rd year Geography students at Dire Dawa University, listened to some talks and then had a discussion.

One of the points that was continually raised by the students was the blame carried by the West for environmental destruction. “The developed countries have contributed 90% of the carbon emissions, but they haven’t done anything to apologise to the developing countries, and we are the ones suffering.” Someone else suggested that we should go back to the UK and tell our government what was happening to the environment in Ethiopia, explain that it was their fault, and get them to fix the problem (of course, the assumption was that we have this kind of power, and that the UK government cares). And then the issue of compensation came up. “The developed countries should compensate the developing countries. They have all the blame, and we should get something to make up for the destruction they’ve caused.”

And I got angry.

I was sitting in a lecture theatre with maybe 40 other people, 12 of whom were from the UK. And the discussion was turning into international finger-pointing. I later discovered that the compensation solution was suggested by the previous Ethiopian prime minister at an African Union conference, and the idea seems to have taken root across society, as well as in academia. I suggested that perhaps financial compensation for environmental problems would create further relationships of dependence, that it would make the situation worse, and that throwing money at problems has been proven unsuccessful many times over. There was recognition of my point, but no further discussion.

The idea that money from the West = A Good Thing is a firmly held belief. In a setting where I would expect exploration of alternative ideas, or debate on other suggestions, I was faced with a group of people parroting back one suggestion from one politician who has now passed away. This is not a criticism, but an observation. The students made valid and very interesting points, and I enjoyed the discussion a lot. But throughout the morning, I became aware that the UK volunteers presented an opportunity for some people to vent their frustration directly at Westerners, and that was very uncomfortable.

This is the dilemma I face as a foreigner. I am seen both as a resource and an interference. I can fix computers, write reports and give an alternative inupt to problems without even thinking about it. But I am also perceived as a walking bank, a potential coloniser, and a representative of the intellectual project that keeps Africa poor. Ethiopia has never been colonised (only briefly occupied by Italians, who left a legacy of excellent pizza), so there is not the same lived experience that is present in other parts of Africa. But the awareness of colonisation and the damage that it has done is present every day.

When I handed in my dissertation a year ago, I never imagined I’d be living my research 10 months later. The twist in the tail is that I’m the exotic other – people want to see what my hair feels like, ask why I have freckles and look at my hands. I often think of a quote from ‘Lost in Austen’ (Pride and Prejudice had to come up eventually), where the girl from the 21st century who ends up in the book asks: “Has there ever been anyone else like me? You know, talks a bit funny, doesn’t know how things operate?” I have many Amanda Price moments.

I’m finding the intellectual aspects of this journey as frustrating as I do rewarding. It’s everything I wanted and more. But it’s challenging and difficult too. Please, if you get the opportunity, come to Ethiopia. Learn from its people. They will inspire you, encourage you and make you believe in yourself if you do not already.

After 5 weeks here, I am beginning to get a sense of the world through the eyes of an Ethiopian, and I have begun to prepare myself for the reverse culture shock of returning to the UK in 7 weeks. The behaviour of ‘those white people’ on MTV shocks me more than ever. I watch so much ETV that I forget there are other countries in the world. I’m becoming as insulated from the outside world as the Ethiopian population are; television is full of cultural music and dancing, Ethiopian programmes and movies dubbed in Amharic. The news concerns Ethiopia and Ethiopia alone. My host dad has to remind me to watch CNN and the BBC to see what is happening elsewhere. I expect touchdown at Heathrow to be a disorienting and somewhat frightening reintroduction to the UK.

But I’m so looking forward to a chicken burger 😛

It’s not all been doom and gloom though. Here’s what made me smile this week:

–          I’m now on first name terms with Tedi and Abel the bajaj drivers. They take me to my door, rather than to the shop that I usually direct bajaj drivers to.

–          En route to church on Sunday, the bajaj driver played an African mix of Single Ladies. It was 6.15 in the morning and it was perfect.

–          I keep hearing a reggae cover of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’.

–          Oromyia TV News has stolen the BBC News intro music, but nobody seems to care/notice.

–          Ethiopia beat South Africa in the World Cup qualifiers while I was having pizza with some other volunteers at Samrat Hotel. The place went crazy – the staff literally ran all over the place hugging one another and there were parties in the streets.

–          I’ve picked up the ‘carry on, I’m listening to you’ gasp that the Ethiopians use when they are listening to a good conversation. It sounds like they are shocked, but it actually means ‘please continue’.

–          My Ethiopian granny single-handedly proved that the famine in Ethiopia is long gone. For lunch on Saturday, she made me steak and potatoes (starter), doro wat (main course, and I was given about 4 eggs as well as chicken and everything else), and then pulled out the biggest plate of spag bol I’ve ever seen in my life. I swear there’s more food here than at home. I ended up taking the pasta home and eating it for dinner. I am never ever hungry because I never stop eating. And my appetite is miniscule compared to the average Ethiopian. They can put away some amount of grub. It’s impressive.

We are almost half way through (I know, crazy). After next week, I can begin the countdown to home! I’m making a list of things I want to bring back to the UK, and am concerned that I don’t have enough space in my rucksack. Some lucky person in Dire Dawa may get all my clothes so that some lucky people in Scotland get coffee and Ethiopian shirts.

Stay tuned, and thank you for following me on my journey so far.



New Year’s Eve Completion: The Versailles Dress

31 Dec

Dear reader, I finished it.

It’s taken 7 months, goodness knows how many hours and lots of planning, but my 17th century confection is finally done 🙂

I’ll try to break down the process in this post, and there’s the token terrible picture at the end, but this time on purpose. The photo is shot at night time, in a badly lit room, into a mirror on a phone camera to make sure that the real ‘big reveal’ happens at the appropriate time. You’ll have to wait until April/May time for that.

*Advance warning: this post will be hyperlink heavy, so that I don’t have to bog it down with too many pictures :)*

I’ve discussed in a previous post why I decided on the 17th century in the first place, and I think much of the reason comes down to how overlooked it is within the costuming circuit. It’s very easy to bring up pages and pages of information on recreating garments from the Renaissance, or the 18th century, but the 17th century, which is full of amazing people and events is seriously undervalued.

There’s also the aesthetic of the period. It ranges from starchy black and white Puritanism through to full on spaniel curls and high heels for men – perhaps these differences make it more difficult to classify visually than, say, the Victorian era, or the Regency. No matter. As far as I’m concerned, it’s awesome.

This project began over the summer while I was working away from home at an internship. I would spend the days writing reports on town centre management and social problems and come home to some costuming frippery. The two balanced one another out, and it worked well.

After much searching for a pattern (there is no way I was going to draft that bodice on my own), I came across Nehelenia Patterns’ Baroque Dress pattern, and the rest is history. I read and re-read the pattern envelope and instructions about 20 times before plucking up the courage to cut out my muslin – it’s worth being a little obsessive about a new project in the early stages – and then spent the next week taking in the shoulders a millimetre at a time until I was satisfied that the top of the dress wasn’t going ANYWHERE.

I waited for a Saturday morning to cut out my taffeta for the bodice, because I wanted the entire weekend to be able to sit and fiddle with it, uninterrupted. I don’t usually buy fabric over the internet, particularly not in such huge quantities (I ended up with about 7m for this one, just in case something went wrong), but when my fabric arrived, I was over the moon. Thank you, Nortex Mill – you have now been recommended 🙂

I boned and covered the bodice within the next week, and the sleeves and gold braid only took a few days to add. The chemise was also whipped up in double quick time. This is all part of the sewing honeymoon period, where the new project occupies your entire existence for a 3 week period, before you run out of steam. In my case, this was exacerbated by my internship coming to an end, moving back home and facing the realities of the job market. It wasn’t that I lost interest. Making the dress for its own sake just wasn’t enough of a motivation any more. 

The motivation returned with a vengeance when I was haphazardly Googling one evening (as one does), and found a masquerade ball that would not only accommodate this dress of nonsense, but also happened to be taking place on my birthday. Could there be a more amazing birthday party??  The game was back on.

As an extra bit of good fortune, my Pompadours arrived from American Duchess. Dear lord, they are BEAUTIFUL.

I’m really pushing the accuracy limit with the Pomp-Baroque combo, but whatever.

I made some rosettes for the front from the same fabric as my dress, and attached some clips to the back so that they cover up the laces, and hopefully rein the time period in a wee bit (but I’m not going to argue with such gorgeous shoes).


The shoes were the part that was really needed for everything else to come together. I couldn’t hem anything until they arrived, so I’d put off skirt and petticoat construction until they did. 

The skirt and petticoat are just two long rectangles pleated until they reached a few inches over my waist measurement (to make sure they overlap at the back), and a waistband attached. I found this tutorial really helpful when I was trying to work out what to do.

When I put the last stitch in the overskirt hem last night, I could have cried with joy. It’s been a long road, but we’re finally there. And then I had a dress up and mincing session, with the whole shebang on for the first time. Ringlets, jewellery, shoes, the lot. Here is the outcome, complete with historically accurate phone.



It’s not often I feel particularly out of the ordinary in clothes, but last night I was ready to take on the world. This has been in the planning for such a long time, and it’s finally finished. 

(I think the ringlets look really good – I just caught my hair back in a ponytail,  left a layer on the top loose, pinned the ringlets in and then covered the kirbie grips with my own hair. I’m still amazed how close the colour is. I still need to mess about with placement, how many ringlets I want to have and I what I do with the back of my hair, but I’ve got LOTS OF TIME 🙂 ).

So all that remains is to say thank you to everyone who has stuck through the long gaps in posting, who has read, liked or commented, or who has found inspiration in any of these little witterings over the last year. It’s been a bit of a journey, and has made me realise that I need a lot more self discipline. But the process of having to get thoughts and abstract ideas down on paper has also been therapeutic, and a good lesson in how to communicate with other people. I hope that I gain some focus in the New Year.

I hope that 2012 has been full of good things for you, and that 2013 will be even better.

Happy Hogmany everyone!

The One with The Amazing Woman Talents.


The 4 Month Round Up

17 Dec

Hello again blog.

As usual, all my promises of exciting progress and regular updates have fallen flat on their face. However, I haven’t been totally unproductive – since the last update, I’ve come on leaps and bounds with the Versailles dress, finished Simplicity 1715 (I LOVE IT), made a pair of 1770s stays and made a dress in homage to Ginger Rogers using Sense and Sensibility’s Swing Dress pattern.

I’ve been doing things!!

I plan on doing a proper post on each of these projects over the next few weeks, but until then, here’s a little break-down of each one.

The Versailles Dress

I am in love with everything about this dress. It’s 17th century, gorgeous and orange. What more could I possibly ask for?

I’m SO close to being finished – all I need to do is hem the skirt. To keep you going until my real post, here is a photo of here we’re at so far:


Simplicity 1715

So at first, I wasn’t sold on this dress. I don’t really know how I feel about the weight of material they use in the photo…it looks kind of foam-y.

But then I came across this tiny elephant print fabric in John Lewis (As seen here). And a plan began to form. 

When I actually looked at the dress pattern, I realised that the combination of dropped waist and slightly full skirt could be the solution to my lack of waist. And my guess worked out a dream!

1770s Stays

I was bored about a month ago, and flicking through my Janet Arnold books, cooing at all the lovely 18th century polonaise dresses. In my head, I thought ‘I could make a muslin and see what happens’…images of dress success were flying high.

And then I really thought about it. And decided to finally follow up on the ‘How To’:

I LOVE my stays 🙂 They’re comfortable, with an Ikea pillowcase outer, a lining made of my own fabric (available from Spoonflower) and bound with chamois leather (a joy to work with).



The Carefree Swing Dress

I’m an unashamed romantic, and I adore Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. My favourite film is ‘Carefree’ – it’s sweet and sentimental, but with a dark sense of humour.

It was on the BBC quite recently, and I was suddenly struck by the quiet awesomeness of a blouse that Ginger wears in one particular scene.


How cute is that? (Image courtesy of:

I’m also a huge fan of Jennie Chancey’s Sense and Sensibility pattern line, and have been looking for an excuse to buy the Swing Dress for a long time now. Despite ‘Carefree’ being made in the late 1930s and the pattern based in the 40s, the sentiment is the same, and the heat motif carries over well. Here’s a sneaky peak to keep you going until the real photos appear:


So there you have it. That’s my sewing round up from the last 4 months. Not as much as I’d have liked to get done, and I’ve still got a couple of things on the ‘unfinished’ pile, but I’m getting there.

Hopefully I’ll manage to persuade myself to produce another post before Christmas. It would be an achievement indeed!

Until the next time,

The One with The Amazing Woman Talents

Keeping things ticking over….

9 Oct

The blog has been quiet again, but that’s because I’ve been very busy.

At the moment, the Etsy shop link at the top of the page is a dead end. Come this time next week, I’m hoping it won’t be quite so sparse. 

There are exciting plans afoot, and just in time for Christmas presents, so watch this space for some (hopefully) good things to come…

The one with the Amazing Woman Talents

AWT How To: Making Ringlets

25 Sep

Hello lovely people,

After a 2 month hiatus of jobs, holidays and rest, I’ve decided it’s time to jump back on the blog with a vengeance, and get this thing up and running again. My promises of posting once a week fell to the wayside in preference of sleeping, seeing friends and moving from university back home as the job search begun again. I feel like I’m back at square one again in a lot of respects, but this is also an exciting time – I’m a free agent; my time is my own and opportunities (the few there are), can be taken 🙂

Anyway, to get back on topic, today’s post has been something I’ve been looking for myself for a long time and been unable to find: how to make INDIVIDUAL ringlets from a curly wig. I’m attending Prior Attire’s ‘Spectacular Spectacular’ Masquerade Ball in April next year, and that’s going to be the first outing of the Baroque dress. I need, therefore, spaniel-levels of mad curls to accompany the costume.

This is the wig I bought for the costume, unsure of what to do with it (available here):

ImageDo I just wear it? Do I hack it to bits? Do I abandon the plan altogether?

I decided to hack it to bits.

I realised after lots of messing about with pins and pieces of wire that the best thing to do was to make individual ringlets, which can then be pinned into my own hair, which is thin, fine and won’t hold a curl.

But how??

After much humming and hawing, I came to the conclusion that if I snipped off a little ringlet from the wig, and played about with it, I’d find out what to do. After much trial and error, here’s my ringlet-making method.

You will need:

  • A very curly wig, preferably in layers, with variation in curl length
  • Thread that matches your wig colour – needs to be enough for the top and bottom spool of the sewing machine
  • A sewing machine (you really can’t do this one by hand)
  • Some tissue paper (the kind you wrap presents with)
  • Scissors
  • Hair ties
  • A display head (useful, but not essential)
  • Some sewing pins
  • A lot of patience

Step 1

Take a hair tie, and section off a ringlet.Tie it nice and tight! You can put the hair tie anywhere along the length of the piece of the hair – make it as long or as short as you like. I found it was best to keep the long lengths long and the short ones short, as that’s how the wig was made. But it doesn’t really matter 🙂 Cut the ringlet off the wig just above the hair tie – you want to be left with a little tufty piece at the top.

Step 2

Cut a rectangular piece of tissue that’s long and broad enough to contain your ringlet when the paper’s folded over. I apologise in advance for the shocking quality of these pictures, but it was quite late at night and I wanted to make sure I took the photos! Although there’s masking tape holding the paper to the table in the picture, I learned the hard way that you want to keep the environment as tape-free as possible, to avoid getting the bits of cut wig all over the place. It was a nightmare.


Step 3

Holding the ringlet just below the hair tie with one hand, remove the hair tie with the other hand. Keeping the hair together (it helps to have dry hands and no breeze), place your ringlet on the tissue paper and fold the paper in half, sandwiching the ringlet in the middle. You can then choose to fold the edges of the tissue paper in too, making a nice parcel round the hair. Alternatively, start at one end of the tissue paper and ‘roll’ the hair up in the paper. Both methods ultimately have the same effect.

Image Image

Step 4

Setting your sewing machine to the smallest straight stitching setting (some lovely alliteration there), stitch forwards and backwards across the entire tissue paper-hair sandwich. And then do it some more, at diagonals. I went at it like a madwoman until I was convinced that nothing would move. Remember to go ‘past’ the edge of the tissue paper a little at either side, to make sure the hair is totally contained in the stitches.

Image Image

The paper might rip a bit, but don’t be discouraged! That’s why you folded lots of other paper in!  This step works most effectively if you try to keep the wig hair as flat as possible in the tissue sandwich, so that all the strands line up and get caught in the thread, meaning that they are secure.

Step 5

This is the good bit. Carefully unpeel all the tissue paper from the stitches. You can be fairly heavy handed about the outer layers in particular, but be careful with any delicate layers of stitching – you don’t want to undo all the work you’ve just done! To get the tissue paper out from in between the lines of stitching a combination of tweezers and sewing pins work well to loosen out particularly stubborn pieces.


Step 6

Using sewing pins, stick the new ringlet into your display head so that it can hang in its new shape. Stand back and admire your handiwork 🙂

At the moment, my plan is to part my hair and make a twist of hair on either side of my head that goes into a bun at the back. The ringlets will then be kirbie pinned into the twist, which should give them a fairly solid base to sit on. I currently need to come up with a way of masking the pins though – all suggestions are appreciated!

Until the next time, which will hopefully be sooner than the last time,

The One with the Amazing Woman Talents


To make up for the photo-light How To, here’s the bodice so far. I’m a little in love with the sleeves…

3 Jul

To make up for the photo-light How To, here's the bodice so far. I'm a little in love with the sleeves...


Almost finished bodice :)

24 Jun

Almost finished bodice :)

I’ve been terribly neglectful, so I hope this will make up for it a little bit. The bodice is DONE, and just awaits its orange sleeves to top it off. Then I promise I’ll write something again 🙂