Thursday, 26 January 2017

'Akɔaba'/ Welcome

Hello from Ghana!!!!!I have been here for 4 days so thought it was about time I gave you all an update on what's going on, what I'm doing here and how I'm finding it! In a very irritating turn of events both my laptop and phone became waterlogged so I have had to delay posting anything on my blog for a while, this also means I have lost most of the photos I had taken in my first week so apologies if the photo quality is a bit rubbish. The laptop became waterlogged in an unexpected storm and the phone suffered the same fate when a rogue wave hit me on the beach and attempted to take my bag out to sea. Ironically I had just written this sentence in my travel journal before the technology failed me..."I love it here, it's so strange feeling so indifferent to my material posessions"...this was then put to the test. In a fortunate turn of events,and the skills of a fabulous IT guy, my laptop has been brought back to life and I am SO happy. I really hope he can also fix my phone so that I can start taking photos as the temporary phone I bought is fairly awful! in Ghana...I am absolutely loving it and really can't quite get my head around the fact that I will be here for 5 more weeks. As you all know I will be moving to Switzerland shortly after getting back from Ghana so, because I was so busy organising things for Switzerland, I hardly had any time to think about travelling here before my arrival. Knowing very little about Ghana I had no real expectations of what this trip would be like/what Ghanaian people are like but soon after boarding the flight I realised that, as a general rule, everyone is so friendly and happy to talk to you. I was sat in between two lovely guys on my flight here, one helped me with my luggage(I'm too short to reach the overhead compartment) and gave me advice on how not to get scammed in the markets. The other showed me how the currency conversion works out and advised me about how to get a phone and sim card out here(this came in very useful when my phone got damaged). They were both so friendly! I honestly had the best flight- full of free wine and snacks and great in-flight movies. Without trying to sound like I'm advertising for them, I will definitely be flying with KLM as often as possible going forward. 

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Some of the photos I had taken before my iphone became waterlogged. Taken in and around Cape coast.
When we landed I was overwhelmed to say the least. As it was pretty cold in the UK, with the standard amount of drizzle, I had dressed for the weather so when I landed in Accra I basically overheated. Coming out of the airport was also overwhelming....there were so many people with signs at the arrival area that I honestly had no idea what to do, fortunately a lovely but very reserved taxi driver rescued me and ushered me into his taxi. I gave him the 'Somewhere nice' hostel address(genuine name-what can I say...I'm a sucker for advertising) and just had to trust that he would get me all the way there and not extort an unnecessary amount of money from me. I got there safely and I absolutely loved the hostel. I would definitely recommend it to anyone staying in Accra. The interior was decorated with reclaimed wood and furniture and the bed was HUUUUUGE, I had booked a Private superior room as I had anticipated sharing a room at the volunteer house for the next 6 weeks and thought I'd treat myself to some space. Here's the link should anyone want to stay there:

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Some photos taken at 'Somewhere nice' hostel in Accra.

The next morning the other volunteer and I were picked up by one of the Global Mamas workers and transported by several different vehicles to Cape Coast where we are based for the duration of the trip. As we were making the 2 hr journey I can remember being quite surprised by how green Ghana is, evidently I have been brainwashed over the years by how Africa has been portrayed to Westerners through TV advertisements. Another thing that shocked me on the journey was the realisation that I had left my passport at the hostel. Well done Becky once again. We eventually arrived at the Global Mamas head office and, after a quick introduction, we were taken to the volunteer house which would be home for the next few weeks. It was the most beautiful taxi journey to the house and I didn't realise at the time that it would be our daily commute, one long straight road running parallel to the coast, lined with palms. Everyday we see the fishermen pulling in their catch on our commute. Just WOW.

Upon arrival at the house we were told that we would be able to have a room each as we have visited at a time when there aren't heaps of volunteers- JOY. The room I have here is actually double the size of my room at home and it's painted in a bright yellow/lime colour so that when the light hits it in the morning it is wonderfully bright.

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The Global Mamas volunteer house and a few photos from the pool where I go for a swim before work.

The only complaint I have regarding our volunteer house is the damn cockerel that insists on beginning it's crowing at 3am, interspersed between the local mosques call to prayer which also, oddly, starts at 3.30 am. The rest of the time the volunteer house sounds pretty tranquil....

In my first few days in Ghana I attended a batik workshop with one of the Batik Mamas. I can't even begin to describe in words what an amazing experience this was so I'm going to do it through a video/photo collage instead. This video still has the watermark of Animoto as I didn't want to commit to paying for a whole year just for one video, but if it works nicely in this blog post I might think about starting a subscription and making more videos.....please try and ignore the watermark for now :)

I'll give you a short text run through of what this video is showing as I couldn't quite figure out how to caption/add text to it...I am a video editing beginner after all but I did manage to figure out how to add a Ghanaian song playing over the video! The first few slides show the wooden hut the workshop was held in and its' interior; big colourful plastic containers filled with different dyes, metal containers filled with wax, and foam stamps lining the walls. 

Step 1: Make the batik stamp/choose your stamp. Batik stamps at Global Mamas are carved into upholstery foam using razors and following a pre-designed stencil.

Step 2: Lay out the fabric onto a flat surface, we used white kaliko.

Step 3: Boil the wax until it is bubbling.

Step 4: Dip batik stamp into the wax.

Step 5: Print wax onto fabric 

Step 6: Mix dye (I'm not sure exactly what chemicals go into this but I will find out and add this later)

Step 7: Dye waxed fabric in your chosen colour. I chose a vibrant yellow.

Step 8: Hang fabric outside to dry- this enables the chemicals in the dye to react with the oxygen in the air.

Step 9: Once dry, dip fabric repeatedly in boiling water to remove hardened wax. This reveals the white fabric underneath that has resisted the dye.

Step 10: Dip fabric in cold water once wax is removed.

Step 11:Hang out to dry and admire the final fabric.

....and that is the African batik process.... it is so much more labour intensive than I had ever imagined, particularly when removing the wax with the boiling water. I also found it pretty amazing how the colour of the fabric changes as the dye reacts with the oxygen in the air, I am keen to do a timelapse video of this as soon as I have a working iphone again(which will hopefully be tomorrow). I imagine this batik technique is extremely different to Indonesian batik as they can achieve a lot more finer details, I would love to do a similar volunteer project in the future to explore this a bit more.

Other than the batik workshop I've been doing some research for the Autumn/Winter 2017 collection and creating some rough batik stamp designs. Hopefully I will get to see some of them being printed before I leave Ghana, that would be amazing!!!

 On Saturday I have been invited to go to the wedding of one of the girls at the office. A GHANAIAN wedding- I am finding it hard to contain my excitement. Obviously I didn't anticipate going to a wedding and didn't pack for one so one of the seamstresses at Global Mamas is making a dress for me. I have bought some amazing abstract black and white printed fabric which I bought at one of the market stalls in Cape Coast. If the currency is converted it works out to have only cost around £13 for 2.75 metres, which I thought was pretty good. Can't wait to see what the dress ends up looking like but here's the design I have my eye on, something mid length, off shoulder and 50's-esque.

Hopefully I'll do another update next week with some more photos from the wedding and everyday life etc x

P.S. My passport has now been safely returned, my laptop is completely fixed and I'm hoping and praying my phone soon will be too!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Shabby-chic-y-fying furniture

I don't know if people on instagram check out my blog much, or if blog readers look at my instagram(@beckyloisburns) BUT recently I have been doing a lot of DIY/upcycling and posting about it on instagram.

I've heard that Switzerland is ridiculously expensive, I also experienced this when I went to St Moritz with my friend, so I decided it would be best to get all of my furniture sorted while I'm still in England. Unfortunately I made this decision just 2 weeks ago and then had the challenge of sourcing/making/upcycling all of my furniture before going to Ghana, not as easy as it sounds. I will be staying in accommodation provided by the company for the first 3 months(March-May) but then I will have to fend for myself and most Swiss apartments seem to come unfurnished.

Being the thrifty person I am I have managed to get a sofa bed for £40(facebook marketplace is a dream of upcyclable bits) a dining table for £10, 2 dining chairs for £5 and a coffee table and bookcase for free(because I made them myself). I have also shabby-chic-y-fied a beautiful free standing pine mirror and an old hat stand.....and I have made them all wonderfully white.... after living in my lovely white attic studio in Brussels I really can't imagine living in a flat that isn't whitewashed....I now have fairly high maintenance housing needs!

Anyway, I thought I'd share my DIY week with you all as I'm actually quite proud of my sanding/shabbying skills and found a pretty good technique that people might want to try out.

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A few photos of the table process, as you can see it was pretty grubby and green to start with.

So this is the table I got for £10 from a you can see it wasn't in the best state to start with. It looked like it had been left outside for a while and the varnish layer had gone an algae green colour. As you can see on the left I tried to sand it by hand to start with, after an hr of making very little progress my dad offered me his electrical sander. It is now my favourite tool and I want to buy one for myself. It made life so much easier!!! The 3rd column of images here show the colour of the table legs before and after sanding, as you can see there's quite a difference. I really love the shabby chic style and natural pine furniture and, although I understand that putting a lacquer/wax coat over the top keeps furniture watertight, I hate the way it looks with a coating on. I think, subliminally, that chestnut coated furniture effect reminds me of school. In the bottom right you can see how they look with the white coat on.

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My lovely dad sawing the wooden stepladder for my shelves and coffee table. The middle images show the pieces of my furniture in their initial dirty stage, and on the right a sneak peak inside a scaffolding yard.

Next challenge.....a lot more challenging....I decided it would be a GREAT idea to try and make my own furniture because I have so much free time on my hands/example of really extreme procrastination. So I took a trip to my dad's scaffolding yard to see what bits of wooden scaffolding planks I could get- he owns a scaffolding business so it was all free. There's a pile of smaller pieces that they throw away because they can no longer be walked on or hold any substantial weight so I could take my pick from those. My lovely dad also helped me cut down the planks and an old wooden scaffolding ladder I wanted to use to make my bookcase. Being the independent young woman I am, I could have definitely managed cutting the wood myself. I thought I proved my proficiency with power tools quite nicely while sanding the table, however my father does not trust me with a power tool that is used for cutting.....fair enough. So as you can see from the above photo....the boards were pretty grubby. Walked on by scaffolders, exposed to the British elements(a lot of rain) and painted in the bright blue and yellow colours of L&H I said 'a lot more challenging than sanding and painting a table.

So the sanding begins!!!

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Pre-painting photos of my coffee table development from the sanding to the assembling.

The above photo collection shows the beginnings of my, now lovely, coffee table. I used 2 old scaffolding planks and 4 rungs of a wooden stepladder(2 on each side). I wanted to keep the furniture looking quite old and rustic so I purposefully chose misshapen wood. I actually love the way the sanding worked out as the pine looked so beautiful underneath all of the dirt, as did the step ladders. The pine in the stepladders actually had the most beautiful grain pattern after sanding that I was reluctant to paint over it. I also wanted to keep some of the blue and yellow on the stepladder so I chose not to completely sand it off. As I'm moving away from home I wanted something to remind me of my dad- I'm quite sentimental like that! Anyway....I finally assembled all the pieces together after hours of tirelessly sanding in my parents garage and covering everything in a thin layer of dust and this is what it looked like. At the beginning of the project I showed my mum the grubby planks of wood and told her my plans for them....she gave me the standard "Becky you're insane" look(which I'm immune to as people give me this a lot)and I could tell she could not quite see how I could possibly make two dirty scaffolding planks and two bits of wooden stepladder into an acceptable coffee table...I can completely understand her qualms BUT add a layer of white emulsion paint and 10,000 layers of white spirit and ta-daaahhhhh.....

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My finished coffee table and a close up of the white emulsion wash I did over the top.

So there is my new coffee table. I understand that a lot of people will think it's ridiculous to have an item of furniture in their house made of  scaffolding planks and bits of stepladder, and I know there will be others of you who will tell me I should have left it at the sanded pine stage and not whitewashed it BUT I absolutely love it! After a great deal of trial and error I even got the whitewash effect right. I really loved the way the sanded pine looked after the dirt was removed and felt like there was something poetic in the way there was beauty underneath the grime. I wanted to retain the pure pine underneath the whitewash and this meant making sure the white paint was super thinned out. My mum was in despair that week as I basically went to town on white spirit and insisted on whitewashing all of my furniture....if anyone is about to try out shabby-chic-ing furniture OPEN ALL OF YOUR WINDOWS- white spirit smells strong.

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Before and after sanding photos.

I took a few before and after photos to show the difference a little sanding can make. The photos really don't do it justice but you can see how much difference it made and how beautiful the natural pine is underneath. I'd be very curious to see what scaffolding planks look like when they're initially purchased. The ladders brightened up nicely too!

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My scaffolding bookcase.

So this is my bookcase- the rest of the wooden scaffolding ladders and 4 1metre scaffolding planks. I also left the metal scaffolding plaques with my dads logo on the plank shelves to add to the rustic effect. I guess it's quite a masculine piece of furniture, but it's free, handmade and flat pack which is extremely useful when you're shipping your life to Switzerland in a Luton van.

The chaos surrounding my DIY attempts.

Just a little taster of what my poor parents have had to put up with over the last week! I have occupied the garage, expanded into the driveway, and used the living room as a furniture storage facility. I have covered every inch of the garage in a layer of sawdust and have accidentally created a white version of Jackson Pollock on the floor where I have been painting, combine this with the constant smell of white spirit over the past week and a half and I am genuinely surprised our neighbours haven't reported us for re-enacting a budget version of breaking bad.

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Before and after shot of the free-standing mirror

Here is my new shabbyfied mirror. Half of my blog readers probably prefer it in the original pine state....but I am hoping for a whitewashed flat so I'm matching my furniture to the flat I hope to find..fingers crossed.

I also intend on making a sofa from pallet boxes and have designed one in a way that it can also be used as a spare bed for guests....that is yet to be made...and I'm going to Ghana in 6 days so realistically it's looking like a post-Ghana challenge.

Now I just need to find a beautiful whitewashed flat that is perfectly located, affordable, possibly with beams but not on the top floor with no lift...oh and a balcony/terrace overlooking Basel but not overlooking neighbours so that I can sunbathe without leaving my flat........not that I'm being picky... 

I'll do another post next week when I arrive in Ghana!