About 100 people attended my book launch. There was lots of time to meet new people (all photographs are by Laura Shimili).
There was plenty to eat. Samosas, two types of Iraqi bread buns (one vegan, one vegetarian), lemon cup cakes and a huge chocolate cake. The food was laid out on 6 yards of Ankara (African print) fabric.
There was a bit of book signing. Just my name or a dedication or something inspirational.
There were short speeches from Gus, and then me.
This (more or less) is what I said.
Making Life more Beautiful is a critique of what is normally meant by beauty – young, female, tall and thin, invariably white, airbushed, contoured, straightened and largely formulaic – avataristic.
This book provides a different aesthetic. For me beauty is varied and diverse, individual, natural, authentic. And confident.
As I took pictures of my models – from 0 to 90 – I looked at their faces, their eyes, their figures, their lines, their hair with interest and empathy; making them feel confident and valued rather than judged or pulled apart. This is the philosophy of the book.
The book is also about creativity. From our ancestors collecting colourful pebbles or wild flowers and arranging them artfully, or making elegant pots or tools, humans always go beyond necessity to produce beauty. Making the clothes that we wear, or painting, or cooking, or writing poetry – we all have this urge to make life more beautiful. My book encourages, inspires and celebrates this. By making textiles or knitting jumpers we can experience a deep sense of satisfaction that usefully antidotes the more toxic aspects of modern life.
As you probably know I wrote this book, edited it, and I am afraid I proofread it. I made the clothes, found the models, took the photographs, laid out the book, published, launched, promoted and sold it.
My friend Barbara the midwife regularly complains about the demanding, self-centeredness of the average pregnant women. In the act of gestation, many an author is the same – self-absorbed, fixated and unable to focus on other people’s needs. My husband bore the brunt of it, and I now understand why so many books drip with spousal gratitude.
I admit I was not easy to live with during the six months I took to produce this book. Every weekend, plus Christmas and Easter, were dedicated to The Book. My daughter Charlotte and I spent three full days – over the May bank holiday – getting it finished, and it was as if we had given birth. A huge relief when it was done, a sense of pride, and an independent existence for something that was once just an idea. But Nick, having walked the dog and cooked yet another meal, was just glad it was all over.
Making a book is essentially a solitary activity; like many things in life – it is down to you. Denis Healy said to write a book you need a sheaf of paper and a large tub of putty. The paper is obvious but the putty was to stick your backside to the chair. Then you have to dig pretty deep and not everything you find is admirable or generous. The most profound finding for me is just how much we need our families and friends. And how important the sewing community has been for me. All work is team work and I have had so much help support from my family; my teachers and guides; and of course the dozens of people I have met through the internet who have become such good friends.
What makes life beautiful is not so much what we can buy, but what we are given, and what we can give: kindness, love, generosity, understanding, openness of heart and mind, friendship, community, and support. Thank you for coming tonight and for supporting me.
And there were four workshops, which I will report on in future with some information on how to do it: how to wear a gele, eye make up, making slime, and origami and wrapping paper. Thank you to everyone who was able to come along. A number made a special effort coming from the north and midlands, and some from abroad (Rwanda and Switzerland). Some were long time blog readers who I met for the first time, and everyone was kind, generous and engaged.
And let me, finally, introduce you to my fabulous photographer, Laura Shimili Mears.
As a beginner photographer (next term Nick and I are signing up for the intermediate course) I know just how hard it is to take photographs at indoor events. She did a great job.