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My Mela

Yes, yes, I know it’s been a week since the Belfast Mela lit up Botanic Gardens; I really am trying to get my act together and get events-based posts up in a more timely fashion, but between shifts at the paper and work for the magazine, the blog took a back seat this week unfortunately. (Not that I’m complaining about a week of paid journo work, mind!)

Anyway, given the selective nature of The Patchwork Quill, I thought there was no harm posting a week after the fact. There’s been great local coverage of the multicultural festival (insert shameless plug for Bel Tel here), which gives me a bit of freedom to focus on the Craft Village – obviously my first port of call when I got through the Mela gates.

I arrived at about 5.30pm and made a beeline for the craft marquee – sadly over two hours late for the bag-making workshops on between 1 and 3pm. From the instructions still up on the wall in a corner of the Craft Village, it would have been right up my street as well. Ah well, a lesson in timekeeping (that I probably won’t retain).

So, I had bags on the brain when I came across the stall for Belfast-based Hampton Blue, featuring beautiful handmade bags from Made Pretty. Chatting to the stall’s owners, sisters Debra and Stacey, I find out that Made Pretty is a local venture too, established by Gillian Fisher. She doesn’t appear to have a website as yet, but I took a few pics of her stuff.

With their vintage fabrics, flowers, denim and buttons, her products appeal to me hugely. Her bags aren’t expensive, starting at around £24 for a clutch, but that would have blown The Patchwork Quill’s measly budget for the day (and I still hadn’t investigated the delicious-smelling World Food tents) so I resisted the temptation, but found Gillian’s creations pretty inspiring – these are exactly the kinds of items I’d like to be making one day.

Hampton Blue, established in 2009, were the first local stockists of Gillian’s wares. They have a beautiful site here where you can buy lots of pretty goodies.

I did spend a bit of money though, firstly on a couple of funky clothes patches from the Firsty stall. This is a Bangor-based creative collective who were hosting their first pop-up shop at the Mela’s craft tent, offering a variety of art and craft works from a number of producers; textile based pieces, paintings, relief based works and bags and accessories. They meet twice a month at The Rabbit Rooms in Bangor and welcome all creative types, including artists, musicians, poets and photographers. A really cool initiative – check out their Facebook page.

‘Record bag’ at the Firsty stall

Patches, in front of a paper clay study of Dunluce Castle

The lovely Paddy Carroll

A highlight for me was chatting to the gregarious and charming Paddy Carroll at the Earthworks stall. His shop’s been going since 1991 and the stall brought back happy teenage memories of noseying through the Fairtrade joss sticks, jewellery and lumps of amethyst and fool’s gold in the Fountain Street shop.

Earthworks’ treasures

Paddy told me Earthworks now has a stall every week at St George’s market – a trading gem I have yet to explore, much to my shame. The shop is considering a permanent move to the market soon – business rates and rent forcing yet another independent retailer out of the city centre.

A great shame, but I’m glad Earthworks will continue to sell its globally-sourced trinkets and treasures. Hopefully the market will act as a lifeline to the many wonderful boutiques and independent outlets that add so much to Belfast’s character – perhaps this is the new face of retail as we adjust to tough economic times? Whatever keeps the Earthworks, Rusty Zips, Fresh Garbages and Liberty Blues of this city going strong is OK by me.

I made my final, well-chosen purchases at the Craft Village here, with a couple of beautiful writing sets, handmade in India, at a couple of quid each and – of course – some incense sticks!

I also enjoyed a chat with the lovely ladies at Vintage USA, whose glittering stall of jewellery has often left my purse a little lighter at Decadence Vintage Fairs. I managed to resist purchase temptation yet again, but they nearly had me liberating a few moths with the charming range of millinery and accessories from Cookstown-based Leonora Ferguson.

Sparkly temptation at Vintage USA

Leonora Ferguson’s kooky creations

Funky felt bags from Bakara

Baraka’s stall was filled with funky felt badges and bags and handmade beaded jewellery, but owner Emma says her Junction One based shop almost exclusively focuses on customised clothing.

I made a mental note to visit soon and then discovered she’s making an appearance today at The Attic fashion event at Studio Eleven in Belfast’s College Court building. Here’s a link to the event poster on Facebook and a link to the location on Google Maps.

It’s on between 11am and 7pm and free in, and is raising funds for Kindfund Relief Work in Northern Kenya. I may very well see you down there!

By this stage, I was more than ready to investigate those exotic food smells, so I headed over to the Indian Food Market, where I got this delicious chickpea stew with rice. Indian food is a dream for a vegetarian, especially a veggie who lives in Ireland and is used to generally quite bland or unimaginative vegetarian options when eating out. I scarfed this lot in about ten minutes. I feel hungry looking at it again.

I wanted to take a pic of the talented chefs behind my meal – they insisted  I join them!

The Ethnic Market and henna tattoo stalls were starting to pack up by the time I got my craft fix and stuffed my face, so I headed over to the stage where, in a rare feat of beautiful timing, I was just in time to catch the headline musical act, Delhi2Dublin. I was so glad I stuck around for this, the band was fabulous. The Vancouver-based outfit have blended all of their various cultural backgrounds to produce a unique fusion of Celtic, reggae, Bhangra and electronic music which delighted the crowd and had them dancing and bouncing along from beginning to end.

Delhi2Dublin get the crowd dancing

This was my first trip to the Belfast Mela, now in its fifth year, but I guarantee I’ll be at the sixth, seventh, eighth…. ad infinitum for as long as I can. As the writer of The Patchwork Quill, it was great to see local artists, producers and sellers having such a successful day in the Craft Village. As a Belfast girl, it made my heart swell to see diversity and multi-culturalism celebrated so joyfully in the heart of my beloved city.

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