Wednesday, 1 May 2013

Jeans For The Golden Road To Samarkand

Do you know that poem by James Elroy Flecker called "The Golden Road to Samarkand"? Actually Flecker wrote two similar poems. One is called "The Golden Journey To Samarkand" and is a reflection on the equalisation of achievements that the passing of time imparts - a theme rather akin to Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias"-, the other is a set of dramatised verses, called (confusingly similarly), "The Golden Road to Samarkand". The quotations from Flecker's poems that I've used here are all from "The Golden Road to Samarkand" except where otherwise indicated.

The verses in the second poem are intended to be spoken by different voices, as it were from a caravan, about to set out from Baghdad (I think), along the historic Silk Route, to the ancient city of Samarkand, situated in what is now Uzbekhistan. It is a beautifully evocative piece of writing that conjures up all the exotic, mysteriousness of the East and the draw that it has exerted on travellers from further west, from time immemorial. Its also echoes ancient human restlessness and the primeval desire to travel beyond the familiar and known.

Each group of merchants has a verse that describes what they have stowed away on the camels who "sniff the evening and are glad" as they wait to "leave ... the dim-moon city of delight"

(The Chief Draper)
"Have me not Indian carpets dark as wine,
turbans and sashes, gowns and bows and veils,
and broideries of intricate design?
And printed hangings in enormous bales?

(The Chief Grocer)
We have rose-candy, we have spikenard,
mastic, and terebinth and oil and spice,
and such sweet jams meticulously jarred
as God's own Prophet eats in Paradise.

(The Principal Jews)
And we have manuscripts in peacock styles
by Ali of Damascus; we have swords
engraved with storks and apes and crocodiles,
and heavy beaten necklaces for lords."

I love writing like this that conjures up vivid pictures, colours and scents with every tactile word. I know you can't normally call words "tactile" but I think some are. Something more than onomatopoeic. When I read those verses, I can feel the powdery sugar, drifting lightly from the "rose-candy"; I can smell the strong, poignant perfume of the "spikenard" and the resiny, aromatic scent of the "terebinth"; I can see the colours of the "meticulously jarred" exotic preserves, glowing through glass like coloured jewels; I can feel the deep velvet pile of the Indian carpets; the thickly decorated "broideries" are real to my imagination; the contours of the different stitches, the smoothness of the silk on which they play, are as vivid to me as my own more mundane clothing; the exquisite, illuminated manuscripts of eastern stories and Arabic science dance before my eyes and the cool, chased metals with their "storks and apes and crocodiles" intrigue my fingers as well as my mind somehow. Fanciful? Possibly! Wonderful? Definitely!

And as well as the merchants who make up the bulk of the caravan with their exotic wares, are pilgrims whose motive is not commerce but the wanderlust of the soul.

"We are the pilgrims, master; we shall go
always a little further; it may be
beyond that last blue mountain barred with snow
across that angry or that glimmering sea,

white on a throne or guarded in a cave
there lies a prophet who can understand
why men were born; but surely we are brave,
who take the Golden Road to Samarkand.
Sweet to ride forth at evening from the wells
when shadows pass gigantic on the sand,
and softly through the silence beat the bells
along the Golden Road to Samarkand.

We travel not for trafficking alone;
by hotter winds our fiery hearts are fanned:
for lust of knowing what should not be known,
we take the Golden Road to Samarkand."

OK, you may be thinking, but what has this got to do with a pair of jeans? It started with a book. Not a poetry book, but a hooky book - "Crochet Garden" by Suzann Thompson. If you like crocheting flowers, this book and its companion volume, "Crochet Bouquet", are joyful and worthwhile additions to your hooky bookshelf.

Browsing through "Crochet Garden" I came upon a pattern for a "Samarkand Sunflower", inspired by textiles and pottery produced in ancient Samarkand. The name reminded me of the poem and suddenly a little hooky project was born.

One of those projects that just happen sometimes when a handful of ideas coalesce and just have to be realised without delay.

One of the project suggestions in "Crochet Bouquet", is to add some crochet "Crazy Eight" flowers to a pair of jeans.

Change up the "Crazy Eight" flowers to "Samarkand Sunflowers", add a handful or two of silver bells and you have a pair of jeans in which to join a camel-drawn caravan in "marvellous tales of ships and stars and isles where good men rest, where nevermore the rose of sunset pales, and winds and shadows fall towards the West" (from "The Golden Journey to Samarkand")

And that is exactly what I did. I began by creating large Samarkand Sunflowers in gorgeous vivid shades of pink, gold, jade and turquoise.

But when I pinned them onto the pair of jeans I had lined up for this project, the effect was, shall we say, rather startling and, I felt, wisdom regretfully suggested toning down my palette for the flowers a bit. If I were twenty years younger the bright colours would have won through... "Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume, labuntur anni..." Anyway, never mind the slipping years, Postumus; in a more subdued palette of pale blues, lavender, taupe and muted violet the effect is absolutely wearable. I feel, anyway!

See what you think!

I added a tiny silver bell to the centre of each flower

And then, (because less is not always more!), I added a handful of extra bells to the top of each pocket edge in the front.

All that remains to accompany wearing the result, is to make some mint tea from my newly-burgeoning Moroccan mint, to be sipped from glasses, resting on the discarded original flowers that have now become Samarkand Sunflower coasters, and rustle up some rose-scented Turkish Delight.

I don't normally like Turkish Delight much, I have to say, but I am so caught up in my imagination with the "rose-candy" of the poem that I've made some*, and am eating it and dreaming of imagined exploration and adventures not yet known.

"Open the gate, O watchman of the night!
We take the Golden Road to Samarkand!"

If you fancy giving this idea a go yourself, it's quick, cheap and very easy. A good Bank Holiday Weekend project perhaps! All you need is:

- a pair of old, comfortable jeans, all the better if softened through much washing and a bit faded and frayed at the edges, or with a trendy rip or two - matters not - these are jeans for wearing and living and travelling in not for hanging up pristine in a corner somewhere.
- some washable yarn in assorted colours to suit your fancy - I used Cascade Ultra Pima cotton from my stash but anything that won't shrink when you wash the jeans will be fine.
- a hook to match the weight of the yarn - I used a 4mm one with the Cascade Ultra Pima
- a pattern for a hooky flower, preferably one that lies flat and you can make up in a couple of sizes for variety's sake. Doesn't matter if you haven't got a book of hooky flower patterns - there are lots of suitable flower patterns on the Internet. Have a trawl and pick one you like and which will suit your skills.
- tiny sew-on bells - I got my silver ones from here (£1.20 for 25 bells and very quick delivery, in case you are interested)
- a needle and sewing thread in colours to match the outer edges of your flowers

What you do:
- hook up a number of flowers - as many or as few as you like.
- pin them onto the jeans wherever you feel they would work best. Try the jeans on to check the effect.
- stitch the flowers securely in place by hand all round the outer edge of each one with the sewing thread, using small stitches and keeping the thread as invisible as possible - the crochet is very forgiving and hides the stitches well but you want to try and avoid "cats' teeth" stitches showing on the denim. If you are attaching flowers to the pockets, be careful not to stitch through all the layers of fabric or you will no longer be able to use the pockets! Guess who found that out the hard way?!

- stitch little bells in the centre of the flowers and / or wherever you like. Not on the back pockets though or "The Princess And The Pea" will have nothing on you!

- put your jeans on, "leave you the dim-moon city" and "take the Golden Road to Samarkand"! Even if in reality, the road you take is less exotic than the caravan's and more prosaic, like mine: the school run, piling through a mound of paper-work, or getting the laundry out!

*My "rose-candy" is delicious but was quite a fiddle to make (and the less said about the state of the kitchen and my saucepan afterwards, the better!) I used a Good Housekeeping recipe without gelatine, as apparently authentic Turkish Delight should not contain gelatine - I think it's properly made with mastic (as itemised in the poem) which is a kind of eastern gum. You can buy it in Greece but I've never tried a recipe with it and you can't get it easily in the UK.

The Good Housekeeping alternative used cornflour and tartaric acid (I used cream of tartar, which is not quite the same but is a derivative compound of tartaric acid - use double the quantity of cream of tartar, if substituting, for that given for tartaric acid). You boil this little lot up at length in a sugar syrup, until the starch molecules change their nature to make a wonderful, translucent jelly, and then add a spoonful of honey, some rosewater and a drop of orange oil. It tastes, as I say, very good, surprisingly good actually, and has gone down an unexpected storm with the rest of the household, but the clearing up afterwards was something else! So if you fancy a mouthful of "rose-candy" to accompany your Samarkand jeans, you might prefer to buy some rather than make it!

The peppermint tea, by contrast, is as simple as stuffing a handful of fresh Moroccan mint leaves in a tea pot, adding boiling water, leaving it for five minutes to brew and pouring into an eastern tea glass. I like it unsweetened but more authentically, I think you should add sugar. Beats any commercial peppermint tea, hands down!
E x


  1. What a fabulously exotic post Elizabeth, I wish my crochet was up to making some beautiful Samarkand flowers to adorn my jeans...........never mind I shall just enjoy your lovely creations.
    kim xx

  2. They look so beautiful Elizabeth :) m.

  3. Dear E
    I feel as though I have been whisked away to faraway exotic places - what a very gorgeous and sensuous post! I love your jeans too and what a great idea. It makes me feel that I need to read Noel Langley's 'The Land of Green Ginger' again which, although funny and still makes me laugh out loud rather than being sensuous, also transports me to faraway places with fascinating characters...
    (It also made me think of the Fry's Turkish Delight (full of Eastern promise) advert with the exotic Sheikh and the girl with the wonderful smoky eye makeup and the sand dunes - I'm showing my age now!)
    Best wishes

  4. Elizabeth I do love your posts - you really are very literal ( if that's the right word ) and so well read that your posts are a joy to read. Your jeans are fab - I just wish I had more hours in a day !
    Always lve your posts and looking forward to your net as always x

  5. What a wonderfully evocative post. And yet again I cry, if only I could crochet. Which by the way is something I'm working on but there are never enough hours in the day.

    I posted your seeds yesterday, hope they get to you okay :)

  6. I love these E! So much fun and the perfect accompaniment to the May Day bank holiday - I hope you are able to find some Morris Dancers to jingle along with?! Have a fabulous long weekend x

  7. After a long day at work, I found myself whisked away to exotic climes by the poetry you included. I've never read this work--thanks for introducing me to it. I'm such a romantic and am easily absorbed into the world of a poem or a novel. (I've been frantically reading Oliver for the last week or so, hating to go to bed without knowing if he will extract himself from one various scrape or another, even though I already know the ending of the book!) Anyway, the jeans are great. I really need to do something beyond simple crocheting and I agree that the soft colors work well to tone down the jeans a bit, but still make them very unique and attractive. These jeans, like the top you recently sewed, evoke the 70s, yet the crochet is a bit more modern and fresher than the embroidery popular at that time.

  8. Hello from Far Away, I truly enjoyed reading your Far Away Journey Post and reading the poems... The Crochet Garden Books looks like a great book and your crocheted Samarkand Sunflower looks beautiful.. Neat Idea to put them on Jeans... Have a Happy Week. Hugs Judy

  9. So what's wrong with being fanciful?
    I wonder whether the flowers could be used as patches for my holey jeans. it seems very appropriate that I saw the picture of your post in my reader just after I'd returned from Oxford yesterday (May Day) where Morris dancers and Green Men were jingling around every corner.

  10. Samarkand sunflowers, really like that pattern. They make the jeans! As always, your colours make me smile. Big ol' hugs!

  11. This is a treat of a post Elizabeth! Poetry, crochet, flowers and turkish delight all together, you spoil us. The flowers and just perfect and I love them on the jeans. Are you a hippy at heart? I can imagine these jeans look great with your We Have All The Time In The World blouse.

    Gillian x

    Ps. The snake is coming along very nicely, and I have ordered Susan Pinner's Granny Squares book. Bathmats here I come... x

  12. Ooooooo...I like the sunflower jeans with bells! Certainly one of kind and that is a good thing. :-)

    Thanks for the instructions, E!

  13. Acabei de conhecer o seu blog e achei maravilhoso. Me visite:
    Siga-me e pegue o meu selinho!!!


    Beijos Marie.

  14. Hello Mrs. Thomasina, I just wanted to let you know your Crochet Cherry Blossoms inspired me so much that I decided to try and make some Cherry Blossoms too.. Thanks again for sharing the site for the pattern. I just posted some of My Cherry Blossoms on my blog and I did reference you blog too... Why I tell you this is because I thought you may want to look at My Cherry Blossoms too. Hugs Judy

  15. Oh my goodness, I just love this crochet project. LOVE it. Unfortunately, my skill at crochet is minimal at best, so I must be satisfied to bask in your lovely project. Thank you for the verses, this entire post was truly a treat :)
    Warm wishes to you and your family,

    Janine xo

  16. Hi..thats a lovely deisgn, just thought i don't remember seeing that in the book lol....just off to look it up
    Really lovley.
    hugs x

  17. ps now i know why, it's her new book! lol

  18. What a lovely inspiring post your crochet is beautiful x

  19. I just found your blog and am very gratified with the nice read .. you are an excellent writer and very creative crocheter, love this project!


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit me at Mrs TT's and comment. I love to read what you write.