Sunday, 22 November 2015

Trials and Tweaks

The kids had two days off school at the beginning of the week so I decided to fiddle about experimenting with triangular shaped purses with zips that could hold coins, chargers or hang on the Christmas tree. They are really basic, using up quilted samples and offcuts. I made them in a couple of sizes, changing the way the zip went in and which way it unzipped. I wondered if they would look neater with tabs but the small ones just ended up looking bulky. I worked out how I might mass produce them as gifts. I also had a go at making small circular purses which I decided would look fun with googly eyes. I might have a go at making a ladybird coin purse if I can find some pieces of leather. Needless to say, I decided that I needed a few more coloured zips so I ended up buying a batch of 100 online while I was ordering 25 pairs of googly eyes… 

I visted Brian and Carole in Stirling to make a few minor tweaks to their Q24 machine so the very sensitive stitch regulators would stop more promptly. We made some minor adjustments to the frame and quilt sandwich and soon got it performing excellently. when I arrived home a parcel had arrived from Holland with a fun goody-bag from the OEQC show. These included some nice reels of thread, a Christmas panel and a very nice Bohin marking pencil. 


I juggled 2 DIY quilters and tried to work out how to mark the heavy wool shawl for the Purdah Project. Every time I tried to draw a pattern with chalk the fabric would shift. I thought about ironing on some stabiliser but I couldn’t get it to stick. The next idea was to iron on some freezer paper but it also kept coming off. I had wanted the whole thing to be hand stitched rather than longarmed but I worked out that the best plan would be to sew the pattern on through some sort of stabiliser using the domestic machine, then add hand stitching and possibly more machine stitching later. In the end I ironed some horrible grey industrial interfacing onto the reverse side of the shawl and drew out the pattern with a sharpie. I bet if I try to peel that stuff off later it will just decide that it is truly STUCK on! However, it will at least help it to hang straight if it won’t come off. I attempted to dye a skein of embroidery cotton black since I have not been able to buy any locally. It was a messy process and I ended up with stained hands. I was annoyed to find out the next morning that the red thread that I dyed black had dried brown. I think I will just log on to Ebay and mail order some black cotton yarn.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Quilting in German and Doric

Google Translate can be very hit or miss but it allowed me to get the gist of some lovely comments that had been left by quilters on the Bernina Germany Blog. Apparently it is even worse when an English article has been translated into German then back into English -  that is how I became a “long-sleeve” quilter! As a result of the German article, Bernina Netherlands got in touch with me to find out if I might teach patchwork and quilting over there. I think it must be time for me to plan some more classes and kits to add to my repertoire. 

Vivienne has been posting videoclips on Facebook to promote the Ebook. I enlisted the help of Mo to film local River Dee Ghillie, Robbie to endorse the book in Doric, the local accent of North East Scotland. It was very low budget, filmed on my phone in one of the fishing huts but Robbie did a great job. Maybe I should actually teach him to quilt so we can make another “fillum” of him using a sewing machine…

Linzi Upton's Deviant approach to Quilting
Linzi Upton
My mission in Deviant Modern Machine Quilting is to make you believe that there are no hard and fast rules in quilting.  Any rules you have learnt can be bent or broken! Quilting should give the freedom to express your creativity using whatever ideas or materials take your fancy.

It should be possible to take your inspiration from anywhere, mull over an idea for a while, then adapt or personalise it to suit your capabilities and choice of fabrics.

The Deviant Quilting approach should give you the confidence to be inspired by the colours and texture of your local landscape, for instance, rather than being confined to following a prescriptive pattern. You can make anything as off-the-wall as you please or just make a book cover if that is what you want to do.

I was visited by 3 DIY quilters this week who wanted to get their quilts finished in time for Christmas. I like to load the quilts for them, wind bobbins and be on hand if the thread breaks. They had all done some long-arming before elsewhere so they were fairly proficient but they all said that they enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere, having someone on hand who would give assistance, and the coffee. I did a few little jobs that had been annoying me like re-sorting and folding my fabric drawers. I get really irritated with myself if the contents are all in muddle. My workshop is generally tidy but every now and then I can’t remember what safe place I have used to stash things. Maybe I should keep a list of what I have mislaid and make a note of where it turned up.

I did eventually complete all of the ruler work and freehand spikes on the large customer quilt. It took a really long time to complete but I think it looked modern and fresh when it was finished. I have posted it back to its owner so it will be a few days before I hear whether she is pleased with it. 

The first Purdah quilt was quilted using half-inch straight lines and variegated black and red thread. I had to adjust the lighting of the photo but it still appears much lighter than it is in real life. I told Freya that I was considering adding more black stitching and beads but she has reminded me that this piece is meant to be minimal;) I have been making sketches for the other quilts and gathering images from Indian architecture which may or may not eventually come in handy.  

At the back of my mind is the dreaded winter festival that starts with a “C”. In my opinion, nobody should be allowed to mention it before December 1st, let alone advertise or shop for it! Ideally, I would like to make some small gifts and I have rashly promised the Landy Man an appliqu├ęd horse cushion for his daughter…

Sunday, 8 November 2015


At long last - exciting news - I am a Published Author!! “Deviant Quilting” was released this week as an Ebook, available as a download or as a CD-ROM from
I am very proud of how the books looks on screen. It is easy to download onto a laptop; then it can be synced to a tablet such as an iPad. It is possible to download straight onto an iPad but you may need an app for that. Vivienne’s download instructions are clear but if you prefer a hard copy on a disk then it is the same price including postage. She has been posting on Facebook to promote the book and a couple of Big Names in quilting have offered to review it to spread the word:) 

The popular Bernina Germany blog has invited me to to write an article as a guest author all about Tartan Tattoo, 1st place winner for Longarm Quilts at OEQC and I will be allowed to plug my book.

It must have been the fantasy of being a “proper writer” that inspired me to bid on two vintage typewriters on Ebay. Maybe I had visions of myself tapping away like Martha Gellhorn but the reality was that neither of them were in great condition. I am considering getting them repaired if it is not too costly or possibly trading them in for one decent model. I can see how addictive collecting these could be, just like vintage sewing machines. Speaking of which, I have one or two of those which really ought to be repaired or sold!

I am keen to keep up with pre-Christmas customer quilts so I can make a start on some quilting for “Purdah”. I managed to fit in 2 lovely small quilts before tackling a large one that will take some time. It is paper foundation pieced very nicely but where the blocks join there are lumpy seams so the SID that I had planned proved impossible. This also ruled out using the Quilt Path to do any automated quilting. I have been using rulers which looks good but takes forever. It has been one of those jobs where I have to make myself do a certain amount of time then go and do something else. 

One of those other things was to attach all of the pieces together for “Touch the Pickle”. This was actually quite fiddly as I hand-sewed them together vertically to tiny crochet flowers with invisible thread. As I went along I discovered that some of the cheap 3mm poppers were coming off so I had to use pliers to remove them all and replace them with more substantial 5mm Kams Snaps. Once they were attached to their striped hanging sleeve, they looked like a  colourful Indian door curtain. I forgot to photograph them before I carefully folded them all together for storage. It behaves like a set of Christmas lights and gets all tangled up so I daresay some Quilt Angels will curse me next year;)

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Tartan Tattoo is a Winner!

The gloomy weather, sewing withdrawal symptoms and no exciting trips planned were making me feel rather like I was in the doldrums. An unexpected Facebook message from Andrea Stracke changed all that when she let me know that Tartan Tattoo had won 1st place for Longarm Quilts at The Open European Quilt Championships at Maastricht in The Netherlands! I waited impatiently until I could see “proof” online with photos of the red rosette. It is a show that hangs the quilts well with plenty of light and space and it was even displayed so the back could be seen. I was thrilled to receive congratulations from friends on Facebook from family to quilting friends and even some quilt “Legends.”

This good news really cheered me up and spurred me on to finish the piecing for the other 2 Purdah quilts. The red and black one was tricky. I had not pieced it using paper foundation piecing so the quarter inch seams were a little variable. I managed not to knock too many points off in the end and I love the rather Welsh/Amish red and black simple look.I have been swithering about the quilting but I think that pumpkin seeds of some sort will cross cultures. There may also be some woodblock stamps with a seeded theme. The black and black one was a bit dreary to work on. Despite having a reference book out to calculate the size of squares needed for corners and setting triangles, I ended up making a few test squares from scraps until I decided that the measurements would work. This one is going to be quilted in regimented straight lines but I have “found” some variegated red and black thread that should add interest. The thing that is still eluding me about this project is what to add to the plain black shawl that will hide everything. I want it to be extremely subtle, almost non existent, somehow conveying a strong message about Purdah. I expect inspiration will come along eventually, inevitably around 4am one morning. 

Typically, just as I was thinking that I did not have a backlog of customer quilts to worry about while I worked on my own projects, 6 quilts arrived within 24 hours. This is a good thing as it keeps my business afloat and a bit of pressure always makes me more productive. I am looking forward to getting some quilting practice - I feel that I have done more than enough piecing for a while and it is time to do what I enjoy most.

Vivienne sent me the final proofs for “Deviant Quilting” so I could look for any last minute typos and corrections. We are both really proud of how it looks. The pictures are fantastic and I actually enjoyed re-reading my text. It is just about ready to launch forth and I really hope that it is a success that will lead to more books in the future. I am hopeful that it will get a few good reviews and that people spread the word so I can earn enough to take my long-suffering kids on a trip to the USA. Disneyland is unlikely to be one of the destinations - Paducah and Nashville are more what I had in mind but long as I take them to some old-fashioned diners I’m sure they will have a great time:)

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Meanwhile, not in Houston...

Quilt Market and the IQA show in Houston is the USA equivalent to our UK show, FOQ Birmingham in that many American quilters make their pilgrimage there every year while the international quilters only visit every few years. I have been jealous of all the Facebook status updates of the preparations, journeys and meetings of old friends. The weather over there is wet and windy while we have had a mixture of glorious sunshine, gales, rain and frost. 

In between taxiing the kids around and getting spare beds ready for visitors, I put together the bright log-cabin style top for the Purdah quilt and make very some progress on the red and black section. I upcycled Nell’s fairisle sweater into 2 hot water bottle covers in case it was going to be chilly for the visitors.

The Landy is in desperate need of a new clutch - it can be embarrassing at traffic lights when I just can’t get into gear and have to switch off the engine to fumble around with the gearbox. I was on my way to pick up my guests from the station in Stonehaven when I found that just 10 minutes away in an area with no phone signal the twisty road was blocked by several stationary vehicles. A lorry driver took charge of the situation and decided that the Landy would have to tow the the car that had crashed into a stone wall off the road with the aid of a 100ft long rope. Obviously, this was a daft idea as towing is done best on a shortish rope but I let him work that out for himself. There was a worrying burning smell until I put the Landy into a low-diff gear and he heroically cleared the road until the Police arrived. My visitors were wondering whether I had forgotten to collect them and my two little nephews were jumping around like grasshoppers by the time the rescue was complete. 

We spent the next few days visiting castles, parks, the seaside and making constant pots of tea. The kids carved some mushy pumpkins and the cats kept a very low profile. The dust may have resettled by the middle of next week;)

Sunday, 18 October 2015

It's a good job that real life isn't measured in photos!

It's a good job that Real Life isn't measured in photos otherwise it would look like I had not been participating much. I always “do” less in the school holidays by getting up later, catering, taxiing about, and feeling guilty for spending time in my workshop.

I wasted hours on the phone and on a thrilling online live-chat (not) with O2 after Fergus broke his phone, losing the will to live while trying to decide whether to fix it, replace it or cancel the contract.

At least I managed to complete a small, simple customer quilt that will be raffled for a local golf club. Its maker was thoroughly sick of it - she said she simply had not enjoyed making it for some reason. She did not know whether she had gone off the colour scheme or whether it was because it was not intended for a particular recipient. I think it looks rather good now that it has been quilted so I hope she is relieved and manages to sell plenty of tickets.

Freya and I had a great day out visiting St Andrews University. We both loved the town, the seaside, the buildings which would not look out of place on a Harry Potter set, and the lectures about the courses. In between guided tours we visited lovely cafes and eclectic shops. She has chosen one of the most popular courses at one of the Scottish Unis that is hardest to get into. The downside of no tuition fees for Scottish students is that no-one seems to mention that there are often far fewer places available than those for fee-paying students from England and Overseas. In addition to having amazing exam results she will need a blindingly good personal statement on her application form and possibly a lot of luck. 

I did eventually sneak off to do some piecing and it looked like I may have been making some mini Ninja inspired shapes. I almost wore my fingertips out pressing the seams but it saved me making 576 trips to the ironing board! I am looking forward to getting some quilting done after footering around with all those “wee bits”.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Sew, Press, Repeat

Part of my week was spent putting the Bernina Q24 longarm through its paces with Tracey Pereira who will be available for Q24 demonstrating and tuition in the South of England. She flew up to Aberdeen and the rain did not stop for 48 hours. It didn’t bother us in the workshop where we fiddled with threads, feet, changed all of the settings then changed them back just to get to really know how the machine works. The BSR works slightly differently to the APQS so we were deciding on the best way of teaching how to use it for ruler work. It was great to experiment with another experienced longarmer, discussing showing a customer the easiest ways of loading a quilt and how to take the plunge with quilting. We were so engrossed that we forgot to take a single selfie!

Vivienne phoned to apologise for the slight delay of the publication of Deviant Quilting. Vivebooks has never tried to squeeze so much video into a single Ebook before. It won’t be too much longer and I still need to get a couple of quirky intros uploaded onto Youtube anyway. She asked if I would like to think about a future book so I have already started making a list of ideas…

I enjoy a bit of piecing now and then but I began to get rather fed up with my variation on a log-cabin block for part of the Purdah Quilt. Each of the 49 x 6” blocks had 21 pieces which proves that I haven’t got the patience required for a “Dear Jane” complicated type of quilt. At least I got to listen to a lot of BBC Radio 4 as I added to my slowly growing pile. I had “forgotten” that the kids would be starting a 2-week break from school next week so it is just as well that I got the most time consuming piecing out of the way. There will be other piecing to do after rather a lot of preparatory cutting has been done. I did wonder if I should be doing yet more time consuming wonky, modern free-piecing but then I told myself to get a grip otherwise this more-complicated-than-it-should-be-side-project simply won’t get done!

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Thinking Like an Artist

I have been attempting to think like an artist to work out how I am going to pull off the Purdah Quilt. I don’t seem to have enough patience to wait for a Muse to come along and  just one day spent indecisively drives me mad. While I was thinking I tried some more couching yarn out that I may or may not use when I eventually pluck up the courage to start quilting BzB. 

I could not decide whether to keep things simple or make them more complicated but I remembered that elaborate does not seem to be the key to the Fine-Art-Master category at FOQ. Next I wondered whether I should be improvising or sticking to something more traditional. The whole point of the Purdah Quilt is that will be layers of some sort so I guess that means I will making more than one quilt. I made up some test blocks to see if they would work with what I already had bouncing around in my head and I think I know sort of what I am doing now…

I spent 2 fun days at Newport Sewing Centre in Wales doing staff training for the Bernina Q24 longarm. They were enthusiastic to learn and try out new ideas but I have to confess that yet again I was too busy to remember to take any action photos. It is always interesting that no matter how many times you have taught a class or used a familiar machine, you can always find new or better ways of doing things. I left my pupils keen to work on new projects and pass on their knowledge to customers. I enjoyed seeing a great display of sewing and embroidery machines in the shop and even learned a trick for telling my Bernina 710 that I am using a straight stitch plate so it remembers when I forget so I can’t break a needle by zig-zagging.

I was annoyed that the little car I hired proved to be defective. When it refused to start at the airport I was told that I was not operating it correctly and by chance it fired up when I went back to it. However, when I made it struggle up steep, narrow lanes it started to make clunky noises. My B&B proved tricky to find because none of the hedged lanes were labelled and the road signs were in Welsh. I flagged down a farmer and a dog-walker and they explained that my destination had a completely different name on its gate than the one advertised on the internet. I had a very pleasant stay in a barn conversion and a lovely home-cooked breakfast. However, the crappy car would not start the next morning so I called the rescue service, then got it started and cancelled the AA truck which would never have found me anyway. There were warning beeps and flashes from the dashboard and a stern warning to stop and get the car fixed as there was a problem with the brakes or suspension. I made it to back to Newport without breaking down and called the rescue service again. The problem was quickly diagnosed - the battery connections were hanging loose which had confused the computer. My Landy, which works hard despite making various clunking and rattling noises, thankfully doesn’t have a computer telling it what to think;)

We have had glorious Indian summer weather this week with colourful sunsets and warm sunshine. I had an unusual visitor to my workshop - I found a tiny common lizard hiding under my wellies. It is a bit of a daft and uninspiring name when these lizards are quite uncommon in Northern Scotland. He was too quick for me to take a good photo and I was worried that he would get lost so I put him back outside. I wonder whether he would have found enough spiders to live off if I had not discovered him - maybe he fancied hibernating in a fabric drawer!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

The Unexpected Consequences of a Facetious Thought

The elusive quilt show prize that I will probably die trying to win is the Fine Art Quilt Masters at Festival of Quilts, UK. I was baffled as I studied some of the successful entries this year. These pieces apparently transcend the craft of patchwork and quilting and seem to be more about the artistic concept. I determined that I will eventually get one of my creations juried into this elusive category. I started thinking about how to achieve this accolade in my typically cynical and facetious manner. The cogs started whirring in my mind as I wondered how to make use of one of the ugliest textiles that I own - a black wool shawl that I bought cheaply from the Oxfam tent at the Womad Festival in 2014 when the evening temperature dipped. 

I have always flippantly called this shawl a burqa just because it is so black. I decided to think about how to use this within the theme of Purdah, defined as “the practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies of screening women from men or strangers, especially by means of a curtain.” This quilt is still at the ideas stage but I plan to create something that hinges on the notion of beauty that is hidden. 

While tossing these weighty ideas around I looked up taboos in Indian society and discovered the shocking truth that one of the greatest and most shameful secrets involves the subject of menstruation. It may be a slightly uncomfortable and embarrassing subject  to discuss in the UK but in parts of rural India it is a forbidden topic. I read a BBC News article about an entrepreneur called Arunachalam Muruganantham. (Read more of his amazing story at the end of this blogpost…)

In the 21st century are still many taboos around menstruation in India. Women can't visit temples or public places, they're not allowed to cook or touch the water supply - essentially they are considered untouchable. Muruganantham found that it was hard even to broach the subject in such a conservative society. "To speak to rural women, we need permission from the husband or father," he says. "We can only talk to them through a blanket."
There are also myths and fears surrounding the use of sanitary pads - that women who use them will go blind, for example, or will never get married. 

The next article that I read online was written by Diksha Madhok for the Quartz India Wordpress blog in which she explores the superstitions surrounding menstruation. The one that I found the oddest was that menstruating women should not touch jars of pickles which they would cause to become contaminated.  A funny and provocative youtube video sponsored by the sanitary napkin brand, Whisper, encourages girls to go ahead and “Touch the Pickle!”
(Read Diksha Madhok’s article after the Arunachalam Muruganantham story…)

Eventually I came across a website which sold washable menstrual pads and hand-sewing kits for girls to make their own. I ordered samples which arrived in the mystery stitched parcel and I decided to make a “quilt” of menstrual pads to help raise awareness about this sensitive subject. First I had to research and accumulate materials! The samples were made from 6 layers of cotton flannel with a waterproof bottom layer but I decided that I wanted to donate the pads a women’s group in India after the unusual quilt has been exhibited.

I ordered fabrics from a washable nappy making company and made several prototypes. My pads would all feature Indian striped cotton and tartan flannel as the outer layers with a sandwich of plastic laminated knit, a super absorbent fleece and antibacterial hemp. One of the pads would be made using a pickle print fabric. I decided against sewing on metal poppers and discovered Kams plastic no-sew snaps. The outer fabrics were liable to fray easily and it was not always easy to keep the top edges rounded after I had inserted the shaped absorbent pad into their casings and completed the top-stitching. I worked on this project for several weeks and I worried that the finished pads were not all “perfect” in appearance but I know that they are all very carefully made, fit for purpose and may some day even help to keep a group of girls in education!


BBC NEWS - “In 1998 Arunachalam Muruganantham was newly married and his world revolved around his wife, Shanthi, and his widowed mother. One day he saw Shanthi was hiding something from him. He was shocked to discover what it was - rags, "nasty cloths" which she used during menstruation.
"I will be honest," says Muruganantham. "I would not even use it to clean my scooter." When he asked her why she didn't use sanitary pads, she pointed out that if she bought them for the women in the family, she wouldn't be able to afford to buy milk or run the household.

Wanting to impress his young wife, Muruganantham went into town to buy her a sanitary pad. It was handed to him hurriedly, as if it were contraband. He weighed it in his hand and wondered why 10g (less than 0.5oz) of cotton, which at the time cost 10 paise (£0.001), should sell for 4 rupees (£0.04) - 40 times the price. He decided he could make them cheaper himself.
He fashioned a sanitary pad out of cotton and gave it to Shanthi, demanding immediate feedback. She said he'd have to wait for some time - only then did he realise that periods were monthly. "I can't wait a month for each feedback, it'll take two decades!" He needed more volunteers.

When Muruganantham looked into it further, he discovered that hardly any women in the surrounding villages used sanitary pads - fewer than one in 10. His findings were echoed by a 2011 survey by AC Nielsen, commissioned by the Indian government, which found that only 12% of women across India use sanitary pads.
Muruganantham says that in rural areas, the take-up is far less than that. He was shocked to learn that women don't just use old rags, but other unhygienic substances such as sand, sawdust, leaves and even ash.
Women who do use cloths are often too embarrassed to dry them in the sun, which means they don't get disinfected. Approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India are caused by poor menstrual hygiene - it can also affect maternal mortality.
Finding volunteers to test his products was no mean feat. His sisters refused, so he had the idea of approaching female students at his local medical college. "But how can a workshop worker approach a medical college girl?" Muruganantham says. "Not even college boys can go near these girls!”

He managed to convince 20 students to try out his pads - but it still didn't quite work out. On the day he came to collect their feedback sheets he caught three of the girls industriously filling them all in. These results obviously could not be relied on. It was then that he decided to test the products on himself. "I became the man who wore a sanitary pad," he says.

He created a "uterus" from a football bladder by punching a couple of holes in it, and filling it with goat's blood. A former classmate, a butcher, would ring his bicycle bell outside the house whenever he was going to kill a goat. Muruganantham would collect the blood and mix in an additive he got from another friend at a blood bank to prevent it clotting too quickly - but it didn't stop the smell.
He walked, cycled and ran with the football bladder under his traditional clothes, constantly pumping blood out to test his sanitary pad's absorption rates. Everyone thought he'd gone mad.

He used to wash his bloodied clothes at a public well and the whole village concluded he had a sexual disease. Friends crossed the road to avoid him. "I had become a pervert," he says. At the same time, his wife got fed up - and left. "So you see God's sense of humour," he says "I'd started the research for my wife and after 18 months she left me!"
Then he had another brainwave - he would study used sanitary pads: surely this would reveal everything. This idea posed an even greater risk in such a superstitious community. "Even if I ask for a hair from a lady, she would suspect I am doing some black magic on her to mesmerise her," he says.

He supplied his group of medical students with sanitary pads and collected them afterwards. He laid his haul out in the back yard to study, only for his mother to stumble across the grisly scene one afternoon. It was the final straw. She cried, put her sari on the ground, put her belongings into it, and left. "It was a problem for me," he says. "I had to cook my own food.”

Worse was to come. The villagers became convinced he was possessed by evil spirits, and were about to chain him upside down to a tree to be "healed" by the local soothsayer. He only narrowly avoided this treatment by agreeing to leave the village. It was a terrible price to pay. "My wife gone, my mum gone, ostracised by my village" he says. "I was left all alone in life.”

Still, he carried on. The biggest mystery was what successful sanitary pads were made of. He had sent some off for laboratory analysis and reports came back that it was cotton, but his own cotton creations did not work. It was something he could only ask the multinational companies who produced sanitary products - but how? "It's like knocking on the door of Coke and saying, 'Can I ask you how your cola is manufactured?’"

Muruganantham wrote to the big manufacturing companies with the help of a college professor, whom he repaid by doing domestic work - he didn't speak much English at the time. He also spent almost 7,000 rupees (£70) on telephone calls - money he didn't have. "When I got through, they asked me what kind of plant I had," he says. "I didn't really understand what they meant.”

In the end, he said he was a textile mill owner in Coimbatore who was thinking of moving into the business, and requested some samples. A few weeks later, mysterious hard boards appeared in the mail - cellulose, from the bark of a tree. It had taken two years and three months to discover what sanitary pads are made of, but there was a snag - the machine required to break this material down and turn it into pads cost many thousands of dollars. He would have to design his own.

Four-and-a-half years later, he succeeded in creating a low-cost method for the production of sanitary towels. The process involves four simple steps. First, a machine similar to a kitchen grinder breaks down the hard cellulose into fluffy material, which is packed into rectangular cakes with another machine.
The cakes are then wrapped in non-woven cloth and disinfected in an ultraviolet treatment unit. The whole process can be learned in an hour.

Muruganantham's goal was to create user-friendly technology. The mission was not just to increase the use of sanitary pads, but also to create jobs for rural women - women like his mother. Following her husband's death in a road accident, Muruganantham's mother had had to sell everything she owned and get a job as a farm labourer, but earning $1 a day wasn't enough to support four children. That's why, at the age of 14, Muruganantham had left school to find work.

The machines are kept deliberately simple and skeletal so that they can be maintained by the women themselves. "It looks like the Wright brothers' first flight," he says. The first model was mostly made of wood, and when he showed it to the Indian Institute of Technology, IIT, in Madras, scientists were sceptical - how was this man going to compete against multinationals?

But Muruganantham had confidence. As the son of a handloom worker, he had seen his father survive with a simple wooden handloom, despite 446 fully mechanised mills in the city. That gave him the courage to take on the big companies with his small machine made of wood - besides, his aim was not really to compete. "We are creating a new market, we are paving the way for them," he says.

Unbeknown to him, the IIT entered his machine in a competition for a national innovation award. Out of 943 entries, it came first. He was given the award by the then President of India, Pratibha Patil - quite an achievement for a school dropout. Suddenly he was in the limelight.

"It was instant glory, media flashing in my face, everything" he says. "The irony is, after five-and-a-half years I get a call on my mobile - the voice huskily says: Remember me?”

It was his wife, Shanthi. She was not entirely surprised by her husband's success. "Every time he comes to know something new, he wants to know everything about it," she says. "And then he wants to do something about it that nobody else has done before."
However, this kind of ambition was not easy to live with. Not only was she shocked by his interest in such a matter, but it took up all of his time and money - at the time, they hardly had enough money to eat properly. And her troubles were compounded by gossip.
"The hardest thing was when the villagers started talking and treating us really badly," she says. "There were rumours that he was having affairs with other women, and that was why he was doing such things." She decided to go back home to live with her mother.
After Shanthi, eventually Muruganantham's own mother and the rest of the villagers - who had all condemned, criticised and ostracised him - came round too.
It took Muruganantham 18 months to build 250 machines, which he took out to the poorest and most underdeveloped states in Northern India - the so-called BIMARU or "sick" states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh. Here, women often have to walk for miles to fetch water, something they can't do when they are menstruating - so families suffer.

"My inner conscience said if I can crack it in Bihar, a very tough nut to crack, I can make it anywhere," says Muruganantham.
But slowly, village by village, there was cautious acceptance and over time the machines spread to 1,300 villages in 23 states.
In each case, it's the women who produce the sanitary pads who sell them directly to the customer. Shops are usually run by men, which can put women off. And when customers get them from women they know, they can also acquire important information on how to use them. Purchasers may not even need any money - many women barter for onions and potatoes.

While getting the message out to new areas of the country is still difficult, Muruganantham is sceptical about the effectiveness of TV advertising. "You always have a girl in white jeans, jumping over a wall," he says. "They never talk about hygiene."

Most of Muruganantham's clients are NGOs and women's self-help groups. A manual machine costs around 75,000 Indian rupees (£723) - a semi-automated machine costs more. Each machine converts 3,000 women to pad usage, and provides employment for 10. They can produce 200-250 pads a day which sell for an average of about 2.5 rupees (£0.025) each.
Women choose their own brand-name for their range of sanitary pads, so there is no over-arching brand - it is "by the women, for the women, and to the women".
Muruganantham also works with schools - 23% of girls drop out of education once they start menstruating. Now school girls make their own pads. "Why wait till they are women? Why not empower girls?"

The Indian government recently announced it would distribute subsidised sanitary products to poorer women. It was a blow for Muruganantham that it did not choose to work with him, but he now has his eyes on the wider world. "My aim was to create one million jobs for poor women - but why not 10 million jobs worldwide?" he asks. He is expanding to 106 countries across the globe, including Kenya, Nigeria, Mauritius, the Philippines, and Bangladesh.
"Our success is entirely down to word-of-mouth publicity," he says. "Because this is a problem all developing nations face.”

Muruganantham now lives with his family in a modest apartment. He owns a jeep, "a rugged car that will take me to hillsides, jungles, forest", but has no desire to accumulate possessions. "I have accumulated no money but I accumulate a lot of happiness," he says. "If you get rich, you have an apartment with an extra bedroom - and then you die."
He prefers to spend his time talking to university and college students. He's an engaging and funny speaker, despite his idiosyncratic English. He says he is not working brain to brain but heart to heart.

"Luckily I'm not educated," he tells students. "If you act like an illiterate man, your learning will never stop... Being uneducated, you have no fear of the future."
His wife Shanthi agrees with him on this point. "If he had completed his education, he would be like any other guy, who works for someone else, who gets a daily wage," she says. "But because he did not complete school, he had the courage to come out to start a business of his own. Now he's employing other people."
Shanthi and Muruganantham are now a tight unit. "My wife, the business - it is not a separate thing, it is mixed up with our life," he says.

When a girl reaches puberty in their village, there is a ceremony - traditionally it meant that they were ready to marry. Shanthi always brings a sanitary pad as a gift and explains how to use it.
"Initially I used to be very shy when talking to people about it," she says. "But after all this time, people have started to open up. Now they come and talk to me, they ask questions and they also get sanitary napkins to try them. They have all changed a lot in the village.”

Muruganantham says she does a wonderful job.
He was once asked whether receiving the award from the Indian president was the happiest moment of his life. He said no - his proudest moment came after he installed a machine in a remote village in Uttarakhand, in the foothills of the Himalayas, where for many generations nobody had earned enough to allow children to go to school.

A year later, he received a call from a woman in the village to say that her daughter had started school. "Where Nehru failed," he says, "one machine succeeded.”

DIKSHA MADHOK - “In his first Independence Day speech, prime minister Narendra Modi discomfited the country when he stressed on the pain and diseases many Indian women are vulnerable to because they do not have access to toilets and have to control their urges till after dark. Hardly any other prime minister has discussed sanitation for women so frankly and openly.

While that is bad enough, attitudes about another normal female bodily function—menstruation—are even more rooted in superstition. The extent of ignorance regarding menstruation has been documented in a recent study by sanitary napkin maker Whisper and market researcher IPSOS. The survey was conducted among more than 1,100 respondents from across India.

The results show that the stranglehold of custom and superstition is not easing even in urban areas.

A majority of women believe that they should not touch a pickle jar during their periods. They also don’t water plants, enter temples, cook food or sleep in the same bed as their husbands. Most of these taboos are rooted in the belief that a menstruating woman is impure and can contaminate anything she touches. It is important to note that most of the people interviewed were not from villages, but urban Indian cities such as Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata, Bangalore and Hyderabad.

According to research firm Euromonitor, nearly 70% of Indian women, out of ignorance and poverty, use old rags instead of sanitary towels to stem their periods. Such unhygienic practices increase the risk of reproductive diseases in Indian women.

Seventy five percent women in India buy sanitary napkins wrapped in a brown bag or newspaper, because of the shame associated with menstruation. They also never ask a male member of the family to buy sanitary towels or tampons.

Aditi Gupta is the founder of a website and comic book called, which aims to shatter the stigma associated with periods. She says she used old rags while growing up to stem periods because she was too embarrassed to ask a male shopkeeper for sanitary napkins. “I come from a very educated family, but we never questioned the shame or myths surrounding the female body,” says 29-year-old Gupta, whose one-year-old website on menstrual awareness gets nearly 100,000 visitors every month.

Women also fear social discrimination, both within and outside their homes. Nearly 50% of the respondents from South India do not share a bed with their spouse during periods. More than one-third of urban Indian parents treat their daughters as impure during periods.

One of the most popular myths surrounding periods is that a woman is impure during this time and her touch will spoil pickles. Many families still forbid girls from entering the kitchen while they are menstruating.

“Decades ago, village women used to bathe in ponds and during periods they were told to avoid communal bathing.” says Aditi, while explaining why women do not wash their hair while menstruating. “But now we live in modern, urban houses with private bathrooms.”

Along with this survey, sanitary napkin brand Whisper has also launched a campaign called Touch the Pickle.

The researchers also interviewed more than 200 men about periods, and the good news is that almost all of them want the secrecy and embarrassment to end. However, both men and women learn very little about periods while they are in school. In fact, more than half the women did not know much about menstrual cycle till they got their first periods.”