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Hobbies + Hustles: Nature Explorer and Horticulturist

by in Culture & Lifestyle on 30th August, 2022

ginger and turmeric in a bowl

We’ve spoken to Esra Alhamal about the art of Islamic illumination, Azeezat Adeola about mindfulness in knitting and how to get started and knitting for social issues, Neda about pole fitness, body confidence and online trolls, Chaimaa Creates about baking and cake design, Katie Haseeb about illustrating and fine arts, Brooke Benoit about jewellery design, Firdaws Clotaire about ceramics and pottery-making, and Zainab Alema about her journey to becoming a professional rugby player and encouraging more Muslim women to get involved in sports.

Last month we spoke to Food photographer and blogger 

If you would like to interview a Muslim woman about her hobby/hustle, get in touch:

Most of what I do can be found on my Instagram @hafsahhafeji.     

What do you call yourself in relation to your hobby?

I am going to be honest, I’m not entirely sure what I can describe my hobby as but the closest I can come to it is a ‘Nature explorer’. I tend to get obsessed with anything that you might think falls under that category. For a very long time I saw myself as someone who jumped between hobbies and never stuck to anything but I noticed a pattern in the hobbies and realised that it was not me ‘jumping’ between hobbies but more so me looking at different ways to interact with the natural world. A few of the interests I have gathered include, growing food, foraging, plant dyeing, whittling, weaving and pottery.

How did you get into this hobby?

Gardening and growing food was the first of my hobbies which, very lucky for me, through my study as a horticulturist became my work! I really enjoy the work I do but as I associated it with my gardening work it didn’t feel as relaxing as it used to. So, I instinctively began searching for other activities that gave me that opportunity to wind down as well as be immersed in nature which I am constantly craving. I began learning how to forage, exploring nature through taste and following the seasons, finding the best time to pick curled dock or making sure I did not miss the harvesting window for the wild garlic down the street. 

As I foraged, I began to understand other uses for many of the edible or sometimes even unedible plants and one that stood out to me was using these plants to make natural dyes. So I’ve since been on a little journey of experimenting with creating dyes from nettles, dandelions, herbs and more. As I experimented, I came across some brilliant natural dyers and discovered a community of dyers and weavers which led me to attend a course where I learnt about weaving natural sheep fleeces into scarfs, rugs and wall art.

Similarly, whittling wood came from a chance-meeting with a wood worker in Spain who gave me a chance to practice whittling. Working so intimately with this natural material made me feel extremely connected to nature’s processes which inspired me to attend formal workshops and learn more. 

What is your favourite thing about Nature Exploration?

I think first and foremost it is being able to engage with the natural world. For me each of these hobbies feels like a form of zikr, I am constantly in awe of the complexities of nature as well as what I am able to do with my hands. I also really enjoy the process of challenging myself and getting out of my comfort zone with learning a new skill. From being in environments which sometimes don’t see people from my background to testing my ability with learning a new whittling technique.Through them I have also had the opportunity to meet and be inspired by some amazing people. My love for gardening and growing has taken me to Spain where I met a wonderful community of muslims in the Alpujarra mountains. Learning to weave has connected me to a whole community of sheep farmers in Wales and I cannot wait to meet more amazing people.  

What is the most challenging thing about x?

The space! Finding enough room in the house to store tools, dyed materials or the loom I really want to buy! The cost of workshops or courses can also be a little steep. Whilst nowadays you can learn pretty much everything on youtube I prefer learning with people, so for me it’s something to consider when taking up learning something new. 

How do you stay motivated?

My love for learning and growing as a person as well as feeling closer to all the beauty Allah has created.  

What is the work that you are most proud of, and why?

A spoon I whittled out of wood. It was tough physical work and learning different knife techniques was really challenging as well as understanding the growth patterns of wood to carve smoothly and staying really focused to make sure I didn’t accidentally cut off a finger! But I managed to grasp those skills in a day and created something functional and practical which felt really rewarding. 

Between your hobby and work, family, personal errands etc. how do you organise your time and make sure that you’re staying on top of everything?

Staying on top of everything is definitely a challenge, especially since there is an overlap between my hobby and work which can sometimes be lovely – however, it does also mean I justify spending my work hours researching plant dyeing when it really is not work! To manage and enjoy both, I quite informally blockout certain days in the week where I can experiment with something I’ve learnt or do research into something new. Weaving baskets is something I’m hoping to learn next!

Who are your biggest inspirations/who are the people making waves in this field?

My biggest inspirations are the people I meet whilst discovering these hobbies. Not only am I learning these crafts but I also take away the generosity, kindness and openness that these fellow students and/or teachers give. Incredible artists like a wood craftsman I met whilst doing some voluntary gardening who saw my passion for nature and taught me how to ‘read’ wood, the smells, textures and the growth patterns of the trees that affects the workability of the material. A beautiful couple in England who grew a garden full of plants used to make dyes with whom I bonded over our mutual love for the craft but at the time noticed my struggle with the direction of my work and were so generous in their advice. Every experience has allowed me to meet inspiring people which in turn inspires me to go on and learn more. 

What would be your advice for someone that wants to get into Nature Exploration ?

I would begin by just exploring nature with walks, touching trees, plants and soil. And a mixture of going where you feel inclined and trying what is easily accessible to you. Perhaps gardening or foraging (with a guide or a very good book and only eating things you are 100% sure off) both of these can be done with little cost.

Selina Bakkar

Selina Bakkar

I'm a simply striving to be better and improve in different areas of my life through more self awareness, experiences and learning more about the deen. You'll find me talking about community, connection, planting & growing, seeking the truth in an age of propaganda and misinformation. This year I want to document more to do with food heritage and history so watch this space or reach out. Have a listen to the Amaliah Voices podcast where I talk passionately about Islam, nature, motherhooding and back home. Link in bio peeps. To join the Amaliah Writer Community email me at IG: SelinaBakkar