One of the most extraordinary places I have visited on my travels, is the Harbin Ice Festival in northern China. I found the adventure hugely inspirational. This extraordinary wonderland of ice, offered a palette of magical electric colour, pattern and texture, setting my mind whirring with new ideas for design and print pattern repeats. 

The city of Harbin is neighbouring Russia so is hugely influenced by their custom… everything from architecture to food has a Russian Chinese twist, which makes for a very interesting mix of cultures. 

I remember we took a 12 hour train ride form Beijing. I joined a group from my hostel for moral support as I was apprehensive about going to a place renowned for its sub zero conditions… -25 degrees to be exact. I recall people  telling me “be careful or your contact lenses will freeze to your eyes” and “ the metal on your glasses will freeze to the skin on your face”. I was petrified ! 

We packed our luggage into the bunked cabin and hit the bar for food and a drink that would give me Dutch courage. I simply couldn’t sleep with nerves, but eventually the tiredness took over and I closed my eyes. 

When I did eventually awake, I jumped with a start and woke the others. All the condensation from our breadth had frozen solid. The ceilings and walls inside the cabin were covered with ice and as I tried to peel the curtain from the window to take a peep outside, it too was jammed to the glass with ice. I was even more terrified about what to expect.

As we pulled into the early morning darkness of the Harbin train station, I jumped to attention and tried to find a window that I could look out. To my amazement through the haze of steam I could see men hurrying about their day, wearing merely Jumpers!! These people are seasoned hardy inhabitants I thought to myself. 

We gathered our belongings and aimed for the hotel. The first immediate thing that struck me was that the air into my nostrils was freezing but actually it was not as awful as I had imagined and of course my glasses did not freeze too my face. This was a relief!

That day we headed out to tour the city, not lasting too long as it really was bitterly cold. Our main aim was to hit the town by night and visit the ice festival. I’d seen some photos and  was hugely excited to visit the exhibits. 

And it did not disappoint. The Harbin Ice festival is the largest snow and ice festival in the world. When you enter the arena you are simply overwhelmed by the immense size and scale of the sculptures. A larger than life ice wonderland. All you want to do is run and explore. 

The sculptures are made by large blocks of ice which are cut form the frozen Songhua River and hauled to the site. These blocks are illuminated using multicoloured LED lights and built into full size buildings made from ice blocks of 2–3 feet thick. Other sculptures are made by carving into enormous ice blocks to create ice animals, people and mythical creatures.

It takes roughly 10,0000 workers to haul the giant slabs of ice to fill the areas 750,000 square meters and features up to 180,000 cubic meters of ice. Sculptors come from all over the world to compete in the annual festival. It is simply an eyeful of magnificence.

The colours, shapes and textures that the ice blocks create, tease my creative juices and get my head whizzing with excitement to design. I introduce these colours a lot throughout my silk collection, adding intriguing colour combinations into various designs. The fragmented colours of light trapped in the ice blocks, make such wonderfully tantalising shapes and colours, dappling effects. Prisms of light. The spectrum of colour is intense, like glass gemstones or diamonds. 

This scarf which I have named The Birds of Paradise is a beautiful combination of the long regal feathers plumage of the birds combined with the fragmented blue and grey colours and hues from the ice with some wonderful Chinese carved discs and chains .

Debbie Millington