La Bretagne, dans toute sa richesse


Saturday November the 14th was the first day of winter in France. The gale on the 13th had blown most of the last autumn leaves from the trees. The morning after the Paris attacks the temperature dropped about 8 degrees, the sun hid behind the clouds, and for the first time in this beautiful forest there was little colour. I wonder whether we’ve understood what the terrorists are asking; whether and how and in what time frame we might address things if we had. If they asked us in more reasonable terms, would we hear? Did they, and did we?

We went sightseeing to a non-existent neolithic village (there is no neolithic village at the site; instead a place called ‘Dreaming at the Gates of Hell’ makes model replicas); a decommissioned nuclear power station; a closed beaver reintroduction centre; and military remains on a bleak Mont St. Michel. More rewardingly, we also found a good dolmen, met a nice man on the mount, and dropped in on a new friend out in the sticks for a good natter before supper. Oh, and visited an ‘artisan farm’. Though some of the craft was faerily kitcsh and some was downright disturbed, much was also of very high quality, and it was all uniquely Breton. I’m glad I’m not a farmed artisan though.

Three things I need *absolutment* nowadays: to make a living, to make music, and to be free. 

Route 66

And I suppose I need a home, but that beloved thing mutates with me, and I find that:

Home is where you know the right conditions and the right spot to squint at on the horizon to make St. Kilda appear. Home is where you know the right rock to stand on to get a mobile signal. Home is where you know the red throated diver’s daily flight path, and the eagle’s breakfast table. Home is where you know the best funnel in the stream to fill your water canisters. Home is where you know when and where the folkies meet, and who to call when your van breaks down.

Here now I know which tree yields the best chestnuts. I know where to buy organic produce. I know which old oak planks will sound which notes on the little boardwalk over the stream. I know a folk-baroque Appalachian dulcimer player; the time and place and character of a huge Irish session; the ‘standard’, or key motif, of Breton folk music, and that the instruments of Celtic music came up from Berber through the Iberian pensinsula, treacling Galician, Breton and Cornish music in particular with that North African scale. And yes, I already know who (and that that should be whom) to call should I break down, though can gloat that this is because of a problem (correctly diagnosed by moi) with my mum’s van, not with mine.

This place is beautiful, and autumn is the right time. 

Breton beech leaves illuminated small

We are surrounded by diverse, mature, sensitively managed, mixed woodland that is littered with huge, green, egg-shaped boulders, Arthurian legends, families with baskets, moustached mushroom hunters, dogs, goats and alternative types. There’s a cafe-gallery-bookshop in the woods whose internet I use. And then there are the patisseries, the artichokes and the saracen crepes. Vive la France!

The first while was tense: day three and my mum broke her right arm badly, which has thrown her, and us, in all sorts of ways. She’s here to write a book, but is right-handed. She hasn’t wanted to lean on me, but has needed help. I’ve wanted autonomy, but am camping in her front garden, and benefitting from her facilities. She’s needed to get into civilisation, but only I can drive. I’ve needed to get my head down to catch the Christmas trade wave, and have had insomnia. I’ve wanted freedom to explore exciting musical leads, but don’t even have enough money to top up my mobile.

In all this beautiful warmth (which has returned again since Saturday) with the winter slow to arrive, trade has not yet picked up proper, and I haven’t yet learnt the secrets of the summer market, so am biting my nails.

I’ve been reading about marketing (uuurgh), and even managed to raise some enthusiasm and smarten up my shop a little. Dividing it up into sections…

‘Croftwear’ (for the more rugged woves)

‘Castlewear’ (for sleeker, posher, softer ones)

‘Edenwear’ (for soft yarns in vivid colours that are more English garden than Celtic wilderness) and

Homeware (for non-wearables)

…helped me think more coherently about designing, photographing and promoting cohesive ranges. (Damn, I LIKE scattergunning! And Damn, DAMN, I have so much work to do!)) 

There’s a ‘Sylvanwear’ range germinating too, inspired by the bosquiness of these stunning woods…

…and  I still have Hebridean shorescapes a-mind too.

I’ve been networking on Etsy – especially creating treasuries of some of the beautiful craft made by others. (By chance I’ve made a lovely woollen contact in the West of Ireland, and since I’m planning to spend some of 2016 there, perhaps I should make some more.) A golden nugget: ‘Self promotion is me, me, me, whilst marketing is you, you, you.’ We (artists, especially) tend to swing wildly between outrageous narcissism and crippling self-doubt: ME, ME, ME [hide hide hide] – and loathe the both. So how to do the ‘you, you, you’ without being equally-loathedly false and cynical?

Promoting the work of others that I admire seems one good way, following in the footsteps of the lovely and talented Rima (art through the gap in the hedge), Tom (shadows and landscapes)Amy (myth in watercolour and ceramic), David (conjurer of magicscapes with colour and sound), Mark (plants for the imagination)  and my mum (with fire in her head). Nat, maker of all sorts and bringer-together of people and poniesthese beauties made me think of you, and Ren, dweller in the woods, your leather shop is sleek and artful!

Here is just one ounce of the talent of some of my friends:

Really thinking about what my potential customers need that I can supply is another way. What do you need?

Baby wraps and saddle blankets, some of you have said, and these are still in the pipeline – summer projects – though not yet for competitive prices. I want to make blankets but fear spending a week or two on one expensive item that may take ages to sell, especially on the busy run up to Christmas. Perennial tension between what I think will sell (soft, luxury, dyed wool garments) and what I want to make (big, coarse, rugged, undyed, earthen things).

I tend to think that you need things to give comfort in and protection from the wet and cold and that still leave you looking interesting, is that right?

What do you think I should make more of? I’ve a rustic, waxy, sheep-coloured cape just come off the loom, and some Jacob’s snugs and snoods just going on. When I have a choice between ought and  lately I’ve been opting for the latter. Artisan, not businessperson. Sigh. A run of soft reds may be in order – snugs and a scarf – and perhaps a luxurious silver-grey Gotland shawl, both long overdue, and reasonably saleable.

What else? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.