First winter over

It’s been a while – the winter was difficult.

Not because of living in a van: that continues to be bliss. I love it. It’s so right. My home is with me wherever I am. Everything I own and need is within an arm’s length, all the time. I don’t have much, but I have loads, and still the odd inch to spare. I only need one of anything. I have brass taps (well, *a* brass tap). I have a new MOT with only one advisory (the bumper was held on with cable ties. I thought I’d graduated from bailer twine, but the kind man at the testing station advised that bailer twine would be better, and luckily I had some). I have had, thanks to my mother, two very comfortable medium-term parking spots with facilities – which means that an electric fan heater dried out the damp corners; half a MB of bandwidth kept me in touch with customers; and there was a fireside to sit by when I wanted company.

I’ve been in Devon since Christmas, and in reach of some of my best friends, and in Brittany before that, where I made new ones.

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In itself I don’t mind the cold and dark and wet – it is intrinsic to the character of the places I love, and a crucial part of their beauty.

But the winter is always difficult: damp wood to burn; deep mud to lug hay bales through; hungry horses skirmishing; dark mornings to get up to; dark evenings to come home to; the hurtling train off the rails that is the academic year; the unmovable deadline that is Christmas.

However, all but this last I have left behind, so it wasn’t that. This winter it was family dynamics, the death of my father, Italian bureaucracy, even more acute money worries than usual (before Christmas), and long, long hours of work. Things intensify in the winter.(I’m thinking of ways to make rugged woollens appealing in the summer too – picnic and saddle blankets are my favourite ideas.) At least I enjoy my work. 

Of course there has been ever-intensive learning, and lots of it.

In relation to my business, I’m learning to take myself more seriously; price myself properly; use spreadsheets fully; quote realistically; design confidently; network strategically; begin to understand the bio-rhythms of my work as well as my personal ones; promote with endless enthusiasm; retain the spirit of trust and generosity, and say no. All because of a fairly sore need: constantly improvising, making something new every time, making endless mistakes on the loom; handling commissions inefficiently; misjudging timescales; promoting vaguely; exhausting my resources working for less than £1 an hour. Well, I’m not doing as badly as all that, but I have been stressed and tired.

In the photos below is the documentary of a mistake (by burning) that cost me 14 hours (and a discount). I had to cut out a section of the (synchronously over-long) weaving and tie the two parts back together thread by every single wretched thread, weaving each end back in by hand with a needle in both directions. (Yes, it would have been quicker to have started again, but I hadn’t the heart, and after at least an hour’s motionless deliberation, boldly took the scissors to this expensive, luxury shawl – ouch.)

Thankfully the lovely customer was understanding!

Do come in I am already disturbed

On Christmas Eve – of all times – my shop was featured in a promotion by the #Etsy Powers That Be. My monthly visitors that I had built up to 1000 soared to 5000 in one day. I needed a break, had a sociable Christmas planned (which was busy, and fun), and so was unable to make the most of the sudden surge in potential custom. Nonetheless, it helped my following grow. A few great customers came my way just then, and waited patiently while A Lot Happened, and the first quarter of 2016 saw me working to a month’s waiting list throughout.

And at the end of the waiting list I am, on the one hand, desperately plugging away on the social media platforms, and, on the other hand, free to make what I want to make. The market wants soft, but I want a rugged, homespun look – I have got too smooth already! Always a compromise, and a tricky contortion – though that can result in just the right thing, as long as it’s not excruciating. So it’s a breather time (ignoring for a minute the worst of the admin: the accounts – which are not even that bad but which have a way of looming ominously anyway) in which I look up and look around and see where I am and where I want to go next. It’s blankets and saddle blankets really, but people keep buying other things, and so I keep making batches of those other things, and then other people see those other things for sale, and buy those other things, or order those other things, and so I keep making those other things… So I’m not obliged to a husband, landlord, boss, children or horses,  but I will be a slave to the market in a minute!

But here is a more earthen blankety run in progress (the double thickness and tricky warp took some seriously hard beating and I broke my loom, but replacement parts eventually arrived and I will do it again, because the results are worth it, IMHO):

The customer was delighted with her green saddle blanket around which this batch was designed, and I’m looking forward to seeing pictures of her horse wearing it in Australia:

The remaining two of the saddle blankets are on sale here. (Horse-lovers might like this gorgeous collection of handmade saddlery too.)

Geographically speaking, *next* was probably going to be the Isle of Lewis: familiar, functional, beautiful, musical, affordable, spacious, and the source of one of my favourite yarns, with which I need to restock: that beautiful, rugged, subtle, rainbow virgin British wool used for Harris Tweed.

However I’ve been enjoying gigs and folk clubs and musicmaking so much in Devon – which is just starting to blossom – that I’m inclined to stay a while longer, perhaps even for the summer. A few exciting-sounding opportunities for pitch/duty barter are emerging (for any Dartmoor readers, I’ve put out word for summer camping spots, which I’ll swap for daily duties or a weaving).

Even more exciting: I have booked a converted stable in ancient woodland halfway up a Connemara mountainside to stay the Autumn.

So thank goodness for another re-emergence. Here are the new shoots on our morning walk, and, at the bottom, the view of willows, oaks and the stream I’ve been looking at for a few months. There is an accidental weaving that has just come out perhaps because I hadn’t dared attempt to weave this view despite many a ponder.

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