Conversations with craftspeople II: sound, colour and designing by ear; weaving by accident but with meticulous care

A few years ago at the Contemporary Craft Festival in Bovey Tracy, Devon, I wandered around the private view in a dream. It is refreshing to be at an event and not working: a rare day out; a moment to wonder. I have a few similar memories in recent years – a day’s awe in somebody else’s shoes: a gig in Sidmouth; a woodfair in Cornwood; a Hattersley in a blackhouse; an arrival in Stornoway; many a day on the road (where anything is possible); and that one. A day where my mind is so still and my eyes so wide that the forgotten comes right back in, along with people I might have known. At that gig, I remembered the kind of musician I wanted to be. At that woodfair, the handmade life I wanted to lead. Possibly at that private view, the craft that might make it be.

Weaving exhibitor Nick Ozanne‘s aesthetic is entirely different from mine: where I am drawn to the wildy, rugged, Celtic edges, his is a classically refined and tidy Englishness that nonetheless intrigues me. With his elegant silk scarves, pale skin and Virgoan attention to detail, there is something of the epicurean about him, and were we in another age, I’m sure he would be an apothecary, his shelves stacked neatly with beautifully labelled blue glass bottles full of medicinal wine, spices and herbs.

We reeled an array of conversation beginnings off the bobbin as quickly as saying hello. Busy with admiring customers, we were unable to have a long discussion, but here are 12 minutes of what he told me about his life and work as a weaver: Nick Ozanne, weaver, Leto & Ariadne

…and here is a screenshot/link to his website so you can meet him yourself:

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Conversations with craftspeople III: colour, design, dyeing, selvedge, looms, livelihood and fire hoses

My third maker-conversation at the all-abuzz Contemporary Craft Festival was with warm-hearted handweaver Sarah Beadsmoore, from Gloucester, who was displaying her beautiful silk scarves. (I had to slow the tempo down in the recording to compensate for my mania; we were not actually speaking at this laid-back Westcountry tempo, but I don’t want to drive my listeners mad with my hyperactivity!) Our weaving discussion covered:

Part 1: colour and dyeing; design and planning versus improvisation; making to order

Part 2: the pitfalls of weaving a selvedge

Part 3: making a living; loom types

…and we also learnt from a potential customer the importance of warp and weft in tough old canvas fire hose construction where the water must be able to stretch the fabric but not deform it.

Sarah’s lovely silk work, including commissions and teaching, is here:

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Conversations with craftspeople: light, colour, technique, tools, process, livelihood, story and business model

So, as introduced in my last post, the annual Contemporary Craft Festival in a wooded park in Bovey Tracy, Devon, is probably the Westcountry’s finest. Much of the work doesn’t even look handmade, it is that well crafted. It is a very glamorous, smooth-operating, but nonetheless human, event, with rusticity poking out and real people shining through.

Contemporary Craft Festival makers' cards

Woefully underprepared, inadequately kitted, hurriedly crazed and over-excitedly voluble, I dove back into the middle of Saturday’s throng fearing that stallholders would be too busy to talk, but found my most exciting snippet-giver momentarily still between sales, and warmly receptive.

Valérie Wartelle is a textile artist whose treatment of light, contrast and depth in her wet felted wool landscape abstractions is as striking – or moreso – as Turner’s treatment in oils, and even more of a marvel. Let’s call her ‘the felter of light’. Like the artist says of herself in my recording, I’ve never been drawn to feltwork, but Valérie’s is truly magnetic.

Small, blonde, French and beautiful, she met my intensity immediately, and as with the succeeding conversations, we were forging into rich, dense matter before I’d even had time to explain my interest, ask if I could record and press play. She explains that, as with many of us, she ‘fell into’ her craft and loves the surprising emergence of it as the materials and light ambitions lead her a merry dance which, her work shows, she steps with masterful agility.

Here are 9 minutes of our snatched discussion – Valérie Wartelle podcast.

I’m just editing my conversation with second craftsperson weaver Sarah Beadsmore and will post that soon, but first, below a screenshot to entice you to Valérie’s stunning website:

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I LOVE BEING IN THE ARTS WORLD! Barter, media, cross-fertilisation and creative enquiry

Dear Higher Education Sector,

I am SO grateful for all you taught me, and SO glad that you are shrinking small into a distant past.

Yours not at all,

Eloïse Liberty Sentito

For weeks I’ve been writing and rewriting and rewriting a short(ish) essay (not a rant, er…) on monetary reform, and also feeling that not addressing the question of whether the UK should stay in the EU is remiss at such a time.

So on the latter: to quote a friend, ‘I’m a nationalist and also an internationalist’. Basically, whilst I’ve some sympathy for individualistic tendencies – ahem – it seems that most arguments for ‘Brexit’ are fuelled by resentment that Europe is limiting the ever-mushrooming right wing freedom to exploit. (Anyway, isn’t a slower-growing economy a stabler one, and better for the majority?) Besides, though our little isle is crowded, overall (reports our tax office, HMRC), immigrants are more than paying their way. So broadly speaking, a vote to leave the EU this year looks like a vote for aggressive Neoliberalism, whereas for social justice, democracy and the environment, I’ll vote to stay. How about you? (With the recent election of a Muslim Labour Mayor of London, I have hope for our country, and also, unusually, pride.)

There, that’s some of the big topics, er, well, not ignored. The question of monetary reform will have to wait, as I’ve plenty to report about weaving these isles.

There have been barterings: here are some beautiful pictures by Californi-Italian coppersmith Marcella of Unicorn Vibration, who swapped a pin like this one for some remnants as photographic backdrops and sent me the results to share:



A DSLR camera barter is under discussion – by the skin of my teeth (typically) I’ve got this far without one.

And here are a couple of small picnic blankets I’ve made that might constitute my offer for a dauntingly heavyweight, three-octave, billion-buttoned, Hohner Contessa accordion I’ve been offered:

Tweed Harris picnic blanket pair close

(At 4′ x 4′ they may be too small for the accordion barter proposer’s family picnics, so they’re likely to come on general sale soon – stay tuned. SC, let me know your thoughts.)

I keep thinking of additional items to add to my barter wishlist – please keep an eye on that page for updates if you’d like to consider a swap.

There has been lots of weaving, and I’ve been commissioned to make a poncho that will disguise its wearer as a roe deer (just for the romance of it, as far as I know). A lovely challenge.

And there has been media interest: you may have seen my post about getting teleported (well, sort of) right into the Radio 4 studios for (an albeit brief) live broadcast of my thoughts on camper-travel, only for them to run out of time. Well, it was exciting anyway, but even more exciting is that the programme’s producer (no less) has got back in touch, as they may want to chat with me on another programme. Just so I can say it again: that is BBC Radio 4, the most prestigious station on one of the most respected broadcasting corporations in the world – and the people I’m in contact with are from one of the best and hardest programmes to get onto, says my music-plugging friend who knows them.

And there has been elegant hobknobbing with other craftspeople: every year the very high-end Contemporary Craft Festival graces nearby modest little Bovey Tracy. Every year I think I should apply but am unkeen to commit to specific whereabouts in midsummer six months hence, unable to muster the pitch fee, and unsure that I can summon the impressive coherence required for a successful application, or the necessary glamour of a super-chic mini-gallery that is every stall. However every year at the last minute a certain friend (thank you CD) conjures a spare ticket to the private view and so most years I get to dress up and race around the labyrinthine marquees finding plentiful inspiration, greeting maker-friends and spilling free champagne. This year said music-plugging friend whom I happened to speak to the same day after receiving the Radio 4 email (just checking you heard that) happened to be also going alone so we hooked up. It’s a fun, high-speed, stylish feast for the imagination, full of the Westcountry’s most interesting folk and UK makers from far further. I told myself that it was a work outing, and remembered to take cards (though didn’t think, in the warmth, to wear a wove). However I let myself off the hook and decided not to network but to enjoy. Dear ticket-conjuring friend also conjured an Indian meal out afterwards.

And then the next day I felt that the two hour private view simply hadn’t been enough and that, as well as only having had a quick look at fewer than all the stands, I was missing a trick. I do lots of networking online, so what was I doing dipping out of the face to face opportunity?

I loved being in the Hebrides last year feeling like an explorer on a journey of enquiry meeting their wool people and investigating their weaving traditions (and everything else) – and doing so in a way that was so much more free and spontaneous than in academic research. Why not put my own home area under the magnifier?

With radio on my mind and a warm recollection of profound conversations I’d had with wise lecturers in an education research project I’d conducted in my last chapter of life, I decided to return to the festival with a dictaphone to extend the snippets of conversation I’d begun with some intrigueing textile artists and weavers.

Light, colour, technique, tools, process, livelihood, story and business model were my themes (far too many of course). Valérie Wartelle (wetfeltscapes), Sarah Beadsmoore (silk scarves), Nick Ozanne (silk scarves) and Graeme Hawes (glassware) were my interviewees (I’d have loved more, but ran out of time, articulacy and battery). I’m just editing my four audio recordings and will share them with you here shortly.