Amidst the intensity of my feelings for the current political landscape, a little hiatus as my next work deadline is postponed for reasons to do with rain, and so a moment of stillness to write about weaving.
Weaving is almost always a relief, a comfort blanket.
To fit in with a once-dreamed smallholding life, I chose a methodical, solo craft because I knew I needed the soothing, and so it is. I feel a little selfish just getting on with my own, enjoyable, thing though when there is so much wrong in the world. Is this the current dividing line between political left and right, where in the latter you just get on with making things work for you?
Is it possible to feather one’s own nest without exploiting others? The debt money analysis would have it that it’s not, given that our current mechanism of money creation is through the generation of debt, *requiring* everyone to extract surplus value from any transaction simply in order to service loans, and thus inclining the dog to eat the dog. On Saturday I heard, and met, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s right hand, shadow chancellor John McDonnell, and though monetary reform does not yet seem to be an explicit part of his ‘New Economics’, his proposals could begin to lay the foundations for nationalised positive (non-debt) money. It seems that this could release us from a deadlock that currently severely limits the effect of most policy for wealth equality. (Above all, I came away feeling that he was a good, bright, trustworthy man; not radical, but a wholesome, committed, social democrat.)
One of the key messages I’m reading into politics at the moment is that things need to and are starting bottom-up, i.e. we are the change. If we are the new economics, what can each of us do in our little spheres to change our own habits and the wider culture?
I don’t consider money a necessary evil, but as something neutral that can oil the wheels. Currency is like lubricant: it needs to flow evenly throughout the engine, not pool or leak or sput with airlocks. However perhaps there are parts of the machine that can operate without lubricant – perhaps with a coolant, instead. If the oil in the engine is money, then the coolant is perhaps goodwill.
You may have seen my post about barter, and new dedicated webpage. I’m relocating from a lush Devon valley to nearby higher ground for a short time, and my pitch fee will be looking after a polytunnel. I’ll do some extra harvesting in exchange for eating from it. I’ve mentioned already that as well as ongoing mechanicry/scarves exchange I’ve been offered an iPhone for a snug (only sadly the older US iPhones won’t work here in Europe); an impressive accordion for a couple of family picnic blankets (thanks for your patience, Sarah); and I’m about to receive a ready-to-go DSLR Nikon D80 camera as part-payment for a shawl, so my photos will be much the better. Very excited.
My weavings are expensive: I can’t compete with the low labour costs of some countries, so it’s nice to offer flexibility for those less able to afford costlier UK-made crafts. As well as barter and the option to pay in instalments, I’m wondering about introducing a Robin Hood pricing system in which I offer weavings at two different prices: the ‘Sheriff’s’ price and the ‘Merry Men’s’ price, with the former being above the cost of production and the latter below. It would rely on honesty (I wouldn’t want to vet people), with those able to afford more subsidising those able to afford less.
Thinking about feathering one’s own nest and those who’ve had to flee their nest, another idea is to test the water for selling blankets at one and a half times their production cost and undertake to make a second blanket half-covered by that price which I and the buyer would jointly donate to refugees or other homeless people in the winter. If you haven any experience of this kind of arrangement, I’d be glad to hear your comments below.
I started getting excited about blankets as soon as I started this business, and though I’ve not made that many I’m still compelled by them more than by any of the other things I make. There’s something truly honest about a blanket.
Bearing in mind the picnic blanket photoshoot I did on a Scottish island beach where the wind was so strong I had to stake the thing to the sand with knives, I was planning a similar scene down here in Devon…
…but then had another idea. You may have seen it already: ‘Never mind the picnic…’
Does this make the blankets a little less honest?! After the saucier scenario I enjoyed a return to a more innocent vignette:
The top key phrase that people use in searches that land them on my weavings is ‘men’s poncho’. I never wanted to make ponchos – though didn’t mind if instead I could call them ‘ruanas’ (for red-haired Irish maidens) or ‘mauds’ (for kilt-clad Scottish shepherds), or ‘capes’ (Johnny Depp or some such swarth on horseback). Just not ‘ponchos’. But people don’t search much for ‘ruanas’ or ‘mauds’, and I’m not sure that ‘cape’ is an accurate description of what I make (suggestions, anybody?). However, when someone approached me requesting a ‘poncho that looked like a roe deer’ I was inspired to take the challenge.
I had a practice-run with some chunky undyed Bulgarian wool from Rodolpi Mountain sheep and made this large blanket-poncho whose neck I’m considering sewing up (against the votes of some kind poncho-loving followers) to make it into a plain blanket.
Then I found this photo of a roe deer (by Neil McIntyre) and rummaged right to the back of my man-sized woolstore and found all the rusts, browns, greys and creams requested, and, with much trialling, undoing, redoing and cursing, made a roe deer poncho.
I used 12 different wools: undyed Rodolpi Mountain (Bulgaria, cream and rabbit coloured), Jacob’s (Devon, dyed rust), luxury Alpaca (Devon, chestnut and chocolate), Welsh Mountain (black), Shetland (light brown), Castlemilk Moorit (Midlands, milky coffee colour) and tweed (Scotland, cream and dark brown). Here are some pictures of the happy wearer wandering in the woods (we just hope that he is not so well disguised as to be shot!):
I’m wondering about weaving a barn owl one too…
In other news, things are exciting on the publicity front: I had a poetic, rambling interview conducted by Etsy’s soft-spoken, attentive Julie Schneider by phone from New York, whose eyes, I could hear, were wide with flattering wonder (some people just have that way about them – the type who sees magic everywhere). I gave her a tour of my motorhome-workshop, revealed a few practical secrets and told her a few tales from the road. She will write it up soon and publish it as part of Etsy’s Inspiring Workplaces series, where you can read other examples of her beautiful storytelling.
Julie asked me for a photographer recommendation and I was really glad to be able to knobble old friend and photographer colleague Alice Carfrae, whose adventures in photojournalism find her mostly in China but, luckily for me, briefly back in the UK at just the right moment. Alice and I are going up onto the open moor (Dartmoor National Park) tomorrow for a photoshoot to accompany Julie’s text. To make the most of the light and atmosphere Alice will stay with me overnight so as to capture some dusk, night-time and dawn shots too, and in our own time Alice has suggested we cook up an additional pitch for a magazine. She’ll be earning some more weaving credit, as another happy barter. She will be my first overnight guest, probably sleeping in close proximity to Murphy – good job she’s a dog-lover! (If you are too, keep an eye out for her upcoming assignment for Dog TV, where I’ve heard that there will be some exciting action takes.) The fruits of our labour will appear here next time (and there will be some blankets involved).
Meantime, back to the political campaigning in the hopes that social/environmental justice and true democracy rather than neoliberalist guzzling will come to define post-Brexit Britain. I’m looking forward to seeing Corbyn live in action in Cornwall on Saturday. I’ll probably need to write about it, as I’ve needed to write about a couple of other significant political meetings lately – one here, and one forthcoming on the emerging Progressive Alliance. However I’m endeavouring to get my purely political rants heard elsewhere so that this blog retains some focus on weaving and the handmade lifestyle and doesn’t bend your ear.