October oak: economics of craft and art

…truly sustainable economics are different again, but since I’m still operating in the logic of capitalism rather than subsistence, here is an economy of scale compelled by capitalism but restrained by integrity…

I’m on a mission to streamline my business a bit for cost-effectiveness (because it’s swim or sink; there’s seldom an enduring just-stay-afloat option in a growth-based economics).

Up until now one of my slow-factors has been my practice of varying style and design much more than I can financially afford to do. For efficiency, much as I believe in resisting that drive, I need to be less artist and more producer.

I’m intending to reduce the number of different garments and different style garments I make in order to concentrate on a narrower, more cohesive, range or two. Colour patterns will also need to be more streamlined.

This is less fun for me, as I love constant innovation and experimentation. But constant innovation takes time and energy, both creative and technical: time and energy that I should be putting into making and selling more quantity.

Now, don’t worry, I will never go commercial or race to the bottom: I’m just talking about a little upscale to small cottage industry production – if I can even call it that as a sole trader working in a tiny home. I’m trying to hone designs that are interesting for me to make, and content myself with quickly weaving up a batch (between four and ten) of identical, rather than varied garments.

This allows me to save time in another of the slowest steps too: the photographing and listing. Currently one varied batch (30′ of cloth) is likely to take the best part of a day to model and photograph on me and close up, then up to an additional day to edit the ~50 best of the ~150 photos, then another few half days to create the listings, then a few hours on a few subsequent days for marketing here on social media. (Variables at play here are weather, location, personal vibrancy for modelling, and health: holding a digital camera against my forehead gives my brain a jolt and leaves me feeling carsick since the magnetic field flashes high with the shutter; computer time is even more debilitating…) I can probably halve production time in these steps, and then I at a certain point (not too far off now) I won’t have to keep putting my prices up.

So here you see the results of a dyeing experiment as I work out whether there’s a quicker way to achieve fine, organic-looking, irregular stripes more quickly than in my previous method of varying the yarns as I wind 9000′ of warp (by the way, that’s the heigh at which a buzzard soars on a clear day with good thermals).

This dip-dyeing technique will give me less control in the warp-winding-design step, but more surprise, which is often even more gratifying.

Since it took the whole month of September, including some weekends, to hand-dye just five kilos of wool, so far it’s not looking like a quicker method, BUT a) five kilos is five batches, making warp for 20 ponchos, or 100 snugs (that’s a lot, aaargh!); b) this is the first time I’ve done dip-dyeing, and I only had a sudden window of opportunity to do it and no planning time, so as is often my wont, I was winging it a bit; c) being practically incapable of non-improvisation, I used lots of different dyestuffs for five different, very varied, batches of 1kg each or less (instead of concentrating on doing one big batch with no time-consuming variables and mistakes); d) I GOT SOME GREAT RESULTS!

Here you see experiments with rhubarb leaf mordant, tansy, dandelion and onion skin dye, plus an alkalising modifier of washing soda to intensify the rusts and green the yellows. ‘October Oak’. There are four ponchos of it for sale in my shop NOW, all in British Jacob wool that was unbleached and undyed until I put my borrowed-garden plants to it.

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