About weavingtheseisles

An ex-educator, would-be musician and by-chance weaver, I’ve uprooted from a Dartmoor smallholding to travel the Anglo-Celtic Isles in a bus on a weavery investigation with a loom, a whistle and a hound, in search of autonomy and Celticness. I roam the most beautiful parts of Britain, Brittany and Ireland. My suppliers are local, my trade is online, my colleagues and customers are all over the world, and my inspiration is wherever I park.

Craft and the world

In Brittany’s most magical corners there’s a surge of new lichen growing. Lichen is very slow-growing, and only survives where the air is very clean. Evidence of the positive impact of lockdown on the environment.

I’ve been away from my workshop on what I hope will be my last househunt for a long time, and if things go to plan, These Isles will have a serious branding problem! I’ll explain anon. Meantime, I did actually take my smallest loom with me and am weaving warms for next winter.

Anyway, I return to my workshop still wondering how to get scarves to Ukrainians – though cold may not be a problem for them by now. I’ve organised an end-of-season sale in my shop, where the warmest snugs are now half price. If you happen to be in contact with any group of people in a chillier part of the world who might benefit from warm woollen donations, then I invite you or your organisation to buy up all my sale items and I will split this reduced price with you by a further 50%. (This is something I may also be able to offer in cooler seasons, if I’ve got older stock, so do please approach me another time too.) Get in touch if you can arrange that – or otherwise just browse for a treat for yourself, because you and I are also worth supporting.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/737737838/lichen-infinity-scarf-handwoven-from-uk

Selling my work at reduced prices is difficult since I barely scratch a van-dwelling living at full prices. ‘Reduced-price sales are the logic of capitalism’, says my French craftswoman friend, ‘and capitalism is the economics of the patriarchy.’ (Happily married with a husband and family, she was put off a druidic path by the chauvinism of the scene in her area of Brittany). She doesn’t sell her work at reduced prices. But she does sell her work with ‘normal’, debt-based money, and by my reckoning, as long as we all rely upon ‘normal’, debt-based money, we are all complicit.

So in the capitalist logic we proceed for surviving the present: after a small upturn last year, the first quarter of this year has been extraordinarily slow for me – so I’m running an end of season sale, and warmly invite you to take full advantage.

Things will change as and when we build this neo-peasant, self-sufficient village

Some Ukrainian makers have pivoted to selling digital downloads of art and patterns and the like. Etsy has waived fees for them to the tune of $4m. You can support their shops here.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/1174273430/ukraine-pray-for-ukraine-instant

I’m glad to report that my leatherworking contact in Nikolaev is ok. Though he has certainly had a tough time through the Russian invasion, his southwestern city is not a key target, and his morale still sounds intact. His daughter and grandchildren fled from their Ukrainian basement to Poland some weeks ago. Yesterday he wrote:

‘Our guys are fighting bravely and pushing the Russians back. What the Russians are doing on our land and with our people is a crime that cannot be forgiven. The Russians are brutally bombing our cities and villages. Our city of Nikolaev is also being shelled with rockets. Our guys shoot down part of the missiles, but people still die and houses are destroyed. But we believe in our army and our Victory. Thank you for the offer of help. But now we need so little: tap water or a quiet evening. We are optimists and hope that the work of the mail will soon improve and we, maybe in a month, will start working again. The post office is already accepting parcels. But the delivery time is not possible to specify exactly. I already miss my job. It’s hard to believe, but our farmers are already planting wheat, sunflower, corn. The crime of Russia can neither be understood nor forgiven. They must answer for the insanity and genocide of the 21st century.’

Don’t we wish we could send them tap water and a quiet evening – and be part of a West that listened to the concerns of the East. Though I fear that rifts are inevitable in this terminal divide-and-conquer economics of woefully unfree markets.

I may not often sound it, but I am truly grateful for what I have – even while I can envision so much better for us all.

Wishing you a Happy Easter and a hopeful spring.

The global village at war

As He Walked Out One Early Spring Morning. My goodness do I admire the solidarity of those who are heading to Ukraine to volunteer.

I dream of a Once and Future Village for a truly sustainable, fully localised economy. I curse the arms race that is the tech escalation. But some things never change. Humanity is one. Compassion is another. Community spirit another. And makership, and the respect between craftspeople…

Two years ago I sourced a beautiful leather watch cuff handmade by Sergej in Ukraine. A year later he made me another one to order as a gift for my stepfather. They are favourite articles of clothing that we will treasure for decades.

‘Naturally’ Sergej and I conducted our transaction online, but our written exchange was collegiate. As with most people I ever ‘meet’, I wish we were all in the same local village to get to know and trade with and support each other sustainably. But, hearteningly, some of this at least is possible even at a distance.

Sergej and his family live in SW Ukraine. I just sent him a message via Etsy to ask if there was anything he needs. I had a romantic notion to pack up some woollens to send for him and family, friends or neighbours, or otherwise to fundraise if they need money. He says there’s nothing he needs right now, and anyway the roads are destroyed so there’s no postal service. His shop is shut because he’s in a warzone. But his spirit is strong. Here is his testimony (warning: graphic violence).

Nikolaev, March 1st. 

‘Thank you very much for your support. My family doesn’t need anything. I have my own house, we gathered our children and during the shelling we hide in our basement. Fascist Russia, as you had in 1939-1940. Rocket attacks, tanks, bombs, dead and wounded, including small children (for example, in Poland). We ourselves help the soldiers and our wounded people. Our post office is not working yet and part of the roads are destroyed. But you can find volunteer organizations in Poland. There are many of our refugees with small children. Thanks again to you and all countries for solidarity. Together we will win. 

‘Your country’s help in the war with Russia is enormous. You handed over to our army anti-tank grenade launchers that saved the lives of thousands of our people. We live in the city of Nikolaev. Last night 6 tanks broke into the city center and our guys quickly destroyed them. And on the outskirts of the city they burned another 30 tanks. And so throughout the country. We have Russian planes bombing cities and villages every day. This is very similar to the struggle of your heroic country in the fight against Hitler. It is a great honor for us that our guys will fight next to your guys against modern Hitler. He brought 5 nuclear missiles to Belarus and demands lift the sanctions, blackmailing the entire Western civilized world. Do not be afraid of him. He is a deceiver and a coward like his entire fake army. This war must be brought to an end or it will go further. He has already stated that his next targets are Poland, the Baltic countries, Finland and Moldova. 

‘And yes please share our information. My wife and I have been corresponding with the whole world all these days, people should know the real face of Russian fascism. Yesterday, when negotiations were going on in Belarus, Russia used cluster bombs in the city of Kharkov in a residential area. People went to the store. 11 people died, 100 people were injured. An elderly woman’s leg was torn off. The main directions of the strike for the Russians are our city, Odessa, Mariupol, Kyiv and Kharkov. The city of Kherson is located between our city and Crimea. It is constantly bombed, local residents began to be taken hostage. All these days, tank columns are moving in our direction, which our soldiers are destroying (with British grenade launchers). Now the Russians have deceived people, put them on buses and want to take them in front of them. Last night, a column of tanks came out in our direction. set fire to dry reeds. There was fire on the tanks and our soldiers shot them. There are no “operations” that Putin came up with in his sick head. This is an attempt to destroy Ukraine, this is genocide in the 21st century. 

‘We have no fear, we help the army. People in the villages take to the roads and do not let the tanks go further. The police, the civil territorial defense and ordinary people work together. And together with the whole world. 

Best regards. 

Sergej’ 

(Sarmatia Leather)

Putin, some of your concerns are surely legitimate, but Putin, you have gone too far: you harm your cause as much as you harm everyone else. Putin, please stop.

Everyone else: shop Ukrainian craft, and boycott all things Russian. There’s a useful list of additional measures you can take here too, also from the horse’s mouth.

Rural economics: a lifeboat

I’ve been travelling the Celtic crescent, learning more of its ways and looking for somewhere I could afford to call home. A self-employed creative selling exclusively online with advanced professional skills, the gift of the gab and a warmhearted smile, I find many corners of wonder, and many welcomes.

I’m a native of the gnarly woods and rugged heights of the sublime but conservative desert that is Dartmoor. I left its raw beauty, artistic networks and counter-cultural cleaves in an unavoidable wrench that felt like divorce six years ago: left the smallholding of my dreams because I was not able to do the smallholding of my dreams on a rental property in a monetary economy. Let alone make art at the same time – or love.

Indeed, very few are able, and if they have a car, as every country dweller must in a monoculture countryside hollowed of social and economic life, then their ecological footprint goes straight into the measure of multiple planets. (And that’s just smallholders; my good farming neighbours are dysfunctionally subsidised to take part in one of the dirtiest industries in the world: industrial capitalism both over-inflates and fatally undermines agricultural business in toxic co-dependency.)

My understanding is that the logics of subsistence and monetary economics are in irreconcilable conflict. My theroetical analysis tells me that the latter will always subsume the former due to the voracious dynamic of the debt based monetary system. My own and others’ personal and professional lived experience, as well as my reading of history, tells me that the conflict will, except for the most privileged, generally lead to breakdown in any individual or community that tries to straddle both logics. The problem is that the very desirable comforts of the industrial economy necessitate certain conveniences which short-circuit the subsistence model and undermine your very ability (skills, community networks, art creation) to self-subsist.

As long as you are part-plugged in to the monetary economy and trying to participate in mainstream society as is, you are extremely unlikely to contract your carbon footprint as much as is necessary to limit global warming to 1.5º because the monetary economy requires you to grow, not contract nor even just maintain, your consumption levels. Furthermore, as soon as you depend on any one product of industrial capitalism, you are dependent on the whole filthy, exploitative, growth-dependent, global infrastructure necessary to get that one artefact to you for your pleasure, convenience, business or so-called health. And the system owns you too – even if you are one of the lucky ones who is not in debt.

I think it may be all or nothing, but stepping outside of all this alone is nigh-impossible; stepping out of it with others is very much hard enough. Yet staying in it is disastrous; staying partially in it, torturous. Our ships are sinking at different rates, depending on how high up the capitalist pyramid you already are. With talent and privilege like the cultural capital I have, I could elbow enough of you out of the way, capitalist-style, and climb up over you to get higher up the pyramid, but what choice is this?

Instead I’m inviting you to join me on a lifeboat of our own making to go and build something different; something truly sustainable; something that will stay standing when all else collapses.

Does our society make sense to you? Does capitalism work for you, morally and spiritually as well as materially? Does your life make sense as it is?

Do you want to own land? Do you already own too much land and wish to sell or give away a little, or co-operativise it?

The lifeboat looks like this.

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.

Neckerchiefs

In my last post I introduced a new limited edition range of slim, unisex neckerchiefs with ties. Here are some more pictures of those, plus an introduction to the double thickness, bulkier, thermal version. All handwoven in lambswool and finer than my other weavings to date, the double thickness ones are large and square, like a small blanket scarf. However, there are only a few and I may not make any more, so if one grabs you, hurry to the checkout straight away!

None of these is as sustainable as I would wish, nor as cost-effective as I’d hoped, and these two neckerchief designs are too labour intensive to continue without a price hike. But because I love this style, and since my shop needs some garments at ‘entry level’ prices, I may find an alternative design one winter in a local yarn – which would be more expensive for me to buy but if it’s thicker it’s less labour-intensive to work (a UK living wage is the most expensive part of production costs).

So for now, there is just a small splay of both designs that I’ve listed in the ‘scarves, snugs, snoods, cowls‘ section of These Isles’ shop.

Internationalist localism

International Women’s Day 2021. The day after my birthday. The moor that spawned me. The Nepali-based friend who was born here too. A beautiful hound. A winter-worn brackenscape. Some wholesome cloth.

Limited edition lambswool neckerchiefs new in the These Isles shop. Superb images by super-pro Alice Carfrae. Some upmarket styling care of my Italian roots. Provenance woven in as standard.

Makership as your act of resistance?

Does a craft livelihood make intuitive sense to you, but not economic sense? Do you want to do something like I do? Not that it’s right for everyone, but…

Dave Darby of the fantastic lowimpact.org interviewed me last week on how I got going as a professional handweaver, how I get by, and how we can change economics to truly work for local craft livelihood. Like me, he would like to see the revival of the once and future village in which local needs are met by local people using local resources, local skills and local (positive only) currency.

Meantime we can transition by using digitech to join forces around the world and grow the ideas amongst far-flung like-minds until we reach a critical mass or capitalism reaches a critical collapse (whichever is the sooner, it’s a bit of a race! But did you know that a generic critical mass is estimated to be only around 3% – easily achievable!) This video is part I, with parts II and III forthcoming. I really recommend subscribing to the lowimpact blog and joining that most visionary community – it’s full of bottom-up solutions to most of our current global crises.

Join us!

Smaller, better, slower, less

Being a(n over-educated) peasant struggling to find enough natural habitat to survive in undisturbed by the ravages of capitalism, I have naturally always been concerned about our impact on the living world, for its sake as well as mine. I’m increasingly concluding that the way of life I’ve always aspired to – self-sufficiency – is the best response to our modern crisis, since I understand that crisis as biosphere breakdown caused by too many industrialists. 

The problem is that industrialism requires, creates and maintains – and then requires, creates and maintains, in an exponentially-ever-hungrier vicious circle – more industrialists than this planet can sustain. Such is the dynamic of capitalism, which some argue began with the advent of agriculture (the first land enclosure) in the no-longer-fertile crescent some 12,000 years ago, and which can be understood as being locked in place now by our modern debt-based monetary system. (Unless this gives way to positive monetary systems, we’re screwed. A tech-fix is like an arms race: ever escalating, and at best, replacing biological life with electronic life. Is there any more horrifying prospect than that?) 

And, having multiplied even after our lands have been grabbed from us, we cannot now all go back to the land, as revolutionary Mark Boyle points out. (His book, ‘The Way Home; tales from a life without technology’, is the most beautiful solace and solution I have ever read – the one of which I’ve always dreamed – if, devastatingly, not possible for all of us, and pretty damn hard for most of us.)

So in 2014, on the brink of making a leap out of the rat race in which even the lovely Higher Education races to the bottom in the ever-tightening capitalist squeeze, I designed a business that would help sustain a smallholding life. As my regular readers will know, paradoxically I had to fly from the rental smallholding-on-which-I-was-not-smallholding in order to cut my living costs to get a labour-intensive smallholding-friendly business off the ground. Even seven years on this business would still not afford me a rental smallholding, let alone one of my own, nor leave any leftover time/energy for the full-time job of smallholding. (No surprises there: everyone has always said that, at the very least, you have to own your own land outright – and presumably occupy the whole family on it.)

So, broadly speaking, the obvious conclusion is that in general one EITHER spends one’s time on direct survival (foraging, hunting, growing, cooking, making and heating one’s home) OR on earning money to pay other people to do this for you so that you barely get to enjoy your home and completely forget how to survive, living a longer, less healthy life on the back of others’ industrial labour. And their industrial labour is a very far cry from the wholesome foraging, hunting, growing, cooking, making and heating of old, isn’t it.

Says Boyle: ‘yes, it’s important not to romanticise the past, but be [bloody] careful not to romanticise the future, either.’ Or the present, I would add. Being electrohypersensitive, my kind would be the first to die off in an AI future. I’m pretty sure I know which kind of era you, my readers, would more readily accept, tackle, and thrive in, too.

And there isn’t time or energy in the day for both direct-survival and business-as-means-of-survival, on the whole. Not for one person, and not if you want to do them both well, i.e. sustainably. Sustainability in my world requires doing things yourself, slowly, by hand. In production, as in education, healthcare and other sectors I’m sure, economies of scale are too often economies of ethics.

So I’m facing, as ever, and as we all are, really big life questions that threaten the future of my business, my home and my very existence. I don’t yet know what I’ll do, but since I’ve been facing these things for years and finding creative workarounds, I will probably continue these crazy contortions and you will still be hearing from me yetawhile.

Meantime, drop in the ocean though my micro-business is, I’ve drawn up a chart for more accountability regarding its sustainability, and scored myself on my different products, including drawing a generic comparison with the products of both larger, ethically-minded businesses and much larger, mainstream corporations. It’s broad brush, but I hope it is both informative and thought-provoking nonetheless. Textiles is a foul industry, on the whole, and fashion is the third most polluting after oil and agriculture. 

Greater sustainability is always possible in theory, but, depending on how you weight the environmental and social factors (which in turn depends on your subjective understanding of capitalism – and even of life and death, come to that!), These Isles is fairly high-scoring, as you’d expect. See what you think on my new ‘Sustainability’ page. 

My forthcoming products will be labelled with my own star rating, and the first batch (ponchos) is the highest I can presently achieve at four and a half stars out of five. Here‘s the first one, and please follow my shop for nine more appearing in the next few days and weeks.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/1076946269/dark-brown-handwoven-poncho-in-undyed

Ponchos, or thereabouts

Fun with a photoshoot in a late summer field, to give you a taste of These Isles weavings coming up for sale in my Etsy shop soon: next up, eight ponchos in mostly artisan British yarns, some undyed, some handspun, some plant dyed, and some dyed in sea colours – plus one with some wholesome Himalayan nettle yarn from a small import business in my local market which buys direct from the gnarly women spinners in the rugged Nepali mountains. (They use their teeth with drop spindles as they tramp the mountain paths.)

Stay tuned for the listings appearing over the next few weeks as those of us in the northern hemisphere prepare ourselves for autumn.

Soonly.

Eloïse

PS Please don’t say you want the plain dark brown (Hebridean) one (the last one) – I’m keeping that one for myself. But please do say if you love it as I’ll bear you in mind to maybe make some more like it.

Craft economics and housing crisis: why I do what I do the crazy way that I do

I’ve spent the summer developing the most sustainable product my itinerant business can feasibly produce: ponchos made from all-British, mostly undyed, artisan wool. They’re not in fancy colours, they’re not super-soft, and they’re not going to be cheap. (You already know that.) But they are handsome and wholesome in every way (you know that too). I will launch them in the next month or so, so keep an eye here and in my shop. Meantime…

Last week I was interviewed by Devon Live reporter Frankie Mills who’s one of a team investigating how the national housing crisis afflicts our rural county. My particular story is highly idiosyncratic, but in essence the story is the same the world over. The issues behind it concern every person and creature on this planet. To explain in brief:

Buying a home in (my native) Devon countryside on an average income has not been possible for some decades. A local craft business can barely even achieve an average income since global capitalism means we’re always outcompeted by cheap, industrialised labour in poorer countries.

So if your main skills are not managerial but hands-on; if your ethics value local over imports; and if your mental health requires rural life and self-employment, you are likely to live at the behest of far wealthier landowners (who are also the only few who can even begin to afford your services or wares, even though they’re only produced at minimum wage, max).

That means being a lodger, or living in a caravan (my parents’ neighbour charges some £400 pcm for a pitch on his land, which is about a quarter of an average wage here), or a rental house share. Which may be acceptable when you’re very young, but not when you’re middle aged, have health issues, or are trying to sustain a family, or a professional career – or even just a craft business.

And of course this situation only worsens as long as neoliberalism concentrates wealth yet further so that modest people in all walks of life are more and more squeezed.

This is acutely felt in a county like Devon where the rich-poor divide is extreme and the modest are less and less able to participate in society.

It is not poverty, but wealth, that is the problem: not poverty, but the poverty gap that cripples. (Debt is obviously only an interim solution that in most cases makes your situation worse.)

How can those (most of us) priced out of access to land ever hope to minimise our carbon footprint and environmental impact whilst maximising our positive social impact if we can’t afford a simple, self-sufficient life with autonomy and rights?

It’s estimated that the global 1% (and that includes vandweller-me here in the West) is currently responsible for some 70-odd% of environmental destruction worldwide, and that each of us is sustained by sixteen workers (basically, slaves) around the world.

Our planet may be able to sustain about a billion long-living, industrial capitalists in material comfort, or about ten billion shorter-lived, more self-sufficient peasants on the land. But not both, and not more.

By that reckoning, a billion long-living, industrial capitalists need either sixteen billion short-living, urban-caged workers to sustain them, or a web of machines as complex as the current web of life, with the sixteen billion dead.

Maybe if that billion, long-living, industrial capitalist group served by an unimaginably complex web of machines trod very lightly, biological life on our planet would come back from the brink to rewild around them. But that’s a pretty big ‘if’, isn’t it?

So that’s the sixteen billion AND the biosphere dead. Neither Gates nor Bezos wants that. They probably also know that they would not enjoy life on Mars.

So what to do?

Personally, I’m emigrating to wherever I can afford my own garden with a shed to live in without enslaving anyone but myself. Though of course my relative wealth in that place will adversely affect that local land market in this stinking pyramid-scheme economics. Ouch.

That’s what we have to change, before it’s too late. This stinking pyramid-scheme economics. #changemoneychangetheworld!