Inklings of renaissance

Happy New Year! Well, I had the sweetest Christmas, how was yours? Always exhausted at the year’s end, I crashed before getting to the end of the working year, but was able to do a little more, if not round off the batch of seascapes I was in, and stave off a proper bout of lurgy.

In a lovely Devon pub I met a beautiful, high-powered friend who works for a big NGO and we talked about how localism had left her discourse but how that was probably because it was by now a given in her development projects, so that ‘developing’ countries don’t just ‘develop’ in the same fatally flawed way that ours have done. Instead, like a good un, she’s getting anti-neoliberalism and post-neoliberalism on the table at talks with bigwigs from multiple southern hemisphere nations. We egged each other on and made a toast.

And in a lovely Devon café I met a gorgeous, bright woodman who’s looking for a smallholding partner. We had a dimpsey walk by the river, visited a printing press, sung into a mini-amphitheatre, enjoyed coffee and cake and a harp recital and browsing the right-on books for sale. We are also egging each other on and making toasts (and porridge).

However, I did then leave Devon regretfully to come to Brittany (optimistically), where a borrowed cottage affords me the comfort of a woodburner, beautiful extensive forest and a bigger workshop space. This last gives me room to try out my new treadle that I bartered in the Green Cloth Collective, where – compliment of compliments – another weaver and Ashford dealer traded it for a bluebellwood shawl of mine. I’m hoping that higher weaving speeds will increase productivity and thus sales, because sales tend to happen when new listings flurry my shop. This year, despite an excellent November/December thanks to BBC Radio 4, sales/orders have dropped off more over the Christmas/New Year period than they have done in the past. That’s nailbiting since the ferry and cottage cost a little more than staying in my van – which still costs, nonetheless.

I finished the batch of seascapes and found a Breton beach to rival the most stunning Cornish, Hebridean and Connemara ones. The bitter squalls rivalled the most stinging Cornish, Hebridean and Connemara ones too, and the breakers were bigger than the islets in the bay.

But in between  horizontalpours I crabbed around patches of virgin sand, leaning in as far as I could to place a weaving on the clean canvas, occasionally falling on an elbow and spoiling it, then following my tracks back around to move to another virgin patch, one eye on the rising tide, fingers freezing, admiring the view, missing the shot of sunlight, getting back to work, positioning everything perfectly, waiting for another shot of sunlight, running out of camera battery, replacing the camera battery, returning to catch the blowing-away garment, anchoring it with rocks and weed, awaiting another shot of sunlight, readjusting my metre, greeting the sunshot, cursing Murph who was clingy and cold and casting a shadow, getting him out of the way, awaiting another shot of sunlight, and throwing my arms up in the air at another dog hurtling towards us and skidding into my vignette, and crabbing around to another patch of virgin sand… And so on.

Petrol blue alpaca infinity scarf in landscapePetrol blue alpaca infinity scarf ring 2dark royal blue sea cowl round knotsBlue snug knots

Two blue snugs

Vertical seascape cowlDark royal blue snug round close

Largest all-Shetland sea cowl round on beachSea lettuce scarf knot

Grey green sea cowl ruffledGrey green sea waves weed detailSea remnant detail blurGrey Shetland sea scarf flotsamFoggy Atlantic purple grey green cowl blown open

 

I think 2018 is going to bring renaissance. Be at the heart of it. Join the Green Cloth Collective, for a start. It’s wicked.

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Honest cloth

My uncle is dying of a brain tumour in a nursing home, and I’m on the way with hound and accordion having promised him a tune. Radio 4, which sometimes irritates the hell out of me when it does its privilege-preening BBC establishmentism that is abhorrently irrelevant to most of society (or should be, IMHO), is on form today.

Imagine knowing you’re in the path of the ‘perfect storm’, battoning down the hatches and praying they’re strong enough; or stuffing your car and praying you get to shelter in time; or turning away from the evacuation aircraft because they won’t take your dog; or tethering your livestock to trees as if holding them down will save them from hurricanes and floods. Imagine knowing that you’re not quite in the path of the storm but that the path of tornadoes cannot be predicted at all. Imagine knowing they’re coming but not knowing where.

Imagine being a Muslim in Myanmar, where the state for years denies ethnic cleansing, and the world doesn’t know.

Imagine being cleared by fire from your village because the land you inhabit is to be enclosed for the grazing of sheep for wealth to conquer other lands.

Journalist Dan Saladino takes us to Georgia, at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe – and here my tale beautifies, for Dan Saladino is a poet, and his programme is about wine.

We hear Orthodox Christians sing their prayers, and we’re told that wine here is truly sacred, exalted in love. But as the programme unfolds I observe that this sanctity is not religious, and this love not holy. This sanctity and love are heartwarmingly political and personal.

Georgia’s survival down the centuries, and therefore its identity, has depended on winemaking. Birthplace of wine some 8000 years ago, it has been the livelihood of a disproportionately high number of citizens. Caught in the crossfire of empire-building, her warriors tucked root stock from their vines under their tunics when they went out on the war path to defend their territory. Not religious or superstitious belief (although maybe it was that as well), but pragmatic: if, whilst out fighting, our villages are sacked, we can replant our vines and rebuild our livelihood.

Light enough to travel: your loom, your yarn, your computer, your accordion, your hound, all in your van. Your livelihood: freedom and resilience both.

Eloïse of These Isles portrait by Alice Carfrae, courtesy of Etsy, Inc

Saladino visits a family who’ve been making wine for generations. Their vineyard is more like an untended garden, where vegetables and nettles entangle beneath the vines. The vintner, with a vesselful of chagrin, admits that this began with laziness but became culture as the grape thrived, and through the foreign tongue you can hear his grin.

My unplanned cloth colours, warp improvised with impatience, impulsiveness and a reckless glee in spontaneity. A deliberate practice in organicness: chaotic emergence of landscape inspiration; only slightly stylised, and often then by luck. And people kindly say I’m great with colour. We are but conduits: the wove weaves itself, as a song writes itself, as a story tells itself. Less choice than we like to believe; less control than we wish we could have.

Longest green shawl 4

The vintner describes a handful of a grape: difficult to grow, unpredictable as a plant and as a wine, changeable even through the day according to unknown factors. His wife, who has known him since childhood, names it after him, and laughs with great love in her voice.

With a qvevriful of pride, the vintner describes his zero-compromise approach. Non-judgmentally he criticises farming practices that correct and over-correct in constant compensation: put this in the soil, do that to the plant; do this to the land, spray that on the plant. A process of refinement that can easily go too far.

Every artist knows this one, and everyone else too: the table-leg job. Crazy artificial.

Every weaving has flaws, and I have a constant dilemma of which to correct, if any, and which to leave. As a bit of a pedant, this is good practice. My rule of thumb is whether the flaw compromises the structural integrity of the cloth. Will a mis-threading result in a constant crease along the length? Will a missed pick result in a loop of thread that will snag? My other rule of thumb is whether the colour arrangement  is enhanced or compromised. If I’m working a neat geometric pattern with colours symmetrical (which is rare), I feel to correct everything. If I’m working a landscape with twenty organically-blended colours and a thread breaks, I sometimes like to tie on a new colour in its place – whatever is to hand, just for the sake of it. (Ooo, the rebellion.) Sometimes there are flaws which I take days to correct. Sometimes there are flaws which I haven’t time to correct. Sometimes there are flaws that I can’t correct. And sometimes there are flaws that I choose to leave. For Allah. Or someone.

Flawed cloth

Saladino talks with an American Gospel singer in her twenties who’s emigrated to Georgia. We hear her soulful voice soaring in praise above the congregation. Gladness and gratitude. She’s also got Wine, and has learnt to make it. She laments that Georgian wine is referred to as ‘natural wine’. Chemical free from good, simple, time-honoured, clean farming, she prefers to call it simply ‘wine’.

I think of ‘organic cloth’, ‘pure wool’ and so on. Cloth. My colours are chemically dyed. They are cheaper. Yesterday I bought some yarns imported from Peru. They were the most beautiful. I use wool. I love it, and it’s better than petro-fibre. Perhaps my own zero-compromise tendencies need the practice of compromise, even if it’d be better to avoid it.

Of wine and wool

But I’m hoping that a Green Cloth Co-operative might emerge from the Nettles for Textiles group. Maybe individual foragers around the country would do the first steps in processing plant fibres and then send the fibre to be spun in a waterwheel powered, co-operatively-run and commonly-owned mill. (Yeah, ok, the idea needs a lot of interrogation, and there may be better ones. But it’s one beautiful dream of many.)

The Gospel singer says every bottle of wine is different – some amber, some cloudy, some white with the character of red. I think of my accidental elderflower champagne: one magical bottle in a batch of cordial of very variable drinkability.

She says she’s not looking for perfection. She’s looking for honesty.

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.