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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With apologies for how boring my blog is without the travel tales nowadays, but with good news for you of a seasonal offer…
After a (predictably) slow winter season in which people were understandably cautious about buying expensive handmade goods, I’m having an end-of-season sale. For the month of April, I’m offering all weavings under £150 for 50% less. This includes around 15 snugs and a couple of scarves that may find good homes in the last of this chilly weather (or so it is in SW England, anyway). It is better for me to have a £2 hourly wage than none! (Although big life changes are afoot as clearly this is wholly unsustainable in pricey Britain.)
Bear in mind that while the snuggest wintry snugs are good against wind chill, the looser-fitting snugs and cowls are good for the shoulder seasons and any cool outdoor evening too. Naturally these garments will all last for years.
So if cost has held you back, please then please enjoy this discount. Simply browse all These Isles weavings priced at £150 and below, and apply the following coupon code at checkout: ENDOFSEASONHALFPRICE
Please note that this offer cannot be combined with any other offer, and only applies to weavings within this price range. However, you can also buy two snugs worth under £150 each and still get the discount on both of them, i.e. two for the price of one.Happy April, and thank you for your loyalty, which keeps me going!
Live interview on IGTV for the Digital Craft Festival March 2021. I start at 37 minutes, and address issues of craft livelihood and anti-growth economics, from the personal to the macro. Naturally! https://www.instagram.com/p/CM9xPI6j62F/
Hi all, just a quick heads up that I’ll be appearing on Instagram Live TV sometime between 2pm and 3pm today (Sunday). Look up @digitalcraftfestival and the video, which includes interviews with a number of other makers before me, should flash up on their IGTV tab. See you shortly?
Sorry about the short notice – my tech problems have been spectacular lately! The video will still be available to watch on theirs and (hopefully) my channel after the event.
Mine and everyone’s makership is showcased on http://www.digitalcraftfair.co.uk. There’s some stunning work, including from fellow garment makers… RESIST FAST FASHION!
‘Self-taught student of the tweed tradition weaving all-wool garments in landscape abstractions on a wooden loom, with earthen, ethical yarns.
Hailing from Dartmoor and chasing the spirit of the Celtic corners in knotted cowls (~£150), tasselled scarves (~£190), generous shawls (~£350), wholesome blankets (£400-£1600) and sturdy rugs (£800-£1800): functional poetry that brings the outdoors in, and lasts a lifetime.
Plain weave shows off the character of local and native breed wool for striking, simple cloth; or straightforward diagonal twill makes a shot effect in cushioned fabric with good drape. Neat hand-stitching and decorative knotting ensure a polished finish.
Mine is slow cloth made meticulously by hand using lowest-carbon tools and methods – an heirloom fabric and a political statement both.’
This is the blurb and these are the photos that won me a place in the highly selective #digitalcraftfestival on March 26-28th. This is normally a physical event with gourmet food and gypsy swing in Bovey Tracey, Cheltenham or Bath, England. However, this year 150 very fine professional makers from across the globe will be talking, listening, demonstrating and running craft workshops online. Here’s my These Isles profile: https://www.digitalcraftfestival.co.uk/These-Isles/Exhibitor/
I will be interviewed live on Instagram sometime around 1430 GMT on Sunday 28th: follow @craftfestival and click on the Live button when the time comes.
I may also host some Zoom sessions over the three days, which will be just like a physical craft fair: I will be at my stall at preset times and anyone can stop by, say hello and ask questions. My normal Etsy shop will be open alongside, but it will be rearranged to highlight my newest work – that which is currently on the loom (actually I’ve got two looms on the go at once just now; if only I had some elves). It will be nice to see familiar faces, put new faces to old names, and see new names and faces as well, so do come and say hi. I’ll announce my opening hours in my next blog post, as well as on Facebook.
I’ve a few more really exciting news items to share with you, at least two of them relating to this event, but I will save those for my next blog posts, to appear in the next ten days or so.
Meantime back to that blurb, and especially ‘a political statement’: I constantly have to re-articulate the political complexities of craft economics. I first wrote about it in depth here, but here is that political statement a nutshell:
To buy one expensive-feeling, handmade garment in support of a local artisan instead of spending the same money on, say, two transcontinental garments or five fast fashion imports, is to say YES to sustainability and NO to the race to the bottom. YES to an economics of integrity and NO to an economics of exploitation. YES to local resilience and NO to infinite growth. YES to hand-powered craft and NO to the production line machine!
The problem? Our trickle-up monetary system creates artificial scarcity among most of us so that we can barely spare the money for each other’s labour when our neighbour needs the same high wage to live on as we do in our costly ‘rich’ countries. So our neighbour’s prices feel unaffordably high while the Bangladeshi collapsing-factory worker – or even the Leicester Covid-ridden-factory worker – receives a pittance per hour which undercuts our neighbour’s ethical business. (Get the Bangladeshi or Leicester worker OUT of the collapsing or Covid-ridden factory and back onto a plot of land of their own, I say, where the land will be a far better guardian than their boss or his financiers.)
The other problem? Our currrent monetary system does not allow for a steady state economics, instead compelling ad nauseum consumerism. Without growth, typically a business goes bust.
‘Oh here we come a-wassailing, a-wassailing come we. All hail, all hail, fine apple tree, all hail, all hail to thee!’
We began this week in song, and doesn’t song offer a welcome diversion from everything else. Counting the blessings: my folks’ apple harvest was an incredible bounty last year, and tits and fieldfares and blackbirds and squirrels and others are even now still enjoying the windfalls.
And the year in a nutshell for this artisan: no nomadry, and a romance that stalled like every other plan; much vegetable-growing (in hay bales in my folks’ garden in Devon); a fair amount of weaving, but also the seedlings of another new project…
…a moneyless marketplace. An online trading post that should enable proper reward for small, sustainable businesses punished by capitalism whilst improving affordability for the rest of you also punished by capitalism (where capitalism = the extraction of ‘surplus’ value from the planet and the many for the purposes of wealth concentration).
Does ‘higher prices and more affordability’ sound like an oxymoron? It doesn’t have to be! You should be able to pay in whatever you have in the way of goods, services, skills and trades (although we will be quite selective to start with as we cement the marketplace identity for quality). As long as all participants buy about the same amount as they sell, very little ‘normal’ money will change hands; but where (naturally) there is discrepancy between what a participant buys and sells, this difference will be settled in normal money. It is essentially a multi-way barter network that’s supported by a cash clearing system to prevent blockages and imbalances. As above, it will not be strictly moneyless (and I fear I’ll have to ditch that term altogether), certainly to start with. Rather, it will be a hybrid of a mutual credit and a LETS scheme, the one ironing out the flaws of the other, with sellers paying transaction fees (in ‘normal’ money in the first instance) to cover marketplace running costs. Thus it will serve as a transition model from a hierarchical monetary system (where money is created from nothing as debt at interest by a privileged few) to an egalitarian one (where we are all owners of credit within the natural limits of our labours).
As you might hope and expect from someone like me, there is a deeply transformative purpose to all this: trade can operate here in an economy that, to the extent that it is moneyless, does not have a structural growth imperative. That means that this economy, unlike the prevailing debt-money-based global one, does not require inequality, excessive consumption or infinite growth. Rather than compelling a cost-cutting, profit-maximising race to the bottom that ravishes communities, natural resources and habitats, it allows truly sustainable businesses to survive and hopefully thrive. A people-saver, a planet-saver – and a market-saver! Who knew this eco-socialist had a market-based solution?!
Has anyone here any experience of starting a Community Interest Company? Having gathered a possible partner or two I am now drawing up the non-profit business plan to impress the other interested parties (who are revolutionary, philanthropic, software providers). Again, who knew this Luddite would benefit so much from t’interweb?
Stay tuned! I especially welcome expressions of interest in my Facebook group ‘Towards a Moneyless Marketplace’ where ideological, economic, technical and practical discussion is fostering community-building to prepare the ground. The draft banner below (blockprint credit: Hannah Regier of Sky Like Snow) gives a sneak preview of the project’s identity. Does it draw you in?
Meantime I wanted to alert my most loyal followers (if you’re reading this, that’s you) to two other things happening right now:
Firstly, These Isles’ January sale, where a few selected weavings in my Etsy shop are currently reduced by 25% (that’s 25% off the price you see marked below, search ‘sale’ to see these reduced items, but please note that the poncho – top left – has already sold).
Secondly, my newest batch of weavings fresh in my shop to kick off 2021: emberscape oranges, where one customer described orange as the colour of victory. I’ll go with that, here’s to it!
These latest weavings are large (double-size) snugs, or snug cowls. They are very good proportions: small enough for convenience and practicality; voluminous enough for great warmth. Generous and robust but fine and soft too.
They’re made of a lovely yarn I’ve only recently begun using: an indulgent lambswool in incredible colours. ‘Indulgent’ not least because the yarn has come all the way from the antipodes. (Rest assured that I confirmed the supplier’s non-mulesing policy.) However, because it has come all the way from the antipodes, I’m not sure I will continue with it. My own ‘moneyless’ marketplace will have strict sustainability policies and I’ll be launching new products there made only from the most sustainable yarns (the more expensive local/undyed/plant-dyed/handspun and so on; subtler, as per this post’s banner image).
I do not make these cowls often because they are cost ineffective for several reasons: the wool is fine and therefore an inch of fabric takes more labour/time to weave than with a thicker yarn, and the handknotting or handsewing of their longer seams is similarly cost-ineffective.
So don’t count on there being an endless supply of these: snap them up while I’m still indulging. (Most folk are worried about money at the moment, understandably; see my shop policies section for flexible payment options, and also the ‘Barter’ tab on my website here.)
In each listing you’ll see full info, but brief introductions follow…
Cowl number 1, ‘Kingfisher’ (SOLD: emberscape warp interwoven with a strong teal weft for a kingfisher effect: picture how she glints low across a river in a flash):
Cowl number 2, ‘Sky blue’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a variegated turquoise weft, for the hint of a cloudscape in that kind of blue herringbone sky that’s shot with sunset and reflected in ripples on wet sand on a west facing beach when the tide goes out):
Cowl number 3, ‘Reddest ember’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a variegated rust-red-orange weft; the brightest of this range, epitomising the red ember glow of a warming hearth):
Cowl numbers 4 and 5, ‘Fiery ember’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a variegated rust-orange weft; the orangest of this range: fiery embers to warm the heart and lift the spirit):
Cowl numbers 6 and 7, ‘Shetland ember’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a simple tweed rust Shetland weft; think rusty iron rings embedded on a rock at the harbourside):
Cowl number 8, ‘Terracotta’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a sombre rust weft; the subtlest of this range):
Cowl number 9, ‘Earthen ember’ (emberscape warp interwoven with a tweed Shetland weft that includes rusts, dark olive greens and even minute emerald flashes; the texturedness of the colours make this the most earthen of the range):
So that’s the news from These glowing Isles in a dank January. ‘See’ you in my shop or somewhere soon I hope.
Five or six years ago, when I first went full time weaving These Isles from my then-Dartmoor native perspective, an acquaintance brought his wife and lovely teenage daughters to my rental smallholding on the high moor near Princetown to see about commissioning a blanket. I didn’t know at the time that the lovely redhead wife, a strong, quiet character around 40 and whose birthday fell a day after mine on International Women’s Day, was dying of cancer. So I wove a blanket for her deathbed. After she died, her daughters wrapped themselves in it around a campfire.
A year or so after that, the man commissioned a blanket for himself: blood red and deep purple. To match his sitting room he said, though I guessed rather his bloodied heart.
This heart-coloured blanket happened to be on the loom when a lovely writer for Etsy interviewed me for a wonderful article which made my stats soar, commissioning my fantastic photojournalist friend Alice Carfrae to take the best shots that you see around my web presence. (Alice is based between Nepal, Beijing and Delhi, so I am lucky when I catch her in this country. We have bartered in the past and recently agreed a cowl in exchange for a video at some point. Her clients include the BBC, Action Aid and Indian anti-rape charities, among others; do visit her stunning website. So I was lucky to get her on that count too.)
My blanket customer has become a very supportive friend, aide and political ally, as well as a talented musical accomplice. Niall Parker of Gravity Machine has written and recorded an epic album to his late wife, which you can listen to and buy here.
And my red-purple blanket? Well, today it is modelled by Sarah Edwards in Niall’s latest, also-epic, music video, shot on a favourite Dartmoor location by superb cinematographer Harry Duns, also a Dartmoor native. The stunning portraits that you see here are stills from the video, which is released today, Saturday October 31st.