The weaver in the tale

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.

Bewitched at Samhain!

 

 

 

Feeling the squeeze? Help build the credit commons

Hello all, how are you and how are you faring?

I’ve been quiet awhile: recovering from last year’s burnout, resuming momentum slowly; designing and implementing a 50m2 haybale garden on my folks’ land in Devon for Covid resilience…

Happily my business has seemed Covid-resilient so far, as although I couldn’t get to the Hebrides to source my preferred British yarn, at least trade ticked over through the spring and summer (when it’s normally relatively slow anyway). 

An inspired customer requested a challenging and exciting commission where I wove an unfamiliar Australian shore for her. It needed a pink hue and as I could not source the right sort of yarn the range of which included any good earthen pinks, I dyed some myself. In last year’s turmoil moving between a number of borrowed houses in Brittany, I’d collected walnut husks and cherry bark, and added some apple bark, all from fallen branches, from my folks’ orchard. Thus the blanket hue was warmed:

In my shop are a couple of new batches of snugs, and upcoming are some shawls with a new, softer (slightly more expensive) lambswool yarn. Some of these are based around the remaining plant-dyed pinks. The newest of these will appear in my shop before the end of next week when a pause in the rain finally permits a full photoshoot.

In the absence of meeting fellow makers and finding inspiration at actual, physical craft fairs, I’ve curated some online craftcases for cross-publicity, showing off my work among theirs in handsome complement. Here’s a taster, click for more:

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If your imagination or your Christmas list need feeding, do pay their shops a visit.

I’m also on the shortlist for one of the most prestigious craft fairs in the UK that’s happening digitally this year at the end of November – dependent upon someone else not taking up their place. 

However, trade should be picking up a pace now the weather’s cooler and I’m in peak season – but it’s not. So, like most people, I’m worried again. My prices are having to increase all the time if I’m ever to achieve and sustain an actual house. The van is leaky and miserable nowadays, and UK housing extortionate and in crisis. Which brings me to an ever-refining version of my usual political hobby horse, plus a solution I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years now…

Capitalism is the exploitation of economies of scale for extraction of ‘surplus’ as profit: in order to service, and milk, our debt money system, a few extract ‘surplus’ from the labour of the many in order to concentrate wealth that is generally inadequately redistributed to achieve common good. This maximisation at just about any cost is the organising principle of our current economic system, and all money-dependent markets are locked into this growth dynamic: paradoxically, without growth our system collapses, leaving unemployed masses too short to keep up the required levels of consumption and therefore increasingly redundant in an environment of reduced production.

This locking mechanism for growth is due to the monetary system in which credit is created from nothing, as debt, at interest, by private banks. Because only a few are privileged with the right to this credit creation, market distortions of hoarding and scarcity prevail, compelling ever more exploitative and destructive competition.

So what if all those who physically could had the ability to create credit, as most of us effectively do with our own labour all the time? In this ideal world, the fruits of our labour would be our own: workers would be owners; we could all create, lend and borrow credit limited only by our own productive capacity. Nobody would have special privileges for infinite credit creation or be compelled to store excess wealth in the black hole that is the finance sector. Nobody would need to generate or consume excess. Sure, there’d still be human fear and human greed, but we would eradicate the structural growth compulsion of the present system, thus enabling our widespread good intentions and multitude of positive initiatives to actually change the world.

You and I can start making this new economy today by forming mutual credit clusters among ourselves. Imagine co-operatively owned moneyless marketplaces a little like Amazon but without the fat CEO and workers so pressured that they have to pee in bottles. Imagine that you didn’t feel ripped off by faceless corporations. Imagine this network cementing the community of your town or your diaspora, instead of robbing our neighbours near and far. Imagine that you didn’t have to cut corners on ethical spending because you could afford to pay in kind the proper price for things. Imagine no-one had to fear destitution; had to elbow their way up; had to kick downwards to stay ahead. Imagine that there would always be just enough. Imagine a multi-way barter system where nobody got rich on lending or broken by borrowing. Imagine exchange of goods, services, skills and surplus domestic items or garden produce facilitated by innovative software running an equitable banking model that was unavailable to the Lets generation.

I’m enlisting the support of Dave Darby and Dil Green from lowimpact.org, who are in a loose affiliation of philanthropes who form the Mutual Credit Services team here in the UK. After earlier trials with the Open Credit Network, MCS members want to support existing communities and business networks to share their wants and offers in moneyless exchange. They envisage that each cluster will be federatable to other clusters around the country and world so that eventually more of our individual needs and wants can be met by the wider network. (There are successful precedents for this, such as the Sardex in Sardinia in which the value of annual transactions amounts to over €30m.)

The clearing system in this mutual credit banking model, which requires periodic ‘netting off’ of member debits and credits with cash, avoids some of the pitfalls of unequal exchange suffered by the old Lets schemes, offering a transition stage from a money-based economy to an eventual moneyless one. In practice this might mean that, as long as we all still have to buy and sell in the outside world of money, for every £1000 worth of transactions in the cluster, there might be around £100 exchanged between members in normal money.

I intend to initiate a mutual credit cluster myself where we all advertise our offers and wants. I’ve just created a Facebook group to invite initial expressions of interest among the friends and customers of These Isles, and would love to see your names either there or expressing your interest in the comments below.

Help make trade work for the common good!

With good wishes for the turning year and the terrifying politics…

Dear EU followers, customers and friends,
As you may be aware, Britain will regrettably be exiting the European Union at the end of January 2020.
Firstly: Brits still love you and, of course, still want to trade with you!
Secondly: I didn’t vote for this!
Thirdly: it is not a black and white issue, and along with the many advantages of EU membership, there are also some compelling anti-capitalist arguments about limitations to the kind of radical post-capitalist politics that I personally believe would better serve the many (e.g. neoliberal clauses in the Treaty for the Functioning of the EU).
Fourthly: I join many others in shame about how some pretty ugly arguments have drowned out the few intelligent arguments for Brexit, and indeed have won, over the many more strong arguments for our remaining in the EU. But maybe some of us were benefiting more than others from EU membership, which, like our own right wing and centrist governments in my lifetime, has failed to protect the most vulnerable from global capitalism, or develop a sustainable economics to replace it.
Fifthly: like many others, I profoundly fear the ultra-capitalist motive that is in effect driving Brexit, and hope that a green, democratic leader of the US will be elected soon, for all our sakes. It seems to me that Brexit is a battle of capitalism, and here in Britain the ‘left’, half of which is relatively comfortable with capitalism and half of which is more torn and less well off, has lost this battle.
Sixthly: I and millions of others dedicated sweat, blood, tears and many, many hours to campaigning for a better general election result through November and December, and we are all sore at, and scared by, our failure to stop a government profoundly lacking in integrity.
Seventhly: I may take advantage of my dual citizenship and move myself and business to mainland Europe. However this is unlikely to take effect before the end of 2020. So unless and until I do emigrate, These Isles is registered as a UK business. As such, from February 1st, import duty may be payable by you upon receipt of my goods, according to the withdrawal agreement reached between our governments, and according to your country’s import legislation. For this reason I urge you to make the most of my January sale, where some weavings are reduced by 25%, and to also browse all other items in my shop and buy any that you love in time for me to ship them duty-free before January 31st. (For sale items, enter my shop via this link or otherwise enter the coupon code JANUARYSALE at checkout.)
Lastly: la lotta continua! Governments seem unable to solve our global social and environmental crises, so it’s up to us. I hope to join a non-monetised mutual credit trading network this year, so look out for more news on post-capitalist ways of trading with me and other green businesses in future.
With thanks and all good wishes for the festive season and turbulent times. Hold on tight!
Eloïse
PS As a curiosity, here’s an illustration of my GE19 political intervention: I ran a large survey followed by some mindbending numbercrunching to help we voters organise ourselves in my home constituency. Disappointingly, the outcome in this rural constituency with its mega-progressive seam (Totnes and Dartington Arts) was the same as always: the triumph of conservatism, which in Britain basically means capitalism, sexism, imperialism, colonialism and extreme relative poverty against the protection of pre-existing privilege. Nationally, the right wing majority gives voice to the resentment of its victims and rallies them in prejudice against the experimental left while the comfortable Remainer centre rejects radical change in either direction. Excuse me while I just go and vomit in a corner.
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‘If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much room’

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As I opted out of tenanthood and employeeship and moved my weaving business into a motorhome to take to the road on a shoestring in 2015, a dear family friend, who knows me very well, sent me the postcard pictured below.

Living on the edge postcard

Powerful, isn’t it? And tensely ambivalent? On the one hand a proud, wild, free, low impact, low consumption life of resilience on the margins; on the other, guilt and judgment of any comfort, luxury, security, safety or anything else that could be considered a privilege. Underpinned by the universal human need for AND RIGHT to some of all of the above. And fraught by the inevitable tension between the magnetic poles.

Moving one’s weaving workshop around these isles in a motorhome was one thing. Moving one’s weaving workshop in and out of a motorhome around these isles is quite another.

2019 has been a disruptive year. I tried to move to Brittany for the better quality of life it offers on a low income, but Murphy, my amazing familiar, died suddenly the week before. I moved into my planned accommodation regardless, but immediately had to move out again for health reasons. (I’m electrosensitive and the mobile phone mast 3km away took just three days to make me horribly ill because my flat was in direct line of sight.) My motorhome, leaking, mouldering and harbouring images of Murph’s dramatic death and empty bed, was no longer a home.

Murph running happy in Breton woods

But the homelessness of the (relatively) privileged is very different from some people’s homelessness: since March I’ve stayed in three beautiful houses, and whilst moving all my worldly possessions and work from pillar to post has taken its toll on my health and productivity, there has been some positive impact on creativity.

Setting up house when I thought I’d be there a while, I made the effort to create a beautiful living and working space: a positive distraction from the greatest bereavement I’d ever suffered – for anyone who’s known the true and steady love of a loyal hound as their only companion will know that few other loves rival it. There was a sorrowfully empty corner by the woodburner where I’d planned for Murph to live, and the proximity of the beautiful woodland that he’d have enjoyed twice daily also taunted me cruelly. But neighbours were kind, friends were warm, the town was inspiring, and I created a lovely home. Rugs I’d woven looked (ahem) stunning on the pale floor complementing traditional Breton furniture unwanted by others and going for a song.

 

In anticipation of a larger home/workspace, though quite by chance, I’d seized upon a sought-after Dryad rug loom that I planned to install now my micro-business could expand a little. However, I had to change direction. Again. And fast. Again.

Never able to be off work for long (as craftspeople, artspeople and the self-employed well know), I packed what equipment I could into my old estate car and fled the Breton flat for a borrowed cottage. I hoped that just a brief retreat would bring me recovery, and so did not take my larger kit of loom and 100kg yarn stash. Instead I took the spinning wheel given me by my best friend for Christmas some years ago, and after a little input from another friend, hurriedly taught myself to spin.

At the time of buying the Dryad loom in Wales last year, the farmer had also sold me several kilos of fleece that his beautiful late wife had had prepared in Cornwall for the craft business she was shaping to replace her high-stress job. Life had other plans for her, alas. The fleece was beautiful too: lofty, lustrous Leicester Longwool from their own flock of ‘black’ silver sheep. I’d known that this, like the loom, was worth seizing when offered for sale on that serendipitous occasion, for both the quality and the tragic love story behind it.

So in the spring sunshine I foraged in hedgerows and meadows and neighbours’ gardens and in the kitchen and barn for dyestuffs, mordants and  modifiers to bring natural colour to my spinning. Murphy was sorely missed every moment and my foraging walks were curtailed by dogless nervousness, but I consoled myself with the thought that foraging was a more perfect thing than ever to be paid to spend my time doing. (Not that my business brought in any money in late spring, the ‘hunger patch’, which lasts for months.)

I competed with the birds for ivy berries (they stripped the bushes while I took care not to) and with the bees for dandelions (I left them the most pollenous heads). I picked ivy leaves wantonly, and gorse flowers laboriously, and japonica flowers hopefully, and birch twigs furtively, and fallen camellias michievously. I was offered frosted azaleas, sent some biscuit tin mordant, and given some copper pipe. I found rusty nails, and, living without electricity because my tolerance had got so low, had an abundance of aluminium nightlight holders which I also used to mordant. (I even had friends to stay who, lightless at night with all electrics off, peed in a potty and donated to the cause. Ammonia is a known alkaliser for modifying natural dye colours, used traditionally in Hebridean tweed and everywhere else, and so I used it. Is that too much information?)

Instead of resting after huge upheaval and physical breakdown, I was as driven as a mad professor working sixteen hours a day seven days a week, leaping out of bed in the mornings to check my dye vats, stirring pots and pans on the stove, making copious notes, photo-documenting on my Instagram, filling endless buckets of water, whirling wet skeins around my head, burning my skin with caustic soda, provoking the occasional explosion, dropping bowls of boiling water between the stove and my dye station outside, and charging out of the house screaming like a fishwife at the birds for plucking fluff out of my drying yarn for their nests (I ended up donating a skein or two to their cause).

 

The outcome was five kilos of low impact art yarn, in (rare and exciting and not always fugitive) blues, mauves, pinks, greys, browns, rusts, yellows and greens. Some were dip dyed, and these are the most exciting to ply, knit or weave, as the end result is unpredictable and variegated across the finished project. Once plied, I felt that I’d taken the fleece to the most beautiful state that I could, and that the final step should be somebody else’s to take. And so I offer this range for sale especially for knitters.

 

I then had to vacate this lovely cottage, and, the flat investigated for electro-magnetic fields and deemed a write-off for me, moved to an equally lovely farmhouse elsewhere, thanks to some dear friends. (My middle class, privileged homelessness again: I used to work in Higher Education with her; he got me into these stalwart old Mercs.) This was a huge, woodfired, haunted, isolated, gingerbread house in unfamiliar, agricultural countryside. I felt very alone, especially when my car broke down, passers-by declined to jump start me and I thought I’d have to leave it in a layby until… what? But then friendlier neighbours familiar with old cars and undaunted by the two-minute and very simple manouevre helped out, deduced who I was, and then kept an unintrusive eye on me thereafter. (I’ve bought more bottles of wine as thanks for kindly neighbours and strangers than I’ve drunk myself.)

I then spent a very quiet, meditative period, unwell at times but largely in a gentle weaving rhythm, producing several grand’s worth of stock, going to bed with the sundown and watching the moon rise over the red tin roof of the barn through my open bedroom window at night.

Of course you’re never alone. During that peaceful time I had the most magical companionship: two kestrels were raising two young in the eaves of the gingerbread house. It was my fortune to be there at fledging time, and I watched the young, one male, one female, tumble and fall and stretch and jump and then fly. I witnessed them stooping submissively as they were dive-bombed by the swallows nesting in the barn, and hopping and squeaking as they were stalked by the cat, whose cover of undergrowth I cleared. Hopefully I was a help, and at close quarters they swivelled their heads and set their huge eyes upon me even in my bedroom. One evening I slurped up spaghetti on the patio while just ten yards away beneath the oak they slurped up entrails on the woodpile. Daily at dawn I saw their first landing and watched them assess the new day as they woke me with the sound of their claws on the red tin roof of the barn through my open bedroom window in the morning.

I was quiet. I read books about islands and their non-capitalist communities. I wove snugs and shawls as winter stock, and weaving a little of my ownspun Leicester Longwool was joyous, but never more joyous than weaving my ownspun Leicester Longwool dyed in kestrel colours.

Kestrel snug 5

So that was the spring and summer. Autumn brings autumn colours and selling season, and more househunting, and political activism. I’m in a warm, dry room in a different, lovely house in Devon, my semi-derelict van outside with the loom set up on a treadle and my workbenches still packed in my car and a question mark over my health and my next chapter. I was not in a position to catch the seasonal wave for the winter frenzy this year, but unless I find another way to stay afloat, I guess I’ll carry on weaving these isles nonetheless.

 

News from These Isles

I’d like to write some news from these actual isles, but as Britons stage bloody battles that obscure the war for and against capitalism while that system burns the planet, I can never think where to start. Plus I’ve been stuck on survive.

So just a little news from These Isles mobile weavery, which is seeking to settle, but which keeps coming back to a similar crossroads, and which will likely still be van-based this winter:

After a rest in Devon, coming online this month is the complete range of the lofty Leicester Longwool I sourced from a farmer in Wales and which I’ve spun and plantdyed. Winter weavings I’ve been making will also be listed over the next weeks and months, so you may be warmed by earthen snugs, scarves and shawls if the right one emerges for you.

 

Meantime a lovely American RVer has published this interview with me that I’d like to share with you, and which inspires fantasies of farmsteading and fall colours and Thanksgiving and endless open roads…

I recently enjoyed, and highly reccommend for its soothing simplicity and reassuring grit, Jenna Woginrich‘s book, ‘One Woman Farm’. If it weren’t for Trumpism, maybe I’d try an American dream! Though the Celtic corners have held out better against Anglo-Saxon economics. Perhaps there are proper Celtic corners in the States, and an appetite for post-capitalist solutions? Go Bernie Sanders and AOC!

Oh, Jeromy Corbyn! (Caroline Lucas has been a fireball in the Commons lately too.)

And thanks to all those many others who resist also.

 

Always moving on

Weaving winter stock, I just spent a very quiet month in a borrowed farmhouse, alone with a family of kestrels. The babies, a male and a female, are just learning to fly now as I depart. I spotted the first fledgling last week crouched in the bushy mint beneath the nest, nervously hidden. Fallen? Jumped? Pushed?

I’ve seen them hopping between logs with some wing help practice. The mother has been more present than the father, bringing mousy morsels back from the wheat fields some twenty times in a day, till nine at night. Sometimes I’ve spotted the whole family perched in the tall willow, or in the big walnut, or, more quarrelously, in the nearer oak.
I’ve woken in the morning to the little crang of claws on the tin roof outside my window, and watched them land, look about, check me out, duck the swallows’ divebombs and take off again, from my bed. I’ve had supper in the garden while they had supper on the woodpile. I’ve cleared some undergrowth so they’d have more perches unsurrounded by predator cover. I’ve tidied their tinder-dry carcasses from the patio. Followed trails of entrails. Swept up white down from the sitting room. Woven kestrel colours into a cowl. Said goodbye honoured and sad.

Every time I leave a place I leave a bit of my soul, ouch. Every place gives me a generous bit of hers to carry with me.

Old endings and new stories

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How many of my blog entries begin ‘it’s been a while, and much has happened’?

Absorbed in the scarily high-stakes parliamentary chess game of Brexit… Will Northern Ireland achieve reunification by default? Does England need her own independence, instead of co-dependently dominating her neighbours? Is Scotland the only healthy corner of the UK? Will we all end up prey to big bully American corporate interests? Is it a choice between those and the likes of pharmaceutical Bayer as our overlords?!

Brexit is a terrifying, but also thrilling, three-way fork in the road between centrist capitalism (business as usual in the EU), Tory capitalism (extreme Thatcherist business in the WTO) and the remotest chance of the beginnings of a mutualist utopia (relatively speaking) led by Corbyn and McDonnell in partnership with the Greens, the nationalist parties and the British people, all informed and energised by the wonderful, furious, counter culture and the equally wonderful, furious European left who’ve actually tasted successful socialism and municipalism in living memory. Maybe we (the Eurpoean left), can supersede the EU’s neoliberal treaties and help thoroughly green the whole bloc – there is certainly some appetite for that in France, and I should imagine especially in socialist Portugal, progressive Catalonia, suffering Greece, mutualist Sardinia…

And if we don’t turn the growth-dependent capitalist ship around, and fast, will climate change leave all or most of us screwed – us and the thousands of species we are taking down with us? Chances are.

High damn stakes indeed.

I’m currently convalescing in a pretty borrowed cottage in Brittany (temporary accommodation has its upsides). Nearby is the only village in France to have held out against Nazi occupation. We’re in the middle of a vast forest. Next door is a café-librairie, centre of high culture and hub of resistance extroardinaire. Brittany has always known resistance, and I’m told that the protest vandalism of the gillets jaunes elsewhere in France will never harm a crêperie, out of respect.

The weavery bus in a Devon valley saw winter trade that was busy busy, thank god – and thank you to my customers; after a business-threateningly slow 2018, the winter compensated and brought my figures to something resembling an actual wage. My March monthly income fell back to zero. This is not entirely surprising, but the panic re-emerges nonetheless, as a constant threat underlying everything, like Brexit, and like climate breakdown.

And then suddenly, unexpectedly, prematurely, on a night when I’m feeling sorry for myself and counting the biggest blessing in my life that is Murphy, Murphy gets a twisted gut, somersaults out of the van vomiting with a heart attack, and dies.

Here he is, from the nervy, ratty, rescue youngster I nearly overlooked, to the crown prince, drawer of crowds, maker of friends and love of my life that I thought I didn’t coo too much about on social media but which your wonderful, overwhelming condolences confirm that I must have done at least a little. Ouch.

I’m also nursing another heartbreak – one that paled briefly into insignificance on Murph’s death, but one which has taken a great deal of processing nonetheless, both before and since: someone I perceived as steady and a friend for life, and then fell in love with, but whose parting poetry proved hollow as he disappeared for good. A very Irish story (in case you were reading between the lines of my blog back then).

I’m also facing, after about seven years, that I have a serious health issue: ever-increasing electro-sensitivity. Like any allergy or intolerance, it sets in when you’re down, and now has me unplugging appliances, disconnecting batteries, flipping trip switches, avoiding devices and having to stay in the wilds to avoid being a nervous, sleepless, nauseous wreck. And this at a time when I thought I might have had enough isolation in the wilds and want to rejoin ‘civilisation’ and community.

It has serious implications for both social and working life: mobile internet access is a toxin to which I’m having to limit my exposure to about 10 seconds a day – and still pay for for an hour or so, if not a whole night. (An actual, physical marketplace would be every bit as bad due to everybody else’s mobile phones, cell towers and neighbours’ Wifi.) And so, when I’ve managed to make business and lifestyle so apparently miraculously synergistic so far, for want of a landline and a Murphy, I may have to make some very big changes.

Electro-sensitivity is a very 21st century problem, as yet little known, under-researched and poorly understood, though it apparently affects some 25% of us, in different ways, and military research has long recognised the impact of high frequency radiation on health. If you have persistent unexplained symptoms like non-specific anxiety, insomnia, headaches, nausea, tinnitus, nosebleeds, then SWITCH EVERYTHING OFF! (In fact, please switch everything off in between use always and anyway, for everyone’s sake!) I recommend the work of British radiographer Dr Erica Mallory Blythe (helpful videos on Youtube); TED talker and Silicon Valley ‘refugee’ engineer Jeromy Johnson; and the Stop Linky anti-smartmetre brigade in France, who have put me in touch with knowledgeable doctors, geobiologists and eco-electricians. (Thank goodness, again, for the French spirit of resistance, for in this, as in many things, they are more advanced than the British.)  Most people will suggest a tinfoil hat, but increasing numbers do actually understand and can help. You can’t imagine my relief to hear that Brussels has just become the first city to refuse 5G. For the sake of the electro-sensitive among us (including birds and probably most other wildlife), please let’s halt the indiscriminate march of radiowave technology that may be mass suicide by sterilisation! (And yes, maybe our species is actually killing itself off for the sake of our host and our fellow guests on this planet.)

Anyway, back to the wool (always a relief): meantime I’m treating this hideaway as a product development period. I’m honing my spinning skills and experimenting with plant dyes and will shortly have a range of subtle coloured earthen yarns to offer for your own creativity to flourish. Unless and until I work out a better way to trade, they’ll be in my Etsy shop as usual.

As a taster, here are some adventures in ivy, dandelion, gorse, alder, birch, chestnut, lemon, avocado, pomegranate, japonica and camellia… 

Above, my own-spun Leicester long wool, and below, Shetland, Blue Faced Leicester, Alpaca and lambswool. All on my shop ‘shelves’ soon.

January Sale

Nine days left in the These Isles January sale and about nine wintry weavings remaining too (though there are new ones fresh off the loom, to be listed soon, so you don’t have to go cold if you miss the sale items!) https://etsy.me/2UbxJXU

I’m pondering a blog post on Britain and Ireland (especially), which may be entitled ‘These disputed isles’… the tales and politics tangle and brew such that I have difficulty keeping up…

Weaving the year in these isles

I’ve been away from my blog for some months, weaving and publicising (and househunting) and writing for other people’s platforms and too fired up with ideas to keep up with them all here. I apologise! Do please follow on my other platforms: Instagram for daily images of works in progress and nuggets of ideas; Facebook, the central hub, with weekly musings, pictures and links to products; Pinterest for occasional display boards; lowimpact.org and noserialnumber.org for political and environmental articulations of craft economics; and of course the These Isles shop where the weavings themselves are listed for sale as I make them.

So this final entry of 2018 will be a round up of the year – the ideas, the travels, the tensions, the weaves…

Me on Iolaire

In a tiny boat in a beautiful bay of islands in the Outer Hebrides in summer I went fishing with some dear friends who go out specifically to catch their week’s supply of protein. I caught and killed my own fish for the first time, and I experienced that feeling for which henkeepers so loathe foxes: after some fruitless trips, some hours of disappointment, and some hours of seasickness and cold, on finding a shoal of very large mackerel, the brutal, maniacal drive to catch and kill as many as possible at one go. The predator making hay while the sun shines. And, though I like to support what I consider good food production (tiny scale, mixed, organic farming and wild hunting and gathering), the experience of this startlingly feral drive pushes me a little back towards vegetarianism – or should it be veganism, for the absolute stand that the planet perhaps needs a critical mass of us to take now in order to avoid or mitigate climate breakdown?

I’ve been reading Monbiot a lot, and I’ve been homehunting in sheepwrecked landscapes historically cleared, often violently, of people so as to make way for the wool on which we built our empire and on which my livelihood now depends. Ouch. Tiny, scattered, determined, island community members cling to each other wilfully and creatively – crofters, artists and fisherfolk in remote, difficult, treeless terrain. In the Hebrides there is less counter culture, but perhaps less need for it, as these people are still well aware of the essential importance of each other, of land, and of craft. However, holiday home-owning in the Outer Isles has contributed to the largest price spike anywhere in the UK in the last two years, and all that would be vaguely within my reach is in too poor a state for my financiers to consider. Also, after the Caribbean weather vanishes in July and galesome, wet, autumn sets in, I realise for the first time in my life that I do not want to live alone far from the nearest town, especially where the landscape is so inhospitable now to all but grazers, and the winter days so short.

This is very much a revelation: I was brought up on a shoestring but renting in beautiful places was always prioritised, was what I knew and loved and what I always sought for myself too, even in solitude, and always envisaged for myself forever. But renting feels exploitative to me, and no longer a happy housing solution. And buying rurally is unaffordable for most of us. And then this change of heart: Stornoway’s welcome, with its arts centre, lively pubs, and extensive woodlands by the harbour and town centre, altered my path quite radically. I’ve come to want what most people want: the daily dog walks in the trees, with the shops, market, music and social life also within walking distance.

Sadness and anger for centuries of wealth-concentrating policy that has made the English countryside (especially) largely inaccessible to the many, and pretty lonely to the few, with communities significantly eroded. The Land Workers’ Alliance, Simon Fairlie et al continue to fight for the rights of young, alternative farmers to make their sustainable projects feasible by being able to live on the land they work. So many of them are still thwarted even in their agricultural pursuits by conservative planning laws, and buying land in my native England would certainly not solve my own housing problem. (Although, amazingly, the more philanthropic Scottish government and Crofting Commission actually pay people to take on land and build, personally I do not feel equipped to face this alone. The One Planet Development project in Wales is even more farsighted – truly radical and visionary – for those of you with more strength and resources than I.)

So, a lover of space, wilderness, silence, dark skies and rewilding, my views shift: whereas my first trip to Ireland saw me dismayed at the scatter of bungalows throughout much of the countryside and the lack of wild between them, the socialist in me is glad now that more people have access to land and rural life. For disconnect with land is surely the root of all of society’s ills…

I’m currently reading Paul Mason on postcapitalism, radically foreign yet resonant: is the urbanite so disenfranchised from the land that land will soon no longer be one of the three pillars of economics (along with labour and capital)? He seems to be positing that these three may be largely outcompeted by a knowledge economy via info-tech, and that these successors are more equally distributable among all the networked individuals of the world, the order of which he sees as undergoing an overarching battle between complex network and oppressive hierarchy. Thus he heralds the emergence of non-enforced communism as originally envisaged by Marx, and I am forced to question whether my own dreams of land ownership root nomadic me, of all people, in an old, oppressive order. 

But how to mend the psycho-social and cultural disconnect compounded by capitalist economics and surely not healed by this new route yet further divergent from land? Infrastuctural collapse brought on by economic crash and climate breakdown will surely throw survivors back into whatever remains of fields and woods. Personally, professionally and politically I gravitate towards the lowest tech, land-based survivalism, but ideologically I cannot ignore the democratising and egalitarian potential of the high-tech – an incoming wave I’ve welcomed, jubilant, in both education and politics, to name just two examples, as the complex chaos of social media glistens its possibility for overthrowing the archaic, hierarchical paradigms.

Mason suggests that a gift-like economy (though so far he uses other terms) of infinitely and freely replicable info-goods enabled by networked media will elude profiteering and supercede the markets. As he explains it, it sounds like another route away from the monopolising feudalism of debt-money. I wonder how the knowledge producers will put bread on their tables (and most people in the arts already know how that feels) – but I’m sure that subsequent chapters will examine this satisfactorily. (It’s great writing, and great politics; do follow him.)

Back to my own profession: a London designer of African origin has just approached me for some chunky, earthen cloth handwoven in native Celtic wool for his menswear apparel. We are both excited at this opportunity to explicitly connect fashion to land via craft, and the diverse ecology of our possible collaboration.

So those are the ideas, and here are the weavings through the year.

 

January. I started the year in Devon, and wove some rustic cloth à propos of the silver-grey bark of wintry trees in the woodlands where I walked Murph. Some of the wool was my favourite Scottish island tweed that lent subtle but startling multicolour to the natural and/or undyed greys and rabbits. The year has turned and two of these three scarves have sold. The softest, plainest, wintriest one remains, gentled by a little Alpaca.

 

 

February. Van life means you have to keep moving whether you want to or not, since it is easy to outstay your welcome, even where there is one. I went to Brittany and spent time with both mor and koat – sea and forest. Here is a soft, wintry snug pictured on a boulder in woodlands of the Armorique National Park, Finistère.

March. Still in Brittany, I resumed the seascape weavings. Here are some pictured on huge expansive beaches, where chilly, windfraught photoshoots often required pinning weavings to the sand and styling the practical improvisation into a vignette. I notice how the Atlantic coast, jewelled with the odd white beach all down, changes gradually from the Western Isles of Scotland, with its rocky moor and bog and mountains on gneiss; the Inner Hebrides, Argyll and Bute, gentler and prettier, with a little dogged ancient oak forest even on the Western seabord; Wales with its moorlandy cliffs like the granite tumbles of North Devon and North Cornwall; South West Cornwall, more wooded, with softer moorlandy headlands and the beginnings of the rose granite; Brittany with these moorlandy headlands, rose granite and the beginnings of the mediterranean pines that prevail down the French Atlantic and all the way to Galicia. I haven’t seen the Portuguese coast, and I wonder…

 

 

 

April. The sun came out hot in Brittany, but I returned to Devon. Thinking about how best to use the most local, least processed wool, I began weaving rugs. The most local, least processed (undyed) wool wove itself into the most successful of all those made so far. Telling me something, perhaps.

Undyed, native breeds from these isles: rug for sale at https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/624817605

May. I began to gather together for a trip back to my first landing place after going on the road: the Isle of Lewis. They were having a heatwave. Drought made the bog less colourful – I particularly missed the red sphagnum moss – but the sea more inviting. Weaving the colours into rugs was heady, though the technicalities proved frustrating. 

Bladderwrack rugwreck wallhanging for sale at www.etsy.com/uk/listing/629330975

June. When the weather broke in the Outer Hebrides, storms brought in heaps of orangey rusty red, purple and black bladderwrack; rocks black with lichen reflected steel and white skies. This little slipway was all but reclaimed – the beatuful romance of unobstrusive workmanship that enhances a wildy landscape. The colours for this rug absorbed me totally, and are a combination that stays with me still.

 

 

July. In the height of summer on the Isle of Lewis, the rare meadows behind the sand dunes of the whitest sands burst into bloom. The acid soils are fertilised by windblown lime to create the green, cerise, yellow, blue, purple and white machair effect unique to such parts of Scotland and Ireland. I camped in them, walked in them and wove in them to my heart’s delight.

 

 

August. Horizontal rains ripped the Outer Isles and drove through every crack not only in my old van but also in my friends’ very new van. I had remembered that the Hebridean dampness was less bothersome than the Devon dampness I was brought up with, because in the islands, in between downpours, galesome winds at least blow in through the cracks and help dry things out. This summer though, the rain barely stopped and the wind just forced the water in. I kept my recent memory alive though of rusty red weed, rusty red sails, rusty iron rings and the skies reflecting their deep blue into the Atlantic, and wove one of my best shawls to date. I recently packed it up to send to Oregon, where I’ve heard that their rugged coast may be as characterful – and possibly a little bit as Celtic – as ours.

 

 

September. Still in the Outer Hebrides but after eight months of unusually slow trade and a few months of dead-worried publicity drive, a couple of magazine features came together. One, by Carol Ann Strange, will depict my travelling craft life, to come out in Coast magazine I’m-not-sure-when. The other, by Kate Stuart in No Serial Number magazine this autumn, draws the threads of the poetry and the politics together in an invitation to the Green Cloth Collective – a group for environmentalist craftspeople who see their makership as an act of resistance.

 

 

October. I had hoped to find suitable bricks and mortar in Stornoway by winter. However, four months’ relentless searching revealed only wrecks within my reach. But that port town where my heart sings; that little harbour where the Drascombe is moored; and that little slipway where I walked Murph every day remained alive in my mind, and the first of my winter smalls were this harbour snug, harbour scarf and harbour cowls. (The scarf sold straight away, but the others are still in my shop as I type – don’t delay!)

 

 

November. Back in Devon again, I watch the wooded hillside opposite go through its zenith and then fall wintry. There are regal oaks, scrubby gorse and some other native planted saplings as a piece of this prime but tiring agricultural land is being allowed deliberately to rewild. Most noticeable are the swathes of silver birch with their platinum trunks and red-purple brush. Some of my favourite spots in the Highlands, islands and Ireland are characterised by birch. 

 

 

December. Still static in Devon, flat out trying to make my most seasonal of crafts earn me a year’s income in what may, in terms of sales, only be a three month year. (I’ve been pleasantly surprised before at the length of my season, but this year has been different, and very stressful due to slow trade Jan-Aug.)

I add some new postcards to a large reprint, and get some, ahem, very swanky cards printed on recycled cotton. I squeeze out a few more weavings, though decide to concentrate on selling more than making in the peak of this peak season. I invest in some Facebook advertising (corporate, boo!) which increases my traffic by orders of magnitude, and have a consultation with a nice Dub at Facebook Ireland’s HQ about targeting my advertising. I’m getting slick, now, me #requisiteYorkshireaccent.

I also revamp my shop with a new, high speed photographic style: I figure that you may wish to see my weavings worn in order to imagine what they might look like on you, and not just what they look like in the landscape!

 

 

 

And so we wish you a Merry Christmas, Murphy and I, and thank you for your support, and look forward to ‘seeing’ you in the New Year.

Murph in van w rug close landscape by Eloise Sentito of These Isles