Rerooting

Extreme electrosensitivity makes most jobs impossible and has led me on a poetic, eventful, exhausting, seven year journey to find a home, researching and developing sustainable livelihood all the way. Now at last I’ve found somewhere I could live, work and be well. But it’s a daunting undertaking

The Business

I have woven £12,000 worth of stock these last two seasons. This is not big news, the big news comes at the end of this piece. But it is quite good going for a van-based craft business in a period of even-more-upheaval-than-usual. My new wares are in my shop now, and there will be much more to come through autumn and winter – ponchos and shawls followed by the more strictly wintry warms, the snugs and scarves.

Now, unfortunately that does not mean that I could, with my current super-slow methods and tiny, itinerant workshop, weave £24,000 worth of stock in a year, because in these two seasons I have done next to no blogging, marketing, listing or, dammit, selling, which together require at least a third of my effort over a year. And it also doesn’t mean that I will beat my all-time record to sell £12,000 worth of stock this year. Very unlikely. Especially when limited by small looms in a small space to winterwear in decreasingly cold winters.

But, given that I already had more than £12,000 worth of stock in my shop before this season’s weaving, let’s say that I did sell £12,000 worth this year. I pay Etsy and social media platforms about 20% of that total for listing and advertising; a further 30% of it is accounted for by materials and expenses. So that leaves me with about half of the £12,000 as wages from which to pay all workshop overheads (‘use of home as office’) and living costs – £500 pcm.

The Leap

Seven years ago on the brink of launching, I reckoned that myself and large hound could live on the road in an elderly van and fund business overheads on £600 a month as long as nothing major went wrong.

A photoshoot by alicecarfraemultimedia.com for my first big break: an Etsy feature that brought thousands to my shop in 2016

I don’t regret that leap for one minute (and actually I had very little choice). But it was never going to be easy, and of course major things have gone wrong all the bloody way. That and seasonality mean I’ve had to get help (for which I am so very grateful) just to scrape by in these costly big economies of ours.

Naturally I question every five minutes whether local craft can ever be viable, whether my community needs what I produce, or whether there is something better I could or should be doing. And since the answer to all these questions is basically ‘no’ in our current society, I keep on keeping on despite the contradictions. 

I like what I do: it’s relatively autonomous and low-impact, essentially peasant/resilient; it’s creative; it inspires others; it warms others; it’s politically significant, since in our economic context makership is an act of resistance. It’s as much challenge as I can cope with nowadays, and, lastly, I can’t think of a single, meaningful alternative that a landless electrohypersensitive could actually survive. (I can’t even go fruitpicking as long as every other picker carries their damn phone on them, or there’s a mobile phone mast in sight.)

The Grit

Electrohypersensitivity is classed as a disability in some European countries – in France that qualifies you for disability benefit. This makes me feel both relieved and angry: relieved because the predicament is understood in some places; angry because getting sick from diesel particulates does not make you ‘disabled’; getting sick from tobacco smoke does not make you ‘disabled’; getting cancer by glyphosate or asbestos does not make you ‘disabled’… getting sick from artificially high background radiation levels does not mean that I’m ‘disabled’, it means that there’s an environmental toxin being sold as a public good that’s become a public dependency. A post-industrial necessity that is as much a public harm. And the cruellest aspect is that the most sensitive among us (including wildlife) are the least likely to be able to communicate effectively to the wider community because our society’s prevailing means of communication is micro wave digitech, the very thing that causes our problem, so we are often cut off from the wider community, struggle overly with bureaucracy, etc. etc. 

To illustrate how my susceptibility to environmental radiation affects my lifestyle and relationships:

I effectively have a ‘budget’ of about six hours’ a week of artificial electromagnetic field (EMF) exposure, after which my body becomes over-aroused beyond quick recovery (aka relaxation) so that I cease sleeping altogether and, chronically wiped and wired and stretched and anxious and over 40, become ill. (The number of six hours can be more or less depending on how high the levels of exposure are, e.g. from zero inside a granite building in a wooded valley with all lights, appliances switched off 95% of the time to minimise effects of poor earthing in old electrics, to moderate on an exposed hillside where there’s some mobile reception, through to extreme every time I connect my phone – often my only internet access, get a zap from someone else’s device, go into town, or pass a mast.) Just shopping, essential comms and keeping my work going uses up that budget. Going out at all always costs me a few days’ recovery, which I often can’t afford. To actually enjoy any time with friends, they have to be up for switching off and wildy walks in wooded valleys. Very little else.

And I fear how many others are suffering in far worse surroundings than me, and without knowing the cause to be able to make changes, and without means and connections to pursue the crazy workarounds that I pursue; how many will resort to zombifying sedatives, or beating their wives, or psychiatric wards, or drinking themselves to death, or just experience steadily worsening health; how many of us are expendable in the name of ‘progress’, when ‘progress’ means perpetuating and protecting wealth concentration among a few in a hyper-tech ‘arms race’ to the bottom; how many sick people a straining welfare system and diminishing workforce can carry; how far behind the times the medical profession is in their knowledge of this; and how many will have to get sick before national norms for safe levels are reduced and adhered to. (As often, some European countries are ahead on this, thank goodness, namely Austria, Germany and Italy, last time I looked at the stats.)

The Nacre

So, as ever in so many ways, I’m one of the lucky ones. And against the backdrop of housing crisis, gig economy, digital nomadry and pandemic, with help and your moral support and custom, I have woven a beautiful cloth of the silver lining. I have spent much of the last five years combing the furthest reaches of these isles and Brittany for some affordable little nook I can settle relatively autonomously to quietly grow my own food in as much voluntary simplicity as anyone not-quite-hermit can feasibly achieve in this wretched ‘civilised’ world. The quest has been necessary, and it’s been romantic, in between the struggle and the mundane. It’s been dangerous and empowering, as all quests should be, but also confidence-shaking and debilitating. 

I have expended immense amounts of energy – energy that I should have been using to change the world, and to work, grow food, exercise and otherwise look after myself and my community – searching for and researching possible housing solutions in four countries (One Planet Development schemes, co-housing, eco-villaging, shared equity, building plots, planning laws, building materials, ruins, barges, squats, husbands), all of which I ultimately found I simply could not achieve as a feral, lone-female, anarchistic electrohypersensitive on a tiny income.

The Pearl

At last I’ve found a small, very roughly habitable, rubblestone cottage buried in a quarter acre of eight foot high brambles, with another half acre of tree-fringed glade, in a pocket of properly rural countryside, with no mobile phone coverage and friendly neighbours, that will be mine for a very modest £55,000. It has a new roof, a new woodburner, free water, and a very basic bathroom and kitchen. Crucially, there’s space for a proper workshop with larger looms, and for a dye garden, and possibly even a couple of fleece animals.

This sleeping beauty is too buried beneath the brambles for a photograph (which would reveal a not-particularly-beautiful, cement-rendered façade)

As well as the normal surveying process, I’ve had both a builder’s and an architect’s advice on it (friends in the right places, thank you Chris and Chris). It is structurally sound enough but there is work to be done to deal with damp and lack of use; it has old, skeletal electrics, no boiler, and an old, legally obsolete, septic tank. 

But I have tools, skills, books, contacts and courage; I know how to rough it, wing it, mend it and make do, and anyway ‘modernising’ isn’t really in my vocabulary; my way is more romantic – grow wax myrtle and make my own candles; rig up a bicycle to power my laptop and eventually go without; shun even photovoltaics – if I can.

It’s not perfect. Drawbacks include a not-very-walkable route/distance to the nearest market town but advantages include land that gently slopes to the south west; the house being at the top of the site, not overlooked; the property having its own spring as well as the shared village one piped into the house. The house itself has some nice features among the less nice ones, and ticks the essential boxes (especially no mobile coverage) where in five years of searching nothing else has. 

The Next Step

I’m researching forest gardening, regenerative micro-agriculture and permaculture. Fleece animals and dyestuffs from my own dye garden would build on my existing livelihood, as well as developing food production in case of community need. In fertile lands like these, and in the face of climate catastrophe, we need all the primary producers we can get in our precariously obese ‘service’ economies. Keeping earthskills alive is a matter of survival of the species.

No falling in love until it’s signed for, though it’s mine for the signing. I hope to move in this month or next, after putting down the deposit – the vendor knows I’m in sore need of a home before the nights get cold and dark.

The only problem is that I don’t have £55,000. Nor am I ‘mortgageable’, an advisor told me. I’m terrified, as ever, but I do have a plan.

The Plan

  1. The bank has, irresponsibly, offered me a normal loan of up to £30,000. Repayments are scary as hell on a tiny, erratic, arts income. And in my analysis, since my bank calls itself a mutual but is not, this money-created-as-debt-at-interest-by-those-privileged-with-a-license is a locking mechanism for our society’s material ills. But so much less choice than we like to think: shoulder the poverty tax and compromise my principles in the short term the better to keep fighting in the long term.
  2. Blessedly, there are some family funds I can draw on in addition.
  3. I have things to sell: my retro Mercedes; a yurt (currently backup accommodation but soon unaffordable luxuries); lots of handwoven garments and many more to come; plus two very fine musical instruments (if I can content myself with lesser versions).
  4. Once settled, I can be more productive: in the last seven nomadic years, there are seasons when I work a steady 45 hour week, months when I work a 50 or even 60 hour week, but times of upheaval in between where I barely work at all: beyond my control, exhausting and disruptive. (Life on the road is not a steady amble from one beautiful hilltop to another; there are vast swathes of inhospitable terrain – hostile territory, even – in between the very few remaining wildy refuges. Especially if you’re electrosensitive. Also, too often I have had to rely unsustainably on family and friends, who can barely accommodate my electrosensitivity themselves.)
  5. There’s a gap in the local market for lawnmowing for secondhomeowners, which I could risk destroying my soul to do if bank loan repayments became really scary in my low season – a scythe would make it less environmentally loathsome and more of a campaign stunt. There’s also a gap in the local market for holiday cottage changeovers, ditto…

…and finally, you.

The Solution

Given the vagaries of a craftsperson’s income, to reduce the amount I have to borrow, I’m appealing to you. I’m launching a crowdfunder. This is hard to ask in our society (though in the Once and Future Village, friends, neighbours and family would all help each other build their homes if they could)…

Please would you help me buy a safe, stable, longterm home from which to further my (I hope you’ll agree) worthwhile activities? 

The Crowdfunder

If so, if you’re reasonably comfortable/secure yourself, and not stretched too thin in over-giving, or stuck renting and resenting, or debt-stressed and floundering, as so many are… if so – and I can’t type a heartfelt enough ‘THANK YOU in advance’ – if so, please go to my crowdfunder page to make even the tiniest donation. I hope to raise £20,000 before November 30th, but sums will still be invaluable after that as I deal with poor drainage, decrepit septic tank, lack of boiler, rotten floorboards and stairs and so on. Your gift would make it work where without you it’s very, very touch and go. You can donate here: Rerooting: a home for Eloïse.

The south migrates northwards

In the beautiful Arthurian forest of Huelgoat in Finistère, Brittany, I’ve woven thousands of pounds worth of stock, which I’m starting to list for sale this week. 

Fields, gardens and moorland everywhere get overblown at this time of year, most of them yellowed and browned by our scorching heatwaves this year. There’ve been unprecedented fires, and even the verdant forest has begun to go a little gold now, ahead of the autumn fanfare. 

As the South comes up to meet us here in the relative North, may we be worried for the climate, but also excited for the cultural inspiration. May we strive to resist the worst (the droughts, the floods), but be sure to welcome the best: the people, their artefacts, their traditions, their skills and their resilient ways…

I’m starting this season’s listings with late summer colours, then moving to autumn colours – naturally. Colours which also harken lands of baked earths, pan-tiled roofs, rich minerals and sun-coloured textiles infuse my normally northerly sense this season.

This cloth is woven from dip-dyed yarn, which has a slightly unpredictable self-striping effect, making weaving really quite exciting as the pattern emerges organically. It’s a bit like cultivating a new variety of plant: you know what a given species is going to look like generically, but each one surprises as it grows. The duende in many an inspired maker’s work is the improvisation which allows for, and responds to, the principle of emergence. Look closely below and spot the differences as I weave and wind the cloth on no more than a foot each time.

And in my next blogpost (coming very soon), some hefty text (as you’d expect) and an important call-out. But for today just a visual treat as a gentle warmup. Follow my shop on Etsy for alerts as I list each new garment.

Faded glade

Golden glade

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