HALF PRICE WINTER WARMS

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!

My shop: https://www.etsy.com/uk/shop/TheseIsles

A history of These Isles in 12 minutes, including political analysis (of course)

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/

Digital Craft Festival TODAY!

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!

Digital Craft Festival March 26-28th

‘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.

The solution? A different monetary system. You know I’m working on it.

Meantime I invite you to buy one expensive-feeling, handmade garment in support of a (relatively) local artisan instead of spending the same money on cheaper, dirtier imports. 

For craft not for profit, see you March 26-28th! 

http://www.digitalcraftfestival.co.uk

From a safe little valley in Devon where the fruits glitter like jewels

‘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.

Eloïse

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:

and

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’

Image

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.