Thursday, 28 June 2012

Valuable, free and at Fibre-East

We’re very caught up as a society with assigning monetary values to everything. Yet some of the best things in life are free, or happen to you when you’re doing someone a favour. At last year’s Fibre-East I was lucky enough to meet a number of friendly journalists, one of whom asked me to write a few articles for free as a favour for their magazine. I was only too happy to help: it was an opportunity to find out more about my Ashford Country Spinner and explore its heritage, and to explore other topics too. No money changed hands: it didn’t need to. I had fun and they got an article - or two: a most equitable bargain.

We’ve talked before about craft being about what you give, not what you get in return. It’s part of the whole ethos of passing on skills to the next generation so they can continue to benefit humankind. And as part of my ‘giving back’ for all the fun I have at Fibre-East, I’m delighted to say that on the Sunday, 15th July, anyone starting a craft business, or wanting to refresh their established businesses, can come along to the Outward Images stand and get free advice from Pete Mosley, business editor of Craft & Design magazine, and author of ‘Make your Creativity Pay’.

Pete and his business partner Janet Currie run courses for craftspeople starting up or moving on up with their businesses at The Refectory Table.  At Fibre-East, we’ll be lucky enough to have Pete at our proverbial table on the Outward Images stand in marquee B all day on the Sunday. In fibre-crafts, particularly as yarn producers, we can suffer from being only one link in a chain towards a finished product. Our unfinished square peg doesn’t quite fit in the normal round hole marked ‘Craft’, yet our skills of spinning, weaving and dyeing are based on millennia of, to use business jargon, ‘knowledge transfer’.

Textile designers like Joby Lawlor, showing for the first time at New Designers, on now at the Business Design Centre, have a much more focussed business case to make as their art is in the finished material. Yarn producers have extra business hoops to go through to achieve recognition, but that’s where Pete Mosley’s advice will come in handy. His extensive store of experience is in encouraging artistic people to have confidence and ‘go for it’!

So please, do come an join us in our ‘Crafters’ Den’ on the Outward Images stand, Sunday 15th July.  Pete’s helpful business advice is most kindly being proffered with the same sincere community spirit which pervades Fibre-East. Take your first steps in good company, and if you eventually decide to join the woolly business community here’s wishing you every success.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Golden stars and golden Sun-day

As the northern hemisphere’s summer solstice starts our reverse journey towards a colourful autumn, the world waits for news of the Egyptian presidential elections and the future of its freely-elected parliament.  Egypt is a country of golden light, as we found on our honeymoon many years ago.  We’ve been back since, taking our children to see the ancient achievements of its peoples, and climbing the very hot, sticky ascent right into the centre of the Great Pyramid.  For the inspiration engendered by visiting its massive monuments, I hope Egypt returns to peaceful prosperity soon, allowing ever more people to gasp at its glinting treasures. 

The golds and red-brown colours of Egypt have been in my mind over the past week, making yarn towards Fibre-East.  John Gillow and Bryan Sentence’s book ‘World Textiles’ brings north Africa’s natural colours and gold-work vibrantly to life for this armchair traveller.  It’s the nearest I can get these days to the continent’s welcome warmth and dust.  And whilst I ponder the value of my meagre efforts at the spinning wheel, Ruth Brompton-Charlesworth’s article recalls just what currency exquisitely-crafted traditional textiles originally represented to their owners.  I don’t think anything I make will be that valuable to future generations, but maybe I can create a worthwhile degree of individuality for people in the present. 

Looking back on our honeymoon snaps, I realised the golden-embossed leather frame we bought out there is still holding out against the ravages of time.  One of the tombs we visited back then, though, has not been so lucky.  It had a magnificent ceiling, now sadly collapsed, of darkest midnight blue covered in a million gold stars.  The ancients knew a thing or two about the night sky:  they only used their eyes to observe the heavens but they did pretty well.  Today we have vast volumes of information provided by missions like NASA’s SOHO.  For fellow aficionados of colour, the odyssey of pictures on The Sun Now page, which reveal the sun in many different aspects and all in ‘real-time’, is well worth a visit. 

While we’re hoping for sunshine on Mid-Sumer’s day in our rainy country, we should spare a thought for those at the opposite end of the planet in Antarctica, celebrating Mid-Winter’s day.  A cool, wet British summer may seem a bit grey, but I think I’d rather be here than in the -30 to -59 degrees of the frozen wastes! Here’s wishing you a week of golden sunshine on the inside, especially if there’s not so much about outside the window.  

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Seascape in a basket

As an avid watcher of the BBC’s series ‘Coast’, my eyes enjoy feasting upon views down onto the seas from above, showing (on their sunnier outings) the grey-blue graduation in colour of our watery surroundings. However lovely our coast appears, for me it can’t match the high intensity colour provided by summer light in the Mediterranean. The contrasts between bleached rocks and turquoise sea are something I’ve grown up with, for I was one of the ‘lucky ones’, taken to play on its warm, sandy shores when they were still relatively empty.

My parents were adventurous for Brits in the early 1960s and thought nothing of packing up the extended family, along with a multi-lingual dictionary, taking a ferry across the channel, and driving through France into Spain, to the coast near L’Estartit. There’s a picture here of a very small me on one of the empty Costa Brava beaches as then they were. I’ve followed in the same tradition, taking my children on the same route for many years to beautiful beaches like Sa Tuna. I hope they’ll go back one day themselves now they’re independent travellers.

Even to think of it now, looking down through the path under the stone pines to the sea below, the jewel colours of the gently lapping waters still come to vivid life. I can understand why artists are fascinated by the sea, like Monet for example, as it offers a rich palette as the light changes and the texture and rhythm of the sea moves with the wind. Mediterranean sea colours called me again during the week when I had my different coloured bags of ‘fluff’ out on the floor, seeking inspiration.

With Gypsy Kings music on the brain and Paul Theroux’s Pillars of Hercules on the table, the die was cast! With some Teeswater locks for seaweed, and a few bits of Angelina fibre as homage to the water’s sparkle in the sun, I was off, wheeling away. Despite all the rain outside, the colours kept me warm inside, mentally and physically while spinning. As I hand-felt my yarns after spinning, to make sure the locks stay in, it’ll be a day or two before it’s completely dry and I can admire my handiwork. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a week full of mental sunshine to speed you through your tasks!

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Bouquet of ideas

New ideas often arrive in parties – tagging along each with another.  And there will be plenty of new ideas to celebrate as we enter the season of degree shows at Britain’s art and fashion colleges.  The Royal College of Art has already had their fashion show, but still to come are many more ranging from DeMontfort to the London College of Fashion.  The best of the new designers will assemble at Graduate Fashion Week, which starts this coming Sunday with the four-day extravaganza at London’s Earl’s Court. 

Some of the most intriguing ideas marrying materials and other disciplines are coming from institutions like Central St Martin’s Textile Futures group, taking textiles to a completely different level.  Personally I’ll be very interested to see what comes from the launch of the sustainability-promoting Textile Toolbox next Tuesday 12th, which aims, it says, to create:  systemic change within the fashion industry through interconnected design thinking and processes for sustainable textiles and fashion’.  Can’t wait to see what that’s all about.  Let’s hope it brings greater recognition right across the textile sector of the ethical and environmental impacts, sometimes unwittingly created, along the supply chain from sheep (or other animal or plant) to finished products.  

At this time of year, ideas for me are all around the garden.  Last weekend, a family 60th wedding anniversary provided an inspirational bouquet to take home, which set me thinking of where we’d be without the interaction of green with other colours, in both the plant and craft worlds.  Look at this Astrantia:  perfection in its structure, yet it’s the interplay between the green and the wine-red of its venation that lifts the spirits and intrigues the eye.  This week has also seen another spirit-lifter, the first rose in my summer, coming into bloom despite the constant rain:  David Austin’s English Rose, Rosa ‘Gertrude Jekyll’.  I’m inhaling its heavy scent in my mind as I look at my photo. 

Combining the ideas nature bring us is never easy for mere human beings, but, like the new young fashion designers launching their careers this coming week, I go forward in faith.  I hope somehow to create something that does small justice to what I find around me.  Just as the small inputs of green ‘make’ the bouquet, I’m experimenting with small inputs of green to offset the other summer flower colours in the yarn basket.  I hope it works:  the skein is now drying in the airing cupboard, along with the scented rose petals from my ‘Gertrude’ rose. 

I can see the buds coming on my Philadelphus too:  I wonder whether the scent will be any more or any less because of last winter’s extreme temperatures?  More inspiration and scent to come!  Here’s wishing you and inspirational week whatever you’re creating.  And here’s wishing a sustainable future and a constant bouquet of ideas to all the young designers taking part in Graduate Fashion Week.