Thursday, 26 July 2012

Monk’s musings and definitive detail

Reading Ellis Peters’ Brother Cadfael is good for the soul.  In one of his sleuthing episodes, medieval herbalist monk Cadfael tells his charge that “..there’s no profit in ‘ifs’ – we go on from where we stand’. The Cadfael brand of wisdom came to me on a train journey today, returning from saying a final goodbye to a much-appreciated aunt. 

We’d got to know each other latterly in life and found we had much in common, from our very straight hair to our plain-speaking attitudes, from gardening to jam-making and also history, both ancient and family.  Like a train, which changes in meaning and significance as it metamorphoses from the 09.30 service from York to the 11.55 service from Stevenage, we remain the same in essence though the detail of what we mean to others and where we are in life defines us to our friends and family.

The defining nature of detail matters at every turn in life, and especially to people who express their being through the creativity of their designs.  Their detail becomes their creative ‘hallmark’, whether they be potter, painter, weaver or knitter.  Juliet Bernard’s Planethandmade blog recently highlighted the case of a knitwear designer whose woolly signature seemed to appear through a retailer.  The debate over ownership of creative intellectual property is at the heart of ACID – Anti-Copying In Design, and their petition entitled Commission it, Don’t Copy it!’.

ACID’s  ‘Government endorsed campaign intends to support the UK’s estimated 240,000 designers by encouraging retailers to sign up to a code protecting creative intellectual property, whilst simultaneously encouraging them to commission more original design and to create ‘signature ranges’. Presumably the campaign intends to imbue product design with the same protection and exclusivity deals which have long been the preserve of high fashion.

This does not guarantee, though, that we 'makers' will automatically achieve success.  As James Dyson related through the Guardian’s Small Business Network recently, failure is equally important.  Commenting on the success-driven culture of competition athletes (not far from any of our minds for the next two weeks!), he said he’ had over five thousand attempts at designing a prototype for his now-famous machines before achieving proverbial gold.   His point was that perseverance through adversity is just as valuable as success when you’re making something. 

Continued perseverance and finding ways around things was also the theme in an article I was reading on my train journey today, about Danish weaver Lotte Dalgaard (The Journal WSD, issue 236, 2010).  Change has been her constant companion through her creative textiles journey, bringing her to where she is today with her individual fabrics being made into equally individual garments through co-operation with a fashion designer. Brother Cadfael’s creator was most insightful in penning the lines I began with above.  May your coming week be one of rejoicing in the friendships and leaning life has granted you so far, and be full of determinedly future-focussed creativity.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Celebration, innovation and new horizons

If there’s ever a case for an award it’s for the members of the Community Interest Company that is Fibre-East. After a downpour of biblical proportions while we were setting up our stalls last Friday evening, both organisers and visitors carried on stoically in the mud throughout the weekend, in true ‘Glastonbury’ spirit, and good fun was had by all. Although they’ve closed for this year, I think we should all get together next spring and nominate Fibre-East for ‘Contributing to the Community’ – one of the Nectar small business awards, as a reward for all their efforts.

Fibre-East is a celebration of entrepreneurship, with small businesses of all kinds, including my own, at its core. And at the core of a lot of those small businesses are creative women, stepping out with their ideas and exploring their own potential for innovation. My guests on the Outward Images stand inhabit different but equally potent areas of fibre business life. Rachel John, innovator and inventor of Extreme Knitting, continues to promote creativity and engage all ages in her vision. Juliet Bernard of Planet Handmade is turning her expertise in the knitting and promotional worlds into help for new businesses find their way to market.

On the Sunday Rachel and I were joined by Pete Mosley, creative coach and business editor of Craft & Design, giving one-to-one advice to the small business owners and creative people visiting Fibre-East. It was interesting to see that Pete’s offer of free business advice was being taken up primarily by new and emerging women entrepreneurs. The Department of Business Innovation and Skills’ 2011 small business report found that only 29% of the UK’s entrepreneurs are women. Perhaps their survey didn’t extend to the fibre-crafts sector, where we seem to be in the majority.

The Federation of Small Businesses are doing their bit for women under their ‘Real-Life Entrepreneurs’ campaign. If you visit their downloads page to take part, you’ll find a ready-made women entrepreneurs’ postcard to send to your MP, lobbying for more education & assistance for women in starting up in business. The FSB say that 95% of all private businesses employ less than 5 people, so we needn’t feel we’re too small if we’re chugging along by ourselves. We’re in the majority here too, so have confidence and go for it!

We’re also pretty good at networking too, and it was great to meet and greet so many people over the Fibre-East weekend. I’m also deeply grateful to the creative, innovative women wool shop owners like the ladies from Yarn on the Square, and visiting men and women knitters, who kindly gave me some much-appreciated feedback on what I’m doing and how I can take Outward Images forward. Thanks tremendously for all of your input. Here’s wishing all readers, male and female, a positive, co-operative, and inventive week, brimming with new horizons.

Saturday, 7 July 2012

Away in a land of orange

I’m a bit late updating this week as I’ve been away on a trip to a land of orange - and oranges. The deep orangey-russet of the soil in Portugal’s Algarve would be even more potent were it not for the bleaching of the sun. And plantsperson though I am, I’ve never before seen the developing, bright orange, fruit-carrying arms that stretch up so enthusiastically from the date palms along the sea-front. I hadn’t realised how fluorescent they look at that early stage.

The orange trees in Portugal were absolutely laden with fruit too, and almost all of it ripe and colourfully inviting against the waxy green leaves. The most vibrant experience though for a colour-imbiber like me was finding the orange ‘vibe’ of the area reflected on the walls of the Three Crowns restaurant in Albuferia, and seeing even this beamed back through the orange centre of a hot pink Bougainvillea climbing the walls. Apologies for the picture quality: the sea breeze wouldn’t let it still long enough!

Lace-making and rug-weaving were on the regional culture menu, and I was lucky enough to be allowed not just to look at but actually to sit at an estimated 200-year old pedal-operated loom. It was part of a display on weaving and old lace at the very recommendable Parque da Minta, inland near Monchique. Very kindly, the curator both opened the door and welcomed me to sit where many (much slimmer!) derrières had sat in centuries before.

I was even allowed to have a go at changing the sheds using the pedals. Much more complicated than my very simple rigid heddle Knitters' Loom - more like driving a car, but with vastly superior environmental outcomes. The ancientness and wear on the pedals makes one feel very humble thinking of the rigours of life for country weavers in the past, and full of admiration for their artistic output, given their circumstances. The detail in the weaving even of donkey back sacks reminds you just what a creative force textiles are in our lives, whether it’s practical astronauts’ space suits or art/fashion collaborations like those at Britain Creates.

I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to update the blog this coming Thursday as I’ll be getting ready for the Outward Images stand at Fibre-East. If I miss your company then here’s hoping we’ll meet in person at the show.