Friday, 30 November 2012

Dyes, Pies and Whys

Dyes and pies: that’s how I’ve labelled the blackberries in the freezer, and it’s a good job I kept some, as this year’s crop has been extremely low because of the weather. I’ve sneaked a few out of the ‘dyes’ bag – the better ones – to make up the deficit in the ‘pies’ bag, but I’m going to regret that when I reach for the dyepot this weekend. I wish it was as easy to turn wool bright colours as it is to grow plants which create an intensely colourful backdrop in winter time.  

My natural dyepot experiences have so far produced subtle colours rather than the deep and consistent shades you get from World of Wool’s artistic palette of colours. I therefore tend to use the commercially-dyed material for yarns to put in my Etsy shop, and the natural dyes, which can be a bit flighty if I haven’t measured things properly, for my own home use. Suppliers like World of Wool are good at doing their due diligence, but when I was asked by a prospective Etsy customer in the USA recently about shipments, and discovered what their regulations demanded of suppliers, I found I still have a lot of learning to do about sourcing.

It wasn’t just the transport issue – bulky yarns like mine seem to require ‘volumetric’ costing by shippers, thus extra expense – it’s that apparently I need to be able to identify the origins of every single component I use, which, with the fluffy stuff I make, can be quite a lot! If I’m thoughtful about what I’ve got to do to assure my very small supply chain, imagine how hard it is for fashion designers and even more for retailers, though at least they should have the resources to make active choices. According to Greenpeace’ report ‘Toxic Threads’, launched last week, some of them are falling down on the job.

The side-effects of industrial-scale dyeing processes can be added to the issue of ‘wool miles’, raised previously on this blog, as something that we as spinners ought to think more about. So my challenge for 2013 is to find ways of applying some form of ‘life cycle analysis’ to my woolly materials, in the same way as I advocate its use to others in a manufacturing context. I’m willing to give it a try as I believe the planet is worth saving, and as a gardener too I feel I ought to be doing more to help. Plants are valuable, and climate change will affect their growth patterns and our abilities to harvest and use them as our ancestors did. So here’s wishing you a thoughtful week, bending your mind to ways and means to make a difference, examining your own ‘whys’, and possibly your dyes and pies too.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Work-Life imbalance

Life’s web sometimes spins us a few tangles and that’s certainly been true for me in recent weeks. Firstly there came the totally unanticipated and most untimely passing of a close working colleague, for whom I then had to do both a professional and personal duty by writing all the necessary media announcements and obituary. In the middle of the turmoil, pre-arranged building work got underway here, meaning I had to move out of my small office, along with some 12 years of paperwork which needed sorting, and I have only just got back in here at the start of this week. Happily it hasn’t all been stress: the return of frosts have changed the balance in the garden to a much more autumnal palette, and my oldest and first spinning wheel, nicknamed ‘Stanley’, and I have made up from our wobbling-out-of-true quarrel and are now working famously together again.  

Being a ‘lone ranger’ as a businesswoman, having any ‘work-life balance’ is actually quite hard. You feel that you need to go the extra mile all the time, particularly when the economy isn’t good, to show that you’re worth your salt. And working from home there’s always the guilt-feeling that you should slip back into the office and “just” finish something off: of course you emerge three hours later. Operating in not one but two fields these days, also having to keep up professional accreditation with CPD points, plus whatever share of family duties come my way, and rapidly the concept of a ‘balanced lifestyle’, let alone a ‘balanced diet’, goes out of the window. Apparently though I’m not the only one, as my Enterprising Women newsletter tells me.  

Their report into women’s potential for providing growth in the economy revealed that 39% of their UK survey respondents found it hard to achieve ‘work-life balance’, quite probably because 68% of them are, like me, the sole operatives of their businesses. And like me they’re probably ‘chief cook and bottle-washers’ (or should I say ‘domestic godesses’?) in their households too. This “predominantly micro-business-based” community of women, though, are apparently less than confident about marketing themselves and/or their wares, with 41% of respondents “not knowing how to build a sales pipeline”. Now that figure really does surprise me. Why set forth in a business if you don’t know where your market is? Market research – even at a basic level – should be the foundation of any offering, whether it’s pictures, PR, pets or pottery. Simply plunging in can cost a whole pile, which most of us these days would have to think twice before investing.

Pricing is always an awkward issue, especially for small producers unable to gain big discounts on their raw materials, but we should think about our output, whatever it may be, in terms of value more than price. And we should put a very definite value on priceless things that keep us personally in balance, like swooshing through the fallen autumn leaves and drinking in the vision of ice crystals on frozen flowers. After all none of us can say how many bright frosty autumn mornings we will see in our lifetimes, so every one of them should be precious. Here’s hoping you can achieve a positive balance in your work and life this coming week.