Thursday, 22 August 2013

Spinning in The Greece

It’s not often you get an invitation to bring your spindles and have a holiday in Greece, the one and only part of the nearby ancient world I’d never visited. Dear friends kindly suggested I go to stay with them for a break, and to bring books, spindles, weaving or anything else that took my fancy. I packed up my tablet weaving books, tablets, some silk, some wool and, and, with spindles padded in my suitcase, off I went. In between being a traveller in this antique land, I started some wool on one spindle and silk on another, hoping to produce enough to warp up for a first go with the tablets.

I’d no idea, until we went to the Greek National Archaeological Museum, that Athena was the ancient goddess of weaving, amongst all her other duties. There was a Linear B hieroglyph representing wool in one of the displays, alongside some Linear B tablets detailing the activities of lady weavers at court, and a number of what looked like woven scarves modelled in stone in one of the cabinets. Yes it’s true there’s a lot of very famous Mycenaean gold in the display cases, plus the fascinating Antikythera Mechanism exhibition, but for the textile-lover there’s also a deep-seated veneration of the weaver’s art amongst the antiquities.  

We were lucky enough to catch the Saturday talk in English about the Acropolis Museum’s research on archaic colours. Apparently the statues around the building pediments, and elsewhere around the Acropolis, which we think of as just plain white, were anything but. Traces of vivid colour and the chemical signatures of pigments abound under the glare of modern microscopy techniques. The flowing folds in the statues’ fabric garments were adorned with coloured braids as well as gold ornament. The colours themselves have to be seen to be believed: it gives a totally different impression to the one we’ve all grown up with: Greek statues were not ‘white’ at all.  

One of the most fascinating colour remnants on a statue was on the shorts worn by an ancient sculpture of a Persian rider, identified by the design and colouring of his remaining attire. They’d even reproduced the weaving beside the statue to show both colour and form. My friend and I started debating whether it had been made using a form of tablet weaving but we couldn’t quite work it out. Doing some internet research earlier today it looks very much like they were made using the technique known as Sprang, which I haven’t tried yet. If any of you have already had a go I’d love to hear about your experiences and how to avoid any pitfalls that the Sprang beginner might not see. In the meantime, here’s wishing you a surprising week ahead full of unexpectedly colourful moments, whether you’re spinning in the one and only Greece or elsewhere.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Ingenuity and catching boats

I knew it: it slipped past me again. I’ve missed London Open Squares Weekend, which was 8-9 June. I went for the first time in 2007 and it was a real inspiration to see so many green oases in the midst of the concrete jungle, many filled with vibrant colour. For me, the most creative spirits belonged to the Thames barge owners who had created gardens atop their boats moored not far from Tower Bridge. The ingenuity - and engineering – required to create tranquil spaces floating on the water is tremendous, let alone their colour sense and plant choice. There were even fruiting trees aboard. 

I must bookmark the weekend for next year so I can get to see more of the amazing roof gardens, which particularly fascinate me, which work on a similar principle to the boat gardens. I’m a great fan of the work of Nigel Dunnett, who’s done so much to augment the space available for wildlife via roof gardens and wild spaces, and whose recent RHS Chelsea show garden was much acclaimed. With so many roof spaces potentially available and Britain’s biodiversity rapidly decreasing, there’s no reason for society to miss the conservation boat. We just need to move the boundaries of gardens to a 21st century height.  

As a ‘dyed in the wool’ spinner, if you’ll pardon the expression, one woolly-related boat I don’t want to miss is definitely on my calendar already. Wysing Arts in nearby Bourn are having their open weekend from 6-7 July. Central to the weekend is the exhibition of work by Jonathan Baldock, including large-scale felt sculptures and knitted and crocheted ‘sculptural growths’. The picture opposite has kindly been lent by Wysing Arts for which I’m very grateful.  

Some of the elements of the Baldock exhibition will also be brought to life through contemporary dance under the direction of choreographer Henrietta Hale and the Dog Kennel Hill Project on the Saturday of the open weekend. More ingenuity and creative surprises to look forward to! I hope they choose some of the woolly elements to bring to life: that would shed a whole new light on the potential of the gentle material we spinners work with. Here’s wishing you a week full of new possibilities in whatever you do.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Gertrude and The Bees

Around this time a few years back I was enjoying a deliciously indulgent day course at David Austin Roses, trying different rose scents, from apple through to myrrh, in a way reminiscent of a wine tasting. It was a well-designed affair and your nose didn’t get tired at all of going from one stunning fragrance to another. This year, spring has been sold cold here in the east of England that everything plant-wise about a month behind so I’m still waiting for Gertrude.  The rose Gertrude Jekyll, that is, my favourite Austin creation, which resides outside my front door.  

It shares the space with a cutting bought at Hestercombe gardens, which Gertrude Jekyll herself had a hand in designing. It’s now a large WinterSweet (Chimonanthus praecox), which is doing a bit too well and will shortly take over the window if I don’t get stern with it. One day I’d love to have a garden full of Gertrude’s favourite plants, many of them my favourites too, but right now my concern is for the bees, and making sure there’s something open and available for them in this tough season. Rosa Gertrude Jekyll, alas, beautiful as she is, is not really bee-friendly, but I’ve plenty of species roses, like Rosa mutabilis, which are. 

I have a small Oxford Bee Co Red Mason Bee nest which is making a tiny contribution to bee kind, and I leave areas of my garden rather too wild for the neighbours’ liking at this time of year but full of flowers, to help the ‘proper’ honey bee-keeper two doors along. It’s wildflowers like these that have been in the news this week, the glorious magic carpets of their colours now having declined by 97%. And that’s not helping any of the bees out there to thrive.  

There’s a plan to create Coronation Meadows across Britain for conservation, in remembrance of HM The Queen’s coronation anniversary, but listening recently to a radio adaptation of Dave Goulson’s ‘A Sting in the Tale’ about bumblebee conservation, it’s going to take more than 60 meadows amongst our 66 million population to make a difference. So if, like me, you get a lot of inspiration for yarn colours from the artworks of nature around you, then why not sprinkle a few surreptitious annual seeds about and inject a little bee-friendly colour chaos into your garden.  Wishing you time and space to create your own magic carpet of bee-friendly flowers somewhere nearby. 

Friday, 31 May 2013

Blue sheep, changing lights and woven flooring

I really wasn’t looking for anything fibre- or sheep-related when walking between meetings in London last week: the sign just jumped out and hit me. With an hour to kill, a reasonable afternoon’s weather and an almost direct route heading east along the Clerkenwell Road in London, I originally intended to light a candle en route and remember an old friend. 

The cleaner at my first PR job, the lovely lady concerned was a true Cockney, born within the sound of Bow Bells amongst the Italian community around Clerkenwell. We’d sometimes nip in to St Peter’s Italian Church at lunchtime and light candles together: neither of us were Catholic but the practice made a quiet statement of faith in something bigger for both of us. Yet the Clerkenwell I now found before me, some 35 years later, was fairly unrecognizable, being gradually gentrified. 

The only advantage of this gentrification is the influx of design businesses of all kinds, from furniture to flooring. So there it was: an invitation a weaver couldn’t resist – to enter the world of Altro flooring and have a go weaving with its colourful offcuts. Alas my watch told me I didn’t have time to pitch in there, much though I wanted to have a go, but watching was fascinating! It was Altro’s contribution to Clerkenwell Design Week, which, I then discovered, was on its final day, with happenings all along my proposed walking route. 
Next I came across a blue sheep with some white inanimate companions, pointing to the Sedus office furniture showroom; then a fascinating sculptural and coloured light installation by Alexander Mulligan in conjunction with creative design group Nicholas Alexander – the sculpture represented the swift passage of animals and people through Clerkenwell to Smithfield in historic times. Lastly I only by then had time to briefly admire the utter artistry of a willow sculpture, much like structure with an over-arching roof yet lit by fibre optics and small flower-shaped bronze-gold lights by Sharon Marston. Wonderful work indeed. 

So next time you’re early for an appointment, it just goes to show that the creators of Stingray were absolutely right: “anything can happen in the next half hour” so see what you can find. Sheep, weaving and fibres of all kinds are never too far away! Here’s wishing you a week of equally fascinating discoveries.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

Tulips, Textiles and Travels

Focussing my ‘phone camera is one area of ‘continuing professional development’ that I’ve yet to get completely under my belt. You know the feeling: you’re out and about and see something wildly beautiful, zap out with the camera, only later to discover that what you thought was the focus button in fact is nothing of the sort. You’d think I’d have learned how to do it by now, as I’ve been on frequent ‘Textile Travels’ from west to east in the last few weeks.  

WonderWool Wales was just as it said on the tin: wonderful. This year’s visual treats were provided by the felters, with some amazing work on show. For me, the best was the many-layered, complex and beautiful work of felter Caroline Merrell of Felt in the Factory. Her felted chair covering was a masterpiece: my picture on the ‘phone camera just doesn’t do it justice. She apparently runs felted footstool courses, which I’m now desperate to do, as I’ve got a really old footstool that could really do with this kind of felty-facelift.   

Felt in the Factory also had a neat machine on their stand called a Groovi, which takes out all the hard work in the rolling and enables you to do deep layered felt that you can then cut and shape. Good for people with arthritis in their hands who can’t do the heavy wet rolling, though a bit of rolling is very good for getting rid of unwanted flab in the upper arms... says she, knowingly. I suppose it’s a matter of what’s easiest – and of course of the expense of a big machine like that.  

My next foray with the ‘phone camera was this last weekend’s Textile Fair at the Warner Textile Archive in Braintree. A friend spotted this piece of cloth for sale, all tied up in Shibori style. The myriad of little pinches of cloth, all tied with ultimate precision, reminded me of springs in a mattress. The utter patience of the person who prepared this! It was just one of many international textile cultures present at the fair. I bought some scraps of Kente cloth to try to learn the language (another long-term project for when I retire), and some African bark cloth with a feel under your fingers that’s totally unique.  

Braintree has a long association with textile company Warners, just as neighbouring town Halstead has a long association with the well-known textile family Courtaulds. It was in Halstead recently that the ‘phone camera came out again, this time with a great deal more success, to capture this colourists’ dream bunch of tulips. The florist who put them together is an artist in her own right: Monet couldn’t have done any better I’m sure. And at least I got them squarely in focus – which is in itself a small miracle. Here’s wishing you a weekend of small miracles of your own, and lots of focus to concentrate on enjoying them. 

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Stripes and Stars

“We are an amalgam of many selves ....and sometimes one of them escapes,” writer and poet Dannie Abse said on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning. I know how he feels. The dichotomy of a double life as a wheel spinner and a word spinner leaves you constantly pushing one part of you forward while pushing the other back, sliding to and fro on a strange see-saw. The word spinner had to win out over recent weeks until just before Easter, when the wool spinning half of me made its bid for freedom at the Selvedge Spring Fair. 

What would you call a friend whose life-long support includes aiding and abetting the escape of one’s woolly nature, helping for two whole days at the fair in central London, doing all the driving, and being your most enthusiastic saleswoman? An absolute star: that’s the term I’d use to describe friend Frances, seen here talking mega yarns with a Selvedge fair customer. There’s no doubt that our long tradition of going to fun-filled excesses with each other, started in childhood, is alive and well, and I certainly couldn’t do without her exceptional encouragement in all aspects of life.

Speaking of stars, the sun decided to make its way through the thick bank of clouds this week, bringing out some star performers in the garden. I can’t resist a bargain bag of bulbs and these strong stripy crocus were the result of a gamble with an unidentified bag from the garden centre last autumn. I was hoping they’d be Crocus sieberi, but instead these tall elegant flowers, like Frances, have goodly long stems on them. And, also like Frances, though they shiver at the cold they’re not defeated by the freezing winds that climate change is bringing to the East of England at the moment.

The Royal Horticultural Society is updating its previous report on adapting gardens for climate change, so if you’re any kind of gardener, do join their survey and let them know your experiences. Some 20 and more years ago it was predicted that climate change for the UK would bring us colder winters and wetter summers. That’s certainly been proved correct; let’s hope no more of those early forecasts come true since I for have had enough of bitter winds from the arctic keeping the ground too cold to plant in. I’m urgent for things to warm up as I’ve got trays of dyers’ Coreopsis, Weld and dyers’ chamomile waiting to go out, yet the greenhouse glass is still striped with frost every morning when I go down to feed the hens.

Yet frost or no, I’m kept smiling by the starry warmth of true friendship, accompanied by the stripey warmth of beautiful colours in the emerging spring garden. Here’s wishing you a week similarly warmed by the sharing good things.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Eggs-traordinary news!

At last a quiet minute to update! The last two weeks have flown by since I had a piece of amazing good news: I’ve been accepted to exhibit at the Selvedge Spring Fair at Chelsea Old Town Hall in London next weekend (22-23 March). It will be a mad two days but it’s hopefully going to be full of fun and interesting conversations. I love Selvedge magazine: it’s packed with fascinating snippets from the history, future and culture of textiles from around the world. I’ve not been to a Selvedge fair myself but they go by reputation for their eclectic and creative mix. If it’s anything like the magazine, it should be enthralling for all participants, be they visitors or exhibitors.  

The Selvedge show poster is bright daffodil yellow, mirroring the tiny miniature daffodils now coming out around the garden. In my soil, the smaller the narcissi are the better they withstand the dry summers and deeply cold winters, so I’m gradually collecting Alec Grey hybrids wherever I can find them.  

I feel I should be responding to the primroses waking up for spring. Yellow is all around me, in the Mahonias too, and in the yolks of the fresh spring eggs from the hens at the end of the garden. I thought I’d take some inspiration from my hens and make some egg-coloured yarn to take to the Selvedge show. I haven’t mirrored all the egg colours from my hens, as one is a Heritage Skyline breed, with a soupcon of Araucana in her DNA. Her muddy khaki eggs, though excellent for meringues, are not the most inspiring in shell colours!   

Having done all the fibre prepping, which takes a few hours, I hope I can get time to finish the yarn before packing up for the show on Thursday. With the unusually cold weather it’s the drying time that’s against me, as some of my skeins end up weighing nearly a kilo. There are also more than a few last-minute logistics to sort out - like how to get it all there!

So you’ll have to forgive me if I disappear from view again for a short while, re-surfacing I hope over Easter.  If you’re coming to the Selvedge Spring Fair do find me and say hello: I’m on B43, which (I think!) is in the main hall. In the meantime here’s wishing you a week or two of blossoming good news of your own. 

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Conversations with Greens

I missed you all last week as I was catching up on the day job, having spent the previous weekend delighting in fantastically colourful conversations with many arty ladies at Textiles in Focus. What a show! Opening on Friday and finishing Sunday late afternoon, it was wall-to-wall colour, both from other exhibitors and displays of groups’ work to the visitors themselves. I’ve never seen so many amazing hand-made nunno felt jackets, woven shawls, felted bags, art embroidery and clothing of all kinds. I was even shown how a humble piece of brown wrapping paper could be turned into an absolute work of art by distressing it and applying different surface treatments like metallic paints. Incredible.

Attracting much more attention than me and my Country Spinner was my peg loom, a very kind birthday present from life-long friend Frances, on which I’d started to try my yarn in rug form. Many ladies stopped to ask, to share memories from childhood, to watch or have a go themselves at the easy weaving. Being thick yarn the rug grew very quickly! I’d taken my skein ‘Among the Aspens’ out of circulation as I was itching to try it on the peg loom during the show. I also decided to spin a skein with a different green-selection colourway during the show to demonstrate the Country Spinner, as not many people have seen these big wheels. It must be spring coming in - the array of greens seemed magnetic to visitors. The emerging rug and my working baskets of fibre, ranging from minty greens to mustard colours, enticed many ladies to stop, feel the fluff, and talk.  

I’m no artist: I just love plants. And as every artist and gardener knows, there are very few greens and yellows that don’t sit neatly together in some kind of order. You’ve only got to look at the early spring sunshine coming through the backs of evergreen plants’ leaves to see a world of variety in one entity. Interestingly the greens drew much more interest that the blacks, bronze, whites and creams of the zebra-style material I was spinning on the first day of the show. The greens even attracted an interview with Just Hands On TV  - not something I’m used to. As a PR person in the day job I’m usually crew-side of a TV camera, not in front of one! I gather when the videos are uploaded from Textiles in Focus I’ll be sent a link, which - if I’m not too shy! - I’ll share here.   

Most of all at the show I enjoyed the company of very many interesting, intellectual, colourful women, and exchanging wildly enthusiastic conversations from the production of madder in Zeeland to ways of mapping out and creating circular rungs on the peg loom. Sharing their insights, looking at their work, and sharing a common passion for colour and creativity was an experience second to none. Here’s wishing you a week of creatively profitable conversations, and a sharing of goodwill with all those around you.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Glass Ceilings and Just Deserts

No-one could accuse women in architecture of being shrinking violets, yet apparently they are still not getting their just deserts, according to Architects’ Journal.  All this metaphorical talk of ‘glass ceilings’ and fair and due rewards was swimming around in my brain last weekend, while under my own physical glass ceiling in the greenhouse.  Cleaning is supposed to be cathartic, but such items in the media only serve to make my greenhouse cleaning more vigorous, to think this inequality still exists and in a supposedly enlightened profession like architecture.  

I suppose when you think back, though, it’s not that long (in terms of geological time!)  since my grandmother’s generation of women were first deemed sufficiently intelligent and discerning to vote.  Are we asking too much to expect pay equality inside three generations? Personally I don’t think so, but  perhaps our craft sector is one in which artistic merit and skill reap rewards more equitably for both men and women.  All that vigorous cleaning, prior to planting this year’s vegetable seeds, reaped rewards for me too:  a few fleeces were found hiding under the workbench – the last available place for storage! 

These were the more time-consuming fleeces to process, such as a beautiful but tangled Leicester LongWool.  The best of last summer’s fleeces, from the Farm Animal Sanctuary, are already washed, some are dyed, and are waiting for use.  They will have to wait a few more days though, until after Textiles in Focus, which opens in Cottenham, nr Cambridge tomorrow.  Three of us from our local spinning group are exhibiting, myself, Clare of Boo’s Attic and Lesley of FibreTastic, with her amazing wool necklaces. 

Producing craft products on a small, part-time scale, will never allow us to gain the bulk discounts from suppliers that would gain us anything other than diminutive just deserts for the effort involved, especially in a still-recessionary market.   But then perhaps we do if for more than just fiscal reward.  The extreme detail and technical skill that goes into some of the works of textile art on the FibreFusion stand opposite mine at the show would put top couturiers  to shame.  Yet they’re not after millions or board directorships, they’re primarily after satisfying their creative instincts.  Here’s wishing you a week of fulfilling your own creative instincts, and if you’re coming to Textiles in Focus, do come and say hello. 

Thursday, 7 February 2013

My Kingdom for a Rug

It’s funny how you get an idea of what a fictional detective might look like as you either read or listen to investigative stories.  I’m currently listening to C J Sansom’s ‘Sovereign’, featuring the very human character, Tudor period lawyer Matthew Shardlake. It's  a very well-woven story with so many threads appearing yet joining seamlessly together.  My ‘mind’s eye’ picture of Shardlake came unwittingly alive this week when just the type of face I’d imagined burst onto our TV screens as the facial reconstruction of real king Plantagenet Richardthe Third, re-discovered under a Leicestershire car park. 
How do our mental pictures of people and things gather their momentum?  You can understand that a lifetime of visiting art galleries, museums and country houses, of viewing historic portraits and being taught about past lives and times would colour our imagination.   Yet you still have a mental picture of how you want something to look when you start making, whether you’re working to a knitting pattern or making it up as you go on loom.  You’ve very little for your mind’s eye to go on, but there’s still a picture in there waiting to come to life under your hands.  I was a little doubtful that my colour and texture combo for a peg-loom rug recently would work but luckily using each colour in very small amounts brought together by the figuring in the fluffy blue seems to make it all hang together nicely.     

It’s the second peg-loom rug I’ve made (I tried a small tester one earlier in the summer), but I’ve got plans for a larger project using one of my mega yarns. I want to try doing a circle – no idea how to achieve that but maybe it’s about starting small with a full stop and increasing gradually.  At least I know that in colour terms, whatever I do will be quite tame compared to the amazingly inspired creators in the Foundation Rugs’ video of their ‘Rug Addicts’ exhibition!  
My rug weaving won’t have a definite top and bottom either, like the hand-knotted beauties in the V&A’s collection (illuminated in detail by Curator Jennifer Weardon’s videos).   I’m always impressed by the phenomenal attention to detail in Middle Eastern hand-woven rugs, like those due to be displayed at the London Antique Rug and Textile Art Fair in April.  I'm also overwhelmed by the amount of skill and effort it takes to make them.  Though Brian Murphy’s book ‘The Root of Wild Madder’ was written some time ago now, one still wonders whether today’s hand-weavers are really getting just rewards for their artistry. The complexity of their patterns and their cultural significance have engaged many brains across the centuries, including apparently Sigmund Freud, who had quite a collection of Oriental rugs. 

My little bit of weaving though will be much less complex: my patterns will already be set by the colour of the yarns I’ve made.  If I get warped up in time I’ll take my peg loom to Textiles in Focus, so come along and see how I’m doing if you can.  I’d appreciate any constructive comments or ideas on how to make a circle. King Richard the Third may have pledged his kingdom for a horse in battle:  I’ll just settle for a mega-yarn rug that approximates something round, and won’t be too much of a battle in holding its shape!  Here’s wishing you a fruitfully creative week, guided by the foresight of your mind’s eye.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Beauty and the Browns

In the day job this week I’ve been trying to find something exciting to say about products that are basically brown.  A bit tricky even for a wordsmith like me!  Surfing around I found enlightenment on the Sensational Colour website,  which told me that brown signifies stability and approachability, amongst other wholesome connections.  I suppose that’s why humans gravitate towards the browns of tree bark, wood and soil.   Yet all those three can vary greatly, from almost black to almost pink or almost white, but wherever they come on the brown scale they are unconsciously comforting.   

It’s browns of another sort though that I’ve not found so comforting myself in recent days:  brown parcels, or rather their cost, to be precise. I’ve been trying to find ways to make it viable to send some of my yarns to the USA, via normal post or courier.  The prices the couriers quote are phenomenal, as they use a volumetric rate.  It virtually doubles the price, so those ladies kindly enquiring via my Etsy shop will have to bear with me a while longer.  There must be a way to do it somehow without it costing the earth! 

In connecting further with browns, something hopeful caught my eye involving reducing the cost to the earth of man’s engagement with it.  In the Yale 360 newsletter this week, there was a story of residents in the prairies restoring natural habitats throughtheir gardens, returning colour, flowers and eventually wildlife to the landscape “yard by yard”.  It was really cheering to read.  If, as the old saying goes, money begets money, then maybe we should try the same addage on good news. Perhaps seeing more of it would beget other good news, and so on until it becomes irrepressible and shifts the emphasis away from the adversarial, finger-pointing, blame culture that seems to reign supreme amongst much of the mass media. 
So why don’t we start here?  What’s your good news?  Mine is another piece of beautiful brown:  a card sent to me by a friend in Las Vegas of a Roadrunner bird in its natural habitat, in Red Rock Canyon, Nevada, beautifully photographed by Peggy Hamlen.  It’s now gracing my office wall and inviting me to give a ‘Beep Beep!’ every time I race past, like its cartoon cousin.  My other good news is finishing a huge skein of multifarious browns in Shetland wool, now sitting on my niddy-noddy waiting for further attention. Its merging stripes remind me of something the artist Manet said:  “There are no lines in nature, only areas of colour, one against another.”   Here’s hoping your coming week is full of life’s richest colours

Thursday, 17 January 2013

White-out and Zebras

Essence of winter:  that’s what I’d call it if I could bottle snowflakes combined with white winter scented plants and the type of frost that almost sticks to everything in sharp jabbing finger-shapes.  Though with the rate at which snowflakes disappear, even Dr Cable’s new superfast patenting  service wouldn’t be able to keep up.   Part of his aim is to help small businesses understand how to gain a return on  their creativity.  The other side of his campaign is to crack down on intellectual property theft:  something the new designers launching themselves at February’s London Fashion Week may rapidly have to get to grips with as their designs get splashed across the media. 

My choice for a patent would not be to everyone’s taste.  Only other spinners would understand the perfumed attraction of “Eau de Fleece” drying on the radiators after being washed.  And perhaps only other gardeners would truly appreciate the deeply heady scents of winter plants, which in my garden peep out and grab you by the nose from hiding places in the snowy borders.  You just get a hint of the three different Sacrococca varieties I have as you walk past, S. confusa and S. ruscifolia in shady spots and S. hookeriana in a sunnier corner as it needs more light.  My other half though thinks their scent is akin to burning plastic!  Happily, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to winter scent in the garden.  

I’ve just acquired my first Daphne,  Daphne odora, whose buds are full of promise.  But there’s one more winter plant I’d like to add to my collection, the less well-known white-flowered and intensely-scented Viburnum x bodnantense ‘Deben’.  Alongside the snowdrops and Sacrococcas, that would just complete my scented winter white-out outside.  Indoors too I’m looking at white colours, in trying to decide how best to replicate in fleece some white zebra stripes for a new yarn I’m making for Textiles in Focus in February.  Maybe I’ll get some inspiration from the BBC’s fascinating series ‘The History of Art in three colours’. Last week’s colour was blue:  this weekend it’s white.

When you look closely as the interface between the black and white stripes on pictures of zebra, defining them is not quite so...well, black-and-white. There are all kinds of graduations of brown and cream in there to.  It’s like the snow and ice outside, varying hugely in colour with the daylight’s intensity (or lack of it).   I’ll have to go for a happy medium and hope that works.  Here’s wishing you a brilliant winter week, with sufficient light to see all things clearly, and a perfumed path to smooth your way.   

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Humans, Hobbits and Hairy Yarns

If you’re not a fan of Tolkien’s magical sagas, then at least familiarise yourself with a picture of a Hobbit.  This, I discovered earlier this week, is whatwe will have to become if we’re to survive in a climate changed world.  Personally, though I’m not so much bigger than a Hobbit now, so perhaps I’ll be OK!  I am beginning to wonder about my physical make-up though, having read an article about marketing utilising one’s hormones to define potential product preferences.  Research by Diana Derval and colleagues has revealed that pre-natal hormonal influences may give some of us a propensity for amplified senses which affect our choices. 
Apparently some of us hear sounds four times louder than our fellow beings, and some are six times more sensitive to textures.  I must be one of the latter, since any guard hairs unwittingly left in commercially-produced yarn seem to stand out like barbs to me when I put a sweater on, or sit on a garment or chair covering made from certain types of fabrics.  Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be without wool, especially if, as the weather forecasters say, global warming in the UK will be more like global cooling and bring us more Siberian-style winters.  But it’s just there are some fibres I find harder to take unless I’ve had a hand in preparing them myself. 

Recycling unwanted textiles, itchy or not, seems to be big business these days, if DEFRA’s Rags to Riches campaign video is anything to go by.  Too much textile material is still ending up in landfill – 350,000 tonnes of it in fact – so we’re being encouraged to recycle more and also take a more ‘repair and restore’ attitude to clothing, as our grandmothers and great-grandmothers were doubtless well versed in doing.  The high turnover in low quality cheap clothing can’t be helping the environment across the global supply chain, including the landfill sites of our very small island.  So how to change attitudes? 

Perhaps everyone in major resource-consuming communities should be put back in touch with their textile roots through some kind of ‘national fabric service’ in which they have to grow, harvest, dye, spin and weave their own textiles for a short while.  That could put the perceived value back into textiles. Maybe Design & Technology teachers could take a step back in the textile ingenuity chain to humankind’s evolution of thread.  Or at the very least maybe the Craft Council’s Craft Clubs could get all ages at school trying spindles and making the yarn they use for their knit & crochet projects.  Ah well, better get off my soap-box (or should I say, sewing box!) and return to the world where my every personal fibre will be analysed still further by market researchers. Here's wishing you a beneficial and analytical week ahead, with few interferences from life's little guard hairs. 

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Textile trepidation turn-around?

I’ve been listening hard to Melvyn Bragg’s programmes on the Value of Culture this week but, unless I’ve missed a bit, I’ve so far heard nothing about the vital part textiles have played and do still in the development of human values and society. Are textiles just so fundamental that they are completely ignored in reporting and exploration of ‘culture’? If we take modern fashion to be a form of ‘high art’, then textiles are just as central to cultural identity today as they have been in developing societies since the dawn of time. Yet recognition of their importance as an expression of the inner being or of perceived power is almost always left out of programmes on TV and Radio.  

A repeat of The Forum’s episode ‘Real versus Digital’ over the Christmas holidays came a little closer, in that it at least acknowledged a human’s need to make things, exploring the links between virtual worlds, mathematics and craft.  But here again craft was represented by something extremely mainstream, namely pottery. Not a frayed edge nor a woven scrap was included, even though fabrics have been around almost as long as ceramics in history. It’s almost as if textiles just don’t exist.   

Happily though, a glance at the Textile Society’s events calendar, or a flick through the pages of my favourite Selvedge magazine proves that we do live on the same planet as these commentators. Maybe it’s up to all of us to start pushing harder for coverage of textiles and textile art in our ever-widening media. After all, there are surely enough of us either running or starting up textile and fibre-related business and contributing to the economy: look at the success of some of entrepreneurs who’ve set up successful enterprises with the help of PRIME – the Prince’s Initiative for Mature Enterprise.

So who’ll join me in fighting the good fight on behalf of textiles? If you think I’m barking up the right tree, why not come along to Textiles in Focus in Cottenham, near Cambridge, in a few weeks time, and we’ll exchange ideas. All the best campaigns begin at grass roots level so let’s put our heads together and have a go at pushing things forward. Without some kind of co-ordinated effort, textiles will languish at the dusty edges of media interest, and the vibrancy of all those arty people visiting shows like Textiles In Focus and who create their own fabulous fabric artworks will not get the recognition they deserve. Here’s wishing you a week full of recognition for your efforts.