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.