Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Where did you get your buttons?

A blessay which somehow glosses over the state of the nation – but in which I explain why I spin…


Whenever I wear or display any new garment, an “introduction” inevitably follows it to casual enquirers.  This is, of course, with the exception of my signature type jumpers, or something very way out colour wise.  For whatever reason that defies comment or enquiry (!) but does generate pitying glances about my dress sense, which I obviously don’t heed.

The format I have observed seems to follow a very similar course each time the subject is raised so will share it here, in a pseudo scientific exploration. 

It seems it is the neckline, collar style or buttons which are noticed first as interesting, and how the wool or fibre arrived in the state of readiness seems to not even be a consideration.  In fact people sound surprised when I say that I have knitted or woven it, let alone that I have spun and dyed the wool as well.

Surely, if it was as authentic as that - it would be more rustic and reminiscent of something out the 1970’s return to self-sufficiency?  Not sure if the smell of mothballs is also linked with authentic production methods.

At this point I am usually happy to explain that we (the spin/dye/weave community) have such a lot of techniques and equipment readily available to us nowadays we can have more control over our fibre finishing than perhaps was the case.

Phew – that was tactful…. introduction of the internet as a source of ideas and knowledge is an area which can attract huge debate – where i have found I can’t really win. 

I was lucky even to be able to buy a wheel in 1970, and then was very reliant on VERY basic instruction, and limited ability to purchase raw products in any form that weren’t full of chemicals and presented without thought for the spinner…and no I wasn’t going to buy a sheep. 

Moving on…

The casual query is then followed up with the assumption that it must have been naturally dyed, to keep the authenticity of it being a natural product.  

  • But without any thought or real interest of the “behind the scenes” debate, discussion and general head scratching of how to make a product colourful and attractive whilst retaining the eco friendly credentials?

Then the next question…. as sure as day follows night is what is the price.  

  • What price can you place on such a product?  Why does it even have to have a price to justify its existence – can it simply just exist to give pleasure, comfort and warmth?

The setting of a price also assumes that I would either want to sell it or want to make another one for the person enquiring.  Perhaps I don’t or wouldn’t? 

  • But why does it need a price? so that the person can pigeon-hole me in the correct location in relation to my social status?
  • Query if I can afford to buy it? – does that makes me in some way more “worthy” and socially acceptable as a person than the person who has made it?

So how to set a price? 

  • What is the current going rate for the commercial action of hand spinning wool?

It was always a very lowly paid sector of piece work, and only held a price as a commodity because there was no other method of making fleece suitable for converting to fine cloth.  Today there are many other ways of achieving beautiful wool or fabric.

But the reason I go to the lengths I do to practice my craft are all unseen to the casual observer, but woven/stitched into the product and I hope are the magic ingredients which give it luminosity and ethereal quality.  

The thoughts, happy or sad which have gone through my head whilst spinning up the beautiful wisps of feather-light colour. Quite contemplation and satisfaction of a job well done as I work my way through the stash.

Moving onto the garment or textile itself – an exercise in convergent thinking worthy of any public debate..where do I start? how big? what size? how many stitches? when to shape or not what colour….etc.etc. 

I have to be a polymath here… numeric, literate, capable of making drawings and notations I can read again – sometimes years later. 

Then final construction, yes it fits (or not depending on how fat I have got since starting it !!) Sometimes I can barely part with such a big piece of life which has become a friend, or even a comfort blanket.  So construction can take longer than the knitting. 

Toby's Jumper

So no – there is no price – it is mine or made for someone who has been held in my minds’ eye whilst making it – having come to an arrangement for a fair barter of skills or time – or simply because I can.  It is my skill and ability that I can bestow to make someone else’s life a little nicer…

I make items for my portfolio of works and am often requested to submit items for hanging in various exhibitions.  I enjoy these opportunities as they challenge the areas in which this craft can be categorised, rather than seeking gratuitous praise for my undoubted gifts and talents. 

Which all in all doesn’t really move the debate about Heritage Skills and their place in modern society on much – does it? 

But the undergoing of the craft does enrich my life and hopefully those around me.

Now what about those buttons….? 

Nope – sorry I didn’t make them… can’t help you there…

But I know a man who can…

1 comment:

  1. and I know a woman who can - keep meaning to share this link with you. Julie a friend, of course, and her work is superb http://www.lushlampwork.co.uk


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