Home and Epiphany

The sixth of January seems like an auspicious day to write a blog post, especially the first of the new year (and the first for many weeks).

The prolonged midwinter pause was due to busyness and big changes: buying a house and moving to the countryside! In November we moved to a village at the foot of the Campsie Fells. We have a glorious view of the hills and the wetland out the back of our garden (which provides plenty of space for growing vegetables and, of course, dye plants!). On my daily walks I can collect fistfuls of lichen that the wind has blown off its substrate, then to be dried in front of the gas fire.

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And I have an office/studio/room of my own with a desk to work from- this is the view from it:

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Beside being short of time, what with the upheaval of moving house (and contending with work deadlines), I felt I wanted to take some time to get to know my new surroundings before documenting them too much.

DSC_1520.JPGAs well as exploring the hills, woods and fields, I’ve enjoyed learning a bit about the history of the place, and it seems especially resonant that the industry the village sprung up around in the late 1700s was the textile industry, most notably a calico printing works, the only traces of which now are in the placenames. I walk my dog in a woodland that grows on the site of an old alum works, which is apt since alum is such a major staple of natural dyeing!

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On a more practical note, I haven’t had much to write about in terms of dyeing experiments. Our house was built as social housing 1960 and had only ever had one family living in it, who bought it in the early 1980s. The house was sold (to us!) because the elderly widow had to go into a nursing home. We were shown the house by her son, and during our first week here his cousin called round with a box of biscuits and the wish that we’ll be as happy here as they were growing up. So there’s a lot of love held in our aged-wallpapered-walls (and an amazing archive of objects in the shed!) but our boiler is older than we are, and the house isn’t very well ventilated, with the kitchen having no extractor fan. This means that leaving dyebaths simmering for hours is not a good idea to say the least, and I haven’t done any dyeing in the two months since we moved. But now we’ve cleared some space in the shed and bought a portable gas stove, so on dryer/warmer days I will start dyeing out there.

The previously-mentioned work deadline is a chapter about knitting as implicit spirituality for a sociology of religion volume. In October I travelled round central Scotland interviewing knitters. While I had feared that bringing something I love so much and is so vital to me into my academic work might taint it somehow (and that I would get bored of talking about knitting for 20+ hours!) what I actually found was that it renewed a love. It got me more focused on knitting simple items from my stash, to keep myself and others warm, rather than felting and spinning naturally dyed fibre. And also on finally getting round to photographing finished items, such as this lap blanket and hat from my naturally-dyed yarn:

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dsc_1646So while in the autumn I made a few new pieces that will eventually be up for sale, I haven’t made much since taking the tentative first steps of selling my work.

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Needle-felt Rowan, as a goodbye gift to his dogwalker.

I am pleased to have sold a few pieces in person, and one commission (the adorable Raasay).

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But I’ve had no sales online on the Etsy store yet, and it seems it will  be a bit of a learning curve. It’s hard to know whether that’s pricing, styling, timing, not putting the requisite amount of time and effort into self-promotion (most likely a combination of all of those!) but I found myself getting anxious about it and have needed to take a bit of a break to get inspired again and remind myself why I want to do this: because I love making things and can’t keep them all, and it does help to offset some costs by selling them.

But I’m starting to feel confidence and inspiration coming back – in the long term I’m planning to portray aspects of the fells that I see out of my window, and experiment with the silhouettes of the bare trees against the evening sky. But this weekend I will get started on the remarkably bold kingfisher we saw yesterday, on the burn that flows behind our garden…

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