On yarn and women’s work 

Here’s a story, make yourself a cup of tea / glass of wine…
It’s a pleasure to be able to offer my own yarn for sale; Bright Moon Yarn will be launching in March 2018 with a special pop-up shop at YAK Brighton. 
The process of developing a yarn has come from a place of complete serendipity and synchronicity; in summer 2016 I was kindly offered some fleece from a friends family farm, and I processed these in my back garden just before the birth of my second son, Oscar, and I then put the (mainly) clean fleeces away in the basement for storage, tied up in duvet covers.
Forward six months to the autumn 2016, and I had begun weaving and sampling, rediscovering yarns and fibres again since a break from my work in textiles. Having worked fabric-side for a long time, let me confess I had no idea about yarn stashing… I do now! There is a huge joy in researching yarns, and I have been very pleased to have sourced some amazing spinners and dyers, many in the UK, all using rare-breed, ethical wool and plant fibres, natural dyes and passionate about keeping traditional craft skills alive. I would also add that all of these amazing yarn creators I’ve been buying from and sampling with are women, which feels really important to acknowledge, and further to that, the majority of these women are also fellow mothers, working from home, as I do, making their craft from garden studios, attics and kitchen tables. The craft revolution is no doubt female, and I have a feeling it always has been (William Morris, can you hear me?!).
I recently met a woman who appreciated my weaving, but mentioned that as a feminist, she couldn’t fully see herself engaging with the craft herself. I think this attitude is widespread; that crafting is a ‘hobby’ for housebound wives and mothers, and therefore, somehow less ‘professional / important’. Arts & Crafts with a small A and even smaller c. As a back-handed or unconscious comment, I can see why that might be an assumption, although this statement is only partly true, and not as negative as it at first suggests. Starting with myself, I’m very clear that I only came to weaving through the realities of my maternity; with two very little boys, a bad patch of perinatal mental health and prolonged periods of sleep deprivation, I still had a real need, energy and drive to get back into my creative work, and the loom offered me the key to getting back into this world of making, again with textiles, but with a new technique. I chose the most basic loom I could find, not only because I’m a Luddite and pre Raphaelite at heart, but because I simply no longer have the mental headspace to think about technical information, no maths, no patterns, no complex sequences. I had been a pattern cutter, and I know my time with precision technical mathematics is over. Also I have permanent baby-brain, and so I need to bypass anything that requires extra mental strain. 
And perhaps we need to acknowledge the heritage of women in craft; the skill of working fleece into yarn, weaving, clothing, making warm blankets for sleeping babes. Why shouldn’t we be proud to own this aspect of collective womanhood. Feminism, craftivism, they are very contemporary buzz words, but to step away from craft because it is ‘women’s work’ seems a little knee-jerk. Surly it’s women’s work because of the historical and contemporary realities of motherhood; I’m at home with a baby & toddler, do I sit and watch daytime TV? Netflix binge? I could if that’s what I wanted to do, but the textile heritage in my mother-line is knitting, sewing, making, mending, so why wouldn’t I follow that path? I’m an artist, maker, I have to have a creative outlet, so why isn’t weaving at my kitchen table as valid as my time in a London fashion studio or famous theatre wardrobe? Because it’s invisible, because it quiet and unassuming, because it’s not given the validation it deserves. Because it’s women’s work. But I weave because of my children, because they give me a reason to make, and without motherhood and maternity, I would never have come to the loom, and so, I am grateful for my little teachers, who sing ‘three bags full’ each time wool is mentioned. 
And so weaving; the beautiful simplicity of a basic loom, stick shuttle and some lovely yarn, it makes me blissfully happy. It provides me with a mental break, physical embodiment and let’s my hands work in the way they have always loved to do; with fabric, tension, movement, texture, balance. It gives me all the satisfaction of couture dressmaking without any of the stress. It allows me to touch beautiful fibres, all the textures and subtleties you can find within a single yarn. And the design is worked freehand, so no need to over think a design, but watch how the colours shade together over the time it takes to weave a piece, mostly a week or so, and (more rarely) sometimes, over a single day. And it is what it is, the finished piece is out of my hands, literally, as it rolls upon the beam, I can’t see more than a small section growing at a time, so the final unrolling is the first witnessing, and that’s a really freeing way of making anything. My time in arts therapy training echos out; it’s all about the process, not the outcome. 
Back to yarn creation…. so on my sampling journey, buying yarns from spinners (mainly found on Etsy) I happened upon spinner Marina Skua, and purchased a lovely skein of her wool-soy blend called ‘Fieldmouse’. When it arrived, I felt that this was truly a yarn for weaving, it was textured, varied in thickness, beautifully blended, and when I wove it into a piece it just stood out as something very very special. Most yarn out there is spun for knitting, which needs to be a consistent spin, and this type of yarn has been fantastic for clasped-weft work, which requires similar weight yarns to allow for an even weave during colour changes. However, a more wilder weave requires texture, variety and an element of uncertainty; I discovered there is a whole sub-genre of art yarns out there; these are the experimental, wild, often short batch or single-skein samples. This is where I found what I love about yarn production; you can blend your own yarn, spin a skein and weave with it. 
And so happily, fellow Brighton textile colleague Kristina Stacey of Written in Cloth sold me her drum carder and that meant I could get to work carding the fleece that was happily down in the basement. My neighbours donated avocado stones for dyeing, you tube provided videos of how-to do most things, and so dying, blending fibres, spinning yarn, all started to happen. I commissioned sample yarns, wove with them, and happily,  these pieces sold. And so, somehow, something had begun with a will of its own.
Early in the summer of 2017, as we had a late damp start to the season, shearing was delayed down in the south east, and my dear friend and colleague in puppetry Liza Stevens linked me up with the incredible activist Julia Wilmshurst, who cares for over twenty rescue sheep in her flock. Her fleece was going to be composted and could I make use of it? One does not say no to such an offer, and so with the help of Jack Chandler, my trusted man-with-van, who usually shifts theatre sets and props for me, obliged and collected a literal mountain of fleece. This fleece-mountain lived in my garden for a week or so before the reality of cleaning hit me, along with the summer heat, and so I booked a delivery to Cornwall and The Natural Fibre Company, where Cyd Jenkin organised a full scour-and-card on the wool. 
Forward to yesterday, the three-bags-full are in my kitchen, providing endless entertainment for little fists and feet, and also a moment of reflection for me, so I can write this blog post. 
What is success? To me it is a rainy, late summer Wednesday night, poorly babies asleep, radio four, a cold glass of Semillon and hand-blending my very own wool with soy and linen, on the kitchen table. Cheers to new beginnings, success and women’s work; to all the spinners and weavers, I appreciate you beyond measure.

Love, Imogen x

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One thought on “On yarn and women’s work 

  1. Thanks, Imogen, as a ‘knitster’ rather than just a spinster, I have pondered a lot about the feminine and how it needs to be honoured whatever the gender. And the precious task of clothing and warming ourselves and others, no matter our gender. I’ve coined the term ‘femininism’ so all that is not only female as gender but belonging to the realms of receptivity, care, nurture, of slowness, of weaving things together and mulling things over can be re-membered in our contemporary considerations rather than cast aside as we aspire to a masculinist feminism–if that makes sense. Everyone needs a little femininisation… especially now in our hard-edged age. I’m sure William Morris would agree. Thank you for your thoughtful article and congratulations on your launch and all the care that has gone towards it.

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