The process of developing a yarn has come from a place of complete serendipity and synchronicity; in summer 2016 I was kindly offered some fleeces from a friends family farm, and I processed these in my back garden with the generous help of friends, 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?!).
(Some side-thoughts on weaving; the beautiful simplicity of a basic loom, stick shuttle and some lovely yarn, it makes me blissfully happy. It proves 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, you tube provided videos of how-to do most things, and so dying, blending fibres, spinning yarn, all started to happen. I commissioned samples, woven with them, and 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 Chander, 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 September 2017, and the three-bags-full arrived in my kitchen, delivered by the ever-cheerful Winston, ready for the next phase of work.
As I head toward the longer dark of winter, I have a feeling some hard but enjoyable work will begin; the sample selection, refining, deciding, and a lot more spinning.
Updates to follow,
Love x Imogen
Brighton, November 2017