I have recently acquired a metre of “British wool cloth” to make a skirt after a lot of research and a fair amount of muttering.
Knitters, especially in the UK, are very fortunate. It is increasingly possible to know the breed content of a wool, sometimes even which farm it was sourced from and/or where it was spun. By contrast, finding 100% woollen cloth is a challenge, let alone one with a clear provenance. I have looked at many “wool” departments in bricks-and-mortar shops and online retailers only to discover that most of their wools are actually only a wool blend or as often as not a blend of polyester with a mere 10 or 20% of wool, all masquerading under the term “wool”.
As a knitter-cum-recent-sewer I am not that familiar with the sewing community so have yet to work out to what extent sewers are interested in the content or provenance of fabric? I certainly get the impression from the baffled look/tone I get from retailers, that detailed questions about such things are rare. This is a pity, as it is only through asking (and being prepared to pay for cloth of local provenance when available) that sheep farmers and mills will realise there is a market for such fabric.
But I degress, the mustard skirt weight wool is the real deal. It is 100% wool and woven in an English mill operating since the Victorian era. It is a little less clear what proportion of the wool content is from the British Isles but the retailer (Merchant & Mills) offered to contact the mill to enquire further. As there are so few operating cloth mills in this country, I was happy to purchase this fabric pending a reply. I take the view that I should start by supporting the mill and then advocate for locally sourced products as a “stakeholder”.
My determination to source fabric of a known provenance, often in the face of depressing realities, has had me thinking about the terms “crafty” and “craftiness”.
I never call myself crafty. In fact, every time I hear a knitter or sewer describe themselves as crafty or living a crafty life, I have an almost allergic reaction to the statement. Why?
The primary meaning of “crafty” has connotations of cunning and deceitfulness, which I am sure the maker is not invoking. The secondary, informal meaning relates to making by hand, and to somebody who grew up before the recent resurgence of interest in crafts, it had overtones of not being as good as something made by machine or a professional. Nowadays I generally hear “crafty” used in the context of fibre activities, which are mostly undertaken by women. I have never heard a hobby potter, woodworker, bookbinder, basket weaver… refer to themselves as crafty. Instead they might say they are a budding craftsman or practising a craft. Such statements suggest a confidence and pride in their evolving skill and their craft, which to me the term ‘crafty’ in the context of knitting and sewing never does.
I have however found a meaning of “craftiness” I can get behind, in fact one that I am more than happy to champion. I recently started reading Cræft – How traditional crafts are about more than just making by Alexander Langlands (Faber & Faber, 2017). The author, an archaeologist and somebody who practices various crafts, considers the original Old English meaning of the word as a term that encompasses knowledge, wisdom and power as well as practical skill and dexterity, and explores this through various traditional crafts.
I am reading this book in bite size pieces so I can savour it fully, and have recently been mulling over Langlands’ exploration of the words crafty and craftiness. He focuses on the ingenuity and skill of the primary meaning of “crafty” but strips away the negativity. The following passage struck me in particular: “Like a witch, the crafty so-and-so is the outsider, the non-conformist, the maverick, the renegade. Their craftiness is about bringing together all their powers to get on in the world outside the Establishment, or perhaps even despite the Establishment”.
How this resonated! If making my own clothes makes me a non-conformist, trying to make them out of fabric grown and milled locally makes me a complete renegade. But I can live with that. In fact, for most of my life I have been an outsider, a non-conformist.
So henceforth I shall call myself crafty but each time I do, I’ll define it. My craftiness is not defined by my use of fibre (as much as enjoy spinning, natural dyeing, knitting and sewing) but by my desire to use all of my skills to not settle for the way the Establishments treats the environment, people, animals, materials…