Makership as an Act of ResistanceEloïse Sentito
By Eloïse Sentito, nomadic handweaver of These Isles
I’m a handweaver, an occupation I chose as marginally more feasible and achievable than the musical one that my heart would wish. And I was always bound to a certain type of landscape.
This was Dartmoor’s rugged torscape when I first went into business, and then an unavoidable uprooting made me reconsider the identities of both self and business as I took us both a-travelling these isles. In an old converted motorhome, I now weave all sorts of Celtic landscapes into rugs, shawls, scarves and blankets for a living. It goes like this:
Move house. Witness light and land: e.g. how the sea broaches the shore and the horizon. Take photographs. Have misadventures. Write blog posts. For commisions, discuss customer requirements. Select yarns according to colour, texture, weight, sustainability, cost, availability. Consider weave pattern according to garment weight, thickness, drape, colours. Calculate warp and weft set accordingly. Get this wrong with every innovation. Allow for shrinkage. Get this wrong with every new washing machine. Wind 32’ of warp x <500 threads. Dress loom by tying all threads (‘ends’) onto previous ends, or by newly threading heddles. Wind warp onto back beam with cloth between layers, untangling twisty yarn (my least favourite and slowest step) and ensuring perfectly even tension throughout. Take years of laborious weaving difficulties to ‘perfect’. Tie warp onto front beam. Check tension. Wind weft onto shuttle. Weave a test strip. Check tension and threading accuracy. Undo some knots and redo to correct threading inaccuracies. Weave another test strip. Change mind and unwind shuttle. Change weft. Wind shuttle again. Answer digital enquiries. Photograph process and share works in progress on social media. Begin weaving. Bind end. Wind on. Keep weaving. Wind on. Keep weaving. Correct weft error. Keep weaving. Fix broken warp. Wind on. Forget to measure length woven. Unwind. Insert tape measure. Rewind. Tension distorted, unwind and rewind again, inserting sticks into woven cloth. Resume weaving. Finish first weaving. Bind end. Wind on. Choose next weft. Try. Substitute. Possibly reset ends for a garment of different dimensions and repeat tensioning process. Begin next weaving. Bind end. Keep weaving. Run out of length and redefine last weaving as something smaller. Unroll weaving. Cut from loom. Admire. Check edges. Admire. Frown. Darn weaving errors, replacing ends and picks as necessary. Crab. Wash. Dry flat. Iron. Seek photoshoot location. Await sunshine. Update customer. Interact on social media. Write article. Do accounts. Answer enquiries. Update website. Greet sunlight. Conduct photoshoot. Edit photos. List weavings for sale. Consider world peace and environmental destruction. Write blog post. Schedule social media posts to promote listings. Hope for ‘ker-ching’ noise on Etsy app signifying sale. Hear it. Breathe sigh of relief. Acknowledge. Pack. Walk (if possible) to nearest post office. Deal with Etsy despatch/fees etc. admin. Start over.
Affording the most sustainable (locally handspun, perhaps vegetable dyed) yarns is a challenge; would my weavings still sell if I jacked up the price, and would I be content to squeeze out the less well off customers, often my favourites, who already have to pay in instalments?
How do I even achieve the minimum wage, actually? By selling through more and more glamorous outlets at higher and higher prices to richer and richer folk?
Given that I can’t compete on price with imports, am I content to make novelty, rather than purely functional, items, so in my case, a striking seascape of fine yarn from a mill rather than a chunky, undyed, less refined or surprising weaving?
Can I permit myself to use fossil-fuel-made/powered equipment to save time (and therefore cut costs) rather than employing an extra pair of hands when there are so many unemployed?
Can I stand the selling part at all? I know that I and my work deserve a decent wage, but no, I can’t make friends with our current monetary system, because I understand it to be the locking mechanism for social and environmental destruction.
A friend of mine believes that artisans are born free – we are among the first to refuse the shackles of an employer. I was a stressed and anxious employee for years, and my story is in some ways the typical ‘quit the ratrace’ story. Now, after three years of living and working on the road – autonomous, celebrating and even, ahem, celebrated – with a growing business but still struggling to get by financially, I’m starting to fear that we just trade one kind of ratrace for another. But makership itself can be an act resistan
A craft business is typically more labour intensive, largely because handwork is slow. This flies in the face of what every other kind of business seeks to achieve, which is generally maximum mechanisation for maximum efficiency.
A craft business is typically local, because it depends on the maker’s own activity. This flies in the face of global trends, where a debt money system drives us to cut costs by outsourcing labour to whatever far flung place that it’s cheapest – which is where social and environmental protections are generally lesser.
A craft business is typically smaller, more ethical and more ecological, perhaps because the maker is more personally involved and more accountable. Economies of scale, again, compelled by a debt money economics, have a lot to answer for in terms of both their social and environmental impact around the world.
IF a craftsperson can stay in business and keep it small and green, holding out against the prevailing race-to-the-bottom economics, then s/he is a veritable maker-resister. Join us over in the Green Cloth Collective, where we’re discussing truly sustainable maker economics for the common good.
Meantime I’m dressing my little wooden loom with the warp for the next rug – another seascape, using my favourite Scottish island wool. My under-priced work is monetarily expensive compared to imported and/or mass produced goods. However local handwork is likely to be environmentally and socially lower cost, so if you have raw materials, resources, skills, time or produce that you wish to barter for craft, then reducing our dependency on a debt money system may be our most powerful act of resistance.
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