I have had a hectic couple of weeks and it has been hard to think about the week 6 exercises, but the skills audit was an important task for me so I wanted to take the time to focus on it. My list is handwritten in my notebook, with each item rated from one to three stars depending on how good I think I am at it (to be on the list at all, it has to be at least a one-star skill!) and then I added from one to three hearts to indicate how much I like that skill.
At the top level there is not a great deal of difference between the stars and the hearts – most of the three star items have three hearts and vice versa. These include weaving, designing weaving drafts, spreadsheet modelling, writing, editing and making cat playgrounds out of cardboard boxes and parcel tape. There are kittens in the house, and I am doing a lot of that at the moment. Mind you I am also doing a lot of marking of assignments, and I didn’t put that on my list – I should do really, as I enjoy it more than I would publicly admit!
At the bottom of the scale there is also some agreement. I am reasonably good at sewing – by which I mean construction of garments and accessories using a sewing machine – and have been doing it for years; but in spite of all the hours I’ve done I never seem to rise above two-stars moderately good, and I just don’t enjoy it very much. In fact my enjoyment has recently slipped from two hearts to one. This poses me a practical problem, because sewing is a mighty useful way to turn handwoven cloth into other things. I have tried a couple of collaborations, but to be honest the outcomes did not delight me, and I know I haven’t yet found the right partner for that kind of working.
Dyeing is another area that vexes me. In principle, I would much rather dye my own yarns. It is much easier to source an interesting range of suitable yarns if I choose undyed. Overall, it also works out cheaper, because I don’t need to buy large quantities of every colour which I might then find difficult to use up (a kilo of dayglo yellow lambswool, anyone?) But my skills are not great – definitely no more than one star – and I don’t like doing it either. I have been making more of an effort lately and I think I can detect a small rise in both skill and enjoyment levels, which is encouraging, but I don’t feel any excitement at the prospect of spending more time at the dyepots.
But with sewing becoming increasingly unpalatable, I have been thinking for a while about other techniques which might sit well with weaving. There are several options on my shortlist.
• Something that has appealed to me for a long while is working with leather: I think putting leather and handwoven cloth together would be wonderful.
• My building is brimful of independent jewellers – it is an area that the art college here specialises in, and many graduates stick around – and a number of them offer courses, so I have thought about trying my hand at jewellery techniques. I have some reservations about that, though, as it is such a different skill set.
• I already do various kinds of braiding, but I have never stepped up and bought the proper equipment. That doesn’t make it impossible, of course, but it does make it slow. As a result I only do it occasionally and easily forget what I’ve learned.
• I spin reasonably well and do use handspun yarn from time to time. Although it would never be the mainstay of my weaving, I could use it more deliberately. As it is, I tend to forget that I can do it.
If I could sift through all these possibilities and imagine the perfect piece of work, what would it look like? I really don’t know. I’m not even sure what it is, never mind what its properties are. But it would have to have a high level of craftsmanship and in some way the whole would be greater than the sum of its parts. The yarn, the colour, the texture, the construction – none of these would really be a stand-out feature, because they would sit together so naturally and comfortably.