Details, details.

When I used to think of that someday when I would build a studio, I called it “my future weavery”. I assumed that it would be a long slog – full of details and difficult decisions and…mud.

I can tell you that the mud part was bang on, but the others…not so much. I think that the best decision we made was to find a reputable builder and trust their process. Like total idiots, at one point we figured “how hard can it be? We could do this ourselves, right?” but thank goodness we scuppered that idea fairly quickly.

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View of the backside of the building.

Since I last wrote, the future weavery has become much closer to being in the present. The siding is on most of the structure, a lovely charcoal/black (depending on the light). The front of the building has no siding yet, because they haven’t yet installed the doors (a showpiece glass-paned garage door, and a lovely transom “man door” beside it), and they need that front space for other things. [Side note: can we just remove the term “man door” from the lexicon already? I get that it’s to differentiate from the garage door (“car door”?), but the term just drives me crazy.]

At the moment, there’s a temporary plywood lean-to built on the front, to accommodate a heater that they’ve hard-wired into our panel on the house. It’s been running for days – to warm up/dry out the place, and to allow for the slab to be poured and power-troweled. The electric heating mat was placed, and the slab poured over it. Next week they’ll run the electrical from the house to the studio (this step is where the mud comes in). I’m trying to ignore the tick tick tick of my electric meter clocking the amps from that heater.

I’m super pleased with the entire project. We’ve had a few bumps, but nothing big, and nothing that makes me lose sleep. In the interest of giving information to others who might want to do this, I want to mention a few things that took us by surprise. The site manager took me into the structure before the slab was poured, and it was gorgeous. Warm, on a middling-cold March day, partly from the heater but also because of the neatly insulated walls, and early spring sunlight through the windows. I mentioned that I was under the impression that electrical goes in prior to insulation etc., and he reminded me that this building is not entirely ordinary. It’s above code, and will have not only exterior walls, but interior walls. This is for several reasons – with the radiant heat, it’s important that there be as high an r-value as possible, and it provides a clean space for electrical and plumbing (the latter of which I don’t have). Traditional walls are entangled with  wires etc, and doing it this way allows for more insulation and a cleaner route for any future re-wiring etc. that will not disturb the integrity of the outside envelope.

I had no idea, because my eyes kind of glaze over with the more overtly technical aspects of the service contract and plans, to be honest. Anyway, they’ll be building that wall soon and I  understand the usefulness of it; I appreciate the builder’s commitment to creating a really sturdy structure.

What I hadn’t figured into my equation was that it’ll take up some of the footprint in what is already a fairly bijou space. For the sake of warmth and structural integrity, I’m sacrificing a foot, give or take,  around the perimeter of the entire footprint. It adds up, but I’m okay with it. It’s better to be warm and sturdy than to have a drafty extra foot or so, I always say.

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Looks done, no? Nope – these are the interiors of the exterior walls… who knew?

The building is, on the outside, 16’x24’, inside once all is done, it’ll be about 14’x22’-ish, roughly speaking. Still a good size, and still something I cannot believe will be mine.  Another benefit of these walls is that they will give me lovely deep windowsills, perfect for plants, coffee cups, and weaving ephemera. It’s all good.

But it’s got me thinking about my current obsession with regard to storage. Really, I’ll have to wait until the drywall is up before I can measure for storage options. I’ve veered from IKEA to something more minimal, since the space I’m losing to the boring (but important) interior walls is about exactly what I’d planned on for storage. I don’t want it to be…busy. I want serene uncluttered space, something my eye will not drag over but will instead  glide over. Weaving and the attendant accoutrements takes up space, and is textured and colorful, so storage isn’t just a fetish of mine, but a necessity.

I kind of  don’t want to move my looms into what would be, essentially,  an IKEA showroom. Somehow, that doesn’t seem right.  (And, every time I look at the IKEA website it tells me that the shelves I want aren’t in stock, or there’s only one….) I’m leaning toward a couple of other options at the moment. Industrial wire shelving? Long wooden shelves with minimalist brackets? Closed storage? Built-ins? Dunno.

I’ve had to tell myself it’s not entirely necessary to have this all figured out right now.

And that, my friends, is the important lesson here (aside from making yourself familiar with building processes). It doesn’t all need to be finished. This is a process. I’ll absolutely be moving my looms in as soon as is humanly possible, but it isn’t a big deal if the fibre stays in the current weave room for a while. It’s not a big deal if it’s all in Rubbermaid totes for a while. It’s not a big deal. Given the (intentionally) “over-built” construction of this thing, it’s going to be here for a long time and it’s okay if it’s not turnkey ready for me the moment the workmen leave.

Another milestone was the floor. They tidily removed the dumpster to make room for the concrete mixer, poured it, and began to power-trowel. I don’t want a fancy floor – I want to move looms around, spill things, and not worry about it overmuch. It needs to be easy to clean – lots of fibre fluff and dust comes off the loom.

Concrete seemed the way to go, and I love the look of it. It will also conduct the heat nicely, and feel cool and smooth in summer. I had some things I thought were important – I don’t want it polished to a mirror finish because with all those windows I was afraid I’d go blind from glare, but I wanted it sealed in order to keep it clean. I want it to be smooth, so the power trowel made sense to me. Currently, I use the heated floors in our bathroom to dry wet-finished items, and it’s perfect; I wanted to do that in the future weavery too. I weave barefooted – it’s my favorite state to be in, and shoes get in the way when treadling. I hate socks, and want to avoid them whenever possible.

Turns out, though, that being able to communicate to the guy running the power trowel about level of smoothness is important. I had assumed he’d come by with samples or something? But instead I trooped out there and had to look at it, and tell him if it was smooth enough. “How many more passes should he make?” the builder asked.

Ummm. I had no idea. I ended up saying “well, just make it closer to the smooth side of the continuum, as opposed to the rough.” I mean, what else can you say? It’s like trying to explain colour to someone who’s never seen it. I left him to it, and went out again later when it had been troweled and sealed with as matte a seal as they could manage.

Looks lovely, and I never have to think about it again. There was some  glare, but the sealer was still wet. If glare is a problem in the future, I can buy blinds, or lay down a rug or two.

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Smooth and beautiful! When asked how it would age, the concrete guy said “It may darken. Or get lighter.” I’m fine with that. Apparently this is an imprecise art….

In about two weeks, the doors will be installed, we think. Then, it’s going to really look almost-done. There will still be work, but it’ll look like it’s going to look, and we’ll be drilling down into the fine details.

This whole thing has been super-easy so far, compared to what I feared. I’m astounded at the quiet labour the workmen engage in daily, the industrious growth of something-out-of-nothing that I watch daily. I’m really pleased with the ease of communication with the builder/trades (they have an app!).

 

The art of seeing

Some days, I walk into the workroom and pause. I look around, and I see the tools that I use for weaving, the glorious fibres and colours, the objects that are both functional and beautiful, and I am grateful.

Other days, I take it all for granted – I forget that this workroom (though small and cluttered) is a haven. I forget that all of this work has stretched my abilities, that practice and time invested have made me able to create things that are beautiful, complex, comforting.

Today, I saw it all, and was glad. The studio build continues, and some days have more dump trucks and equipment in the driveway than I ever thought there’d be, but here in my little workroom is a lifetime of colour, texture, and fibre.

The sun is out today, but the sky looks threatening. It’s cold, and the wind is whistling around the house. Later today, in my snug workroom, I’ll start planning my next weave and the next after that.

It’s a good life.

Studio build update:

It’s starting to shape itself into a studio-sized form. Since we moved here in 2003, there was a garden shed, just in front of the new construction site. When it was removed, we realized just how much of a difference it made – they took down the fence, too, and all of a sudden we remembered the size and shape of the yard that was hidden behind that little shed, and bisected by picket fence.

A giant hole. Footings and foundation walls framed and poured.

I’ve begun to think about the inside of that studio too, trying to figure out where all of the stuff will go. It’s not a horrible task to have, and I’ve enjoyed having to think about my practice this way – where do I like the light while I weave? How to arrange fibre (type, colour, type and colour, size?), what makes more sense – a table or a long counter?

Arts & crafts project – a scale drawing with construction paper to-scale looms etc.

A Studio is Born

I’ve been weaving since the Fall of 2013. As with most weavers, the looms started to fill the place pretty quickly. This craft does not have a small footprint, and the tools of the trade can be fairly unwieldy.

IMG_4253I remember buying my first loom. I got it online, used, and I knew absolutely nothing about weaving or looms except that I really wanted to do it. The previous loom owner actually delivered it to my house and reassembled it for me, in my front sunroom (thank you, patient and harried loom man, for doing that!). For a month or two before I took some lessons with a lovely teacher, I would just go in there and look at it, and take in the loom-flavoured air – a mix of wood, cloth, dust, and promise.

I moved my desk into another room, and figured that I still had lots of space. Over the years, that room has been completely transformed. I took out the couch, the chair, the books. In went another loom, built-in shelves for fibre and tools, benches and boxes for fibre that wouldn’t fit on the shelves. It’s a beautiful room – about 11’x13, with two walls of windows. It also has three doors, wonky heat, and is a sun trap in the warmer months.

It’s also crowded.3D6530DD-8033-4B30-8491-A3DCB9658A7D

I have to move a loom to get to my fibre, move it back to get to the other loom. My warping reel is folded and in front of a shelf, and I have to move it to access my sewing machine. Then I have to take the machine out to the dining room to actually use it. It’s a drag, and it makes me a less efficient weaver.

So yeah, it’s hard to work in there. I know it’s already a massively privileged space, but I am lucky enough to be able to look for solutions to make it better. I have for most of my life,  fit whatever I did into the spaces I had. It wasn’t always a good fit, and there’s been a lot of making do over the years – a Harry Potter office-under-the-stairs, looms spread around 3 rooms, home offices with kids nearby, etc. A life lived with buckshee solutions is not a solution forever.

So that’s the problem.

The solution? Build a studio in the back garden. Have you ever visualized something you wanted, and then made it happen? A big ask like this seemed ridiculous, but I thought about it for years, made a Pinterest board , and dreamed. Then one day it occurred to us that we could build one and oddly, after that it was simple(ish). I think that making an imaginary future-studio a part of my headspace finally opened up the opportunity to bring it to life.

I spend a fair amount of time looking online for pictures/blogs about workspaces. I’m kind of fascinated by the areas other people use to make their art. There’s something so beguiling about dedicated spaces.  When I started this whole thing, I had a lot of ideas, a lot of misconceptions, and absolutely no idea at all what I was doing.  I looked online, and never really found what I wanted – a blog about the steps involved in making a dedicated space, from start to finish. Pictures about the things that matter to me – storage solutions, lighting, space management. Even the building process itself is mystifying to me.

So, I”ll demystify some of it, here.

We’re in the very early days – they start on Monday with the machines that will remove the current garden shed and start to dig a big hole for the foundation. That is not, however, the start. As with weaving, the process of setting up takes quite a while! We started this process in October – 4 months ago – and it has taken that long to muddle our way to this point. We ended up working with a terrific local company, Bentley Built Homes, and they have helped to shape all of my ideas into something concrete.

Over the next several months I’ll keep you filled in on what’s happening here with Berwick Weaving Co.’s new digs. Once it’s open, it’ll be so nice to have people drop in for a studio tour, or lessons (or even just a coffee, if you notify me first). I’m so excited about this – making a dedicated space that is quiet, peaceful, organized. Making a space that is uncluttered, airy, and light-filled.

This process has made me think about my process – what I want from my weaving practice, how I want to move forward, and why I’m doing it. The construction process will probably disrupt some of my work, but it’s also going to focus it, I think. This year, I’ve decided that I’m going to be sole instructor and student of my own impromptu weaving school – there are things I want to learn to do better, processes that I haven’t tried or that I couldn’t try because of other commitments, space constraints, a cluttered mind.

Pop back in for occasional updates. I’ll leave you with this tantalizing view of the plans.

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…a long drought

Here in Nova Scotia we are experiencing a heat wave. Just brutally hot and humid weather. It makes one feel sapped of energy and creativity. I’ve been experiencing just this sort of drought metaphorically, as well. A long time has passed since I wove with the regularity and fervour that has been the hallmark of my creative process.

It’s early August, and it’s still stinking hot, but I think I feel autumn in the air – in the cooler mornings, and the occasional cooler evening. Something about the light, the timbre of the birds, and the dark-earlier twilit nights.

September has always felt to me like a new beginning. Once a student, always a student, I guess? I’m starting feel stirrings of impulse toward weaving more, toward experimenting, and in finding the joy in quiet work amongst colour, fibre, and texture.

Recently a really terrific store opened up here in Berwick, hotbed of creative activity – Market Between the Mountains has a great selection of work from local/Atlantic Canadian artisans, and mine is included. I still do commissions, but you can also come to Berwick and poke around the store to see some Berwick Weaving Co. pieces. Once the weather starts to turn, and you begin to think longingly about lap blankets and throws, scarves, shawls and stoles, you should come out and see what’s what.

In the meantime, here’s what just came off my loom. A stupidly soft blankie with Harrisville Shetland wool and a velvety one-off wool from Mineville.

 

…And here is what’s on my little rigid heddle loom. The earthy-toned warp is a little out of the ordinary for me, but paired with my old fave tourmaline, it really speaks to me. Once complete and wet-finished, this will be a velvety wide scarf that will have a lovely hand, and will stop traffic (or, at the very least, cool wind from hitting one’s neck).

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Happy creating to you all! Get out there and make something.

Online Holiday Shopping: blankets

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Oh, how I love blankets. The wide expanse of handwoven loveliness. The interplay of colours, the beautiful function of them.

This year, I went on a bit of a spree with shetland wool. It’s got a lovely warmth to it, while still being lightweight. It’s got texture, and depth of colour – little flecks that give it dimension.

Here is my inventory, as of mid-November 2017. If you see something you like, there are a number of ways to buy: I take credit cards, Paypal, e-transfer, & cash. Just message me and I’ll be very happy to take your information and send you the piece. If you click on the highlighted price, it will take you to my paypal page, if you wish to pay that way.

 

Sea blue merino with multicoloured Shetland warp. This mixture of fibres makes the blanket feel much more weighty. It’s a great feeling to cozy up underneath this velvety piece.  (69”x 40”) $200

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Shetland wool, in a mysterious woodsmoke green with pretty blue-grey highland wool border trim (78” x 36”) $200

Highland lap blanket: in a tweedy mix of blue/green/chartreuse and one purple end, this is a very pretty little car- or lap-blanket. Just the thing for a night of of Netflix, when there’s a chill…. (52” x 40”) $150

~SOLD~ Highland with one border: Highland wool is slightly thicker than shetland, but just as soft and lightweight. This blanket is another that would be a great car- or lap-blanket. Excellent for a night on the couch with a movie, stored in the boat or cottage, or in the back of your camper. This one has a pretty little twill detail on one end (56” x 38”) $150

Striped Shetland (80” x 36”)  This isa second, but one of my favourites of the bunch. It is not without some slight imperfections so you get a super deal. Happy stripes of gorgeous colour make for a very pretty throw. $150

Green/blue shetland (78” x 35”)  Another second. It’s a great deal, and admit it – if you squint, you’ll never see those “flaws” again… $150

 

Online Holiday Shopping: Scarves

Here, for your viewing pleasure, is the current inventory of scarves and stoles available for purchase.

If you see something you like, there are a number of ways to buy: I take credit cards, Paypal, e-transfer, & cash. Just message me and I’ll be very happy to take your information and send you the piece.  If you click on the highlighted price, it will take you to my paypal page, if you wish to pay that way. 

Click on each photo for closer detail.

~ SOLD ~ Sea and sky, a luxe silky linen and mohair stole, generously sized at 90” x 14”.

Velvety brew of witchy purples, greens and blues with an aqua cotton warp. Generously sized at 82” x 14” $80

 

Thickly textured, velvety and heavy. I almost kept this one for myself.  Made of 96% Merino, 4% Nylon, this feels sooooo luxurious, and has a weighty luxury. One of my favourite colour combinations, this gorgeous emerald green-blue buzzes against the dark beet-red crimson. 81” x 7” so you can wrap generously. $85

 

Silver thick-and-thin textured blue-faced Leicester wool mixed with sparkly acrylic/cotton blend. (82” x 12.5”) $85

 

Autumn colours that you can keep all year round: Merino and nylon (4%) red and gold/orange variegated stole, 76” x 14”. $100

 

Purples and greens: a purple merino wool weft with a colourful springtime warp of Treewool (mix of 70% merino and 30% tercel). (74” x 14.5”) $100

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Blue and Rust merino, very soft and an attractive colour combination. (84” x 8” – a great size for multiple wraps around the neck). $80

 

 

Merry Xmas Reds and greens! A velvety mix of merino and 4% nylon, thick and bouncy. Subtle and understated holiday neckwear. (76” x 9”) $85

 

Smooth as silk

I’ve been spending some time lately trying to make my work processes more efficient. It’s really bearing fruit, too.

Today I warped my loom (meaning I got all the fibre on the beam and rolled up). It can be tricky sometimes – if you are, like I was today, using delicate fibre, or if you are trying to keep the tension  regular throughout and the dog is barking, something snags, the phone rings… or you all of a sudden find that you really need three hands….

I’ve been dressing my looms for years now, but it’s still tricky to me, every time. Sometimes my husband helps, sometimes I just do it myself and muddle through. Weavers are a clever bunch – we use weights, water bottles, hang weights from strings. We use trapezes, friends, dowels, etc. We’re always looking for an easier way to wind on.

Today, though?

I used this lovely tool made by my talented friend Lee Yorke, who made it after  seeing  other tensioning devices online. It’s custom fit to my loom, and even has a spot for me to hang a roll of paper that will magically roll between the layers of warp. It’s quite something.

Here it is, in action. It seriously hastened the process, and was a pleasure to use. I just had to share because I didn’t swear once during the entire process. A miracle!  (Please note, the noise is from traffic outside my window, not the tensioner.)

This warp, by the way, will be jewel-toned mohair shawls, eventually.

Spring!

I’ve been weaving with a purpose for the past little while. I don’t do a lot of shows, but there’s one here in Berwick on 08 April (this Saturday), and it was so much fun to try to work up some spring-like weaving. I’ve got some “seasonless” shawls – silk and mohair, cotton, merino. I’ve also made something new to me – a few “stroller blankets” – the perfect size for a stroller (hence the name) and machine washable materials.

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The information: the “Swing into Spring” Craft Show is Saturday 08 April, and runs from 10-4 at the Berwick Legion (232 Main Street).  Admission is free. There will be a canteen that will provide lunch and various treats. There will also be a “Kiddie Korner” so the kids can be entertained while you look at 40 tables of local craft and art.  There is an ATM on site (and I take credit cards at my table). Here’s the link to the event on Facebook, so you can see more information about other artisans who will be there. Did I mention 40 tables?

There will also be a 50/50 draw, so you may end up with more than you came with!

As I write this, Spring has overnight come to the Valley. It’s sunny, the sky is blue. There’s been a little rain (it is April, after all). There are crocuses! This is the perfect time to get out of your late-winter fog and come see some colour, and to buy local.

Here’s a bit of a slideshow of what I’ll have available on my table tomorrow. Remember, though, that I do a lot of commission work, and so am happy to discuss with you making just the right thing.

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Looking forward to seeing you there.

January Blues (& Greens, Reds, etc.)

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It may be dreary outside, but these are not.

January is a funny time of year – it’s usually a bit dreary, and we begin to long for Spring, but we know there’s still some winter to slog through. Sometimes there are, say, world events that get us a bit down. We will look away from those things for a moment, and think about ways to cheer ourselves up, right?

To counteract the doldrums, I’ve been weaving with more colour lately, moving slightly out of my usual palette, and it’s been a brilliant move for my own mood. Just handling these lovely fibres makes me happy.

So. If your neck is cold, or you want to warm up a loved one, here’s what I’ve got in inventory. Of course, feel free to contact me if you would like me to make something different up for you to your specifications.

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**SOLD**  Sea and Sky, with some bottle green beach glass thrown in. Wide and slinky scarf, 12.5” x 80” all in a 70/30 mix of super wash merino and tencel. It’s really beautiful, $140

 

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**SOLD**One of my favourites. A large scarf of “peacock colors” – teal, purple, green. Who can resist? Chunky, nubby blue-faced leicester wool, with merino, silk, and bamboo warp. 13” x 68” $100

 

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Stole, in pink/orange/red with some chartreuse thrown in. Handspun weft with multicoloured 8/2 cotton warp. It’s lightweight and gorgeous. 26” x 70” $175

 

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There’s a special buzz that happens when you mix blue with rust/red. I love this mix – cotton and merino warp with a blue faced leicester/merino weft. 8” x 84” nice to wrap around several times. $100

 

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Ravenclaw House, anyone? Made in the Hogwarts’ Ravenclaw colors of blue and bronze, this is for those in your life who are known for their wit, learning, and wisdom. Smaller than my usual, it’s still a good size at 5.5” x 60” and made with a mix of cotton and super wash merino.  $50

Tracking texture

I am always delighted by the alchemy of colours. A pretty multicoloured sock yarn, married to some gorgeous tourmaline- and beet-coloured blue faced leicester (all by Fleece Artist), and you’ve got yourself something quite lovely that you couldn’t really anticipate. Those colours just somehow make something entirely different in the end.

On top of that, with this particular piece, there is an unintended patterning of textures. Can you see it, there in the bottom right-hand picture?  Compare that to the picture, directly above it, of the piece still on the loom.  The finished piece is thick and rustic, and there’s tracking on a large scale.

Tracking is a mysterious event caused by the random (un)twisting of the wool one uses, once the material is wet-finished. I haven’t been able to find an official definition of it, because it’s an elusive effect – one cannot anticipate or plan it. It has something to do with the twist put into the yarn by the spinner, with humidity, with the amount of space you have between rows…there are a lot of variables, and like I said, none of them are reproducible.  In this case I also used a weft that was thick-and-thin, which made some really interesting window-pane type patterns while I was weaving (which are, oddly, pretty much lost because of how the fibre fulled with washing).

Tracking is not always prized by weavers, or by those who buy their wares. Sometimes one wants a perfectly smooth piece of cloth, or you have an ocd-ish inability to live with the imperfections of hand-made textiles and want to press the tracking out (you can’t, btw).  I am of the pro-tracking school – I love what it does, and how it makes something that cannot be reproducible. Embrace it. It’s a unique and completely original thing, never to be seen again.

Tracking is weaving’s snowflake.

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I made this stole on a very simple loom called a “rigid heddle”, and using what is called plain weave, which is a very simple and (I think) under-appreciated  method of weaving. It is a simple over-under, over-under. It is absolutely the most primal of weaving drafts, and the one that I think I may love the most. It allows the texture, colours, and fibre to shine; it is what I always imagined Gandalf’s gorgeous grey cloak to be made with, and Dumbledore’s, Kvothe’s, and William of Baskerville’s….

oldtobygandalf3In fact, you can see it in Gandalf’s cloak, here. There are what look to be diagonal patterns in the fabric, all of which are the delightful collateral damage of the wet finishing process once you take something off the loom.

There are always opportunities to make complicated and beautiful patterns using more complicated drafts, more complicated threading, more finicky techniques. But when looking at this, I want to celebrate the fabulous textiles that we can create on simple rigid heddle looms, with plain weave.

Next time you see fabric – at home, in a store, at a holiday craft fair – take a look at it. Touch it and rub it between your fingers. Look at it, really look and think about how it was made, and by whom. Think about what it’s made from, and in some lucky cases you’ll see tracking, and think about how the fibre was spun and twisted and handled, and made-with.

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