Thursday, 19 February 2009

Where's she gone?

Before you ask... I'm getting settled into a new day job at the moment and different working routine. So I don't wear myself out, I'll let the job settle down and then fit the other bits of my life back around it.

I have been spinning wool and flax, planning several weaving projects, and reading some good books, so it's not all-work-and-no-play. I'll be back when everything fits into place.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Tabby and twill

The photo is a bit out of focus, but here's a domestic cat (Pheobe) showing how her well her camouflage is adapted to the domestic environment (!)
Tabby stripes and twill stripes:
Leaving cats aside for the time being, this blanket is one of a small collection we have woven by Keith Stow, a weaver living in Sowerby Bridge, Yorkshire, who I understand finally retired about 3 years ago. I wish I'd bought more of his beautiful blankets! I also love wearing a couple of hooded jackets sewn up from a similar fabric to the blankets. All 100 per cent wool.

The label he wove under was "Stows of Sowerby". I have an old "Craft Trail" booklet for the south Pennines with a page about the business. Keith Stow had worked as a spinning overlooker until he was made redundant in 1980. He and his wife were living in a farmhouse with a large barn, suitable for setting up his weaving business. It is my understanding from a conversation I had with the intermediary I bought the blankets from - at a Derbyshire crafts centre - that he started hand weaving, but the popularity of the blankets was such that it justified getting a large Italian mechanical loom, and in fact the craft booklet says he had three working looms.

It was discovering these blankets - I think probably 8 years ago - that caused me first to look at a woven cloth and wonder about how it was designed and made. The Craft Trail booklet tells me that they are based on a blanket that Keith's wife, April, inherited from a Swiss grandfather. They are a bit different to anything I had ever seem before. They are woven in 4/4 diagonal twill and fulled. The weft colours are in bands, the blanket above has five different weft colours but an extraordinary number and range of colours in the warp. I think it probably that he used production line ends from local mills.

When I heard that Keith Stow was retiring, I also heard he was wanting to sell the business. For several days I seriously considered whether it would be practical for me to take it on. I looked into the cost of obtaining premises (lease or freehold) and first year overheads. As I was doing accounts for a small business that had three different premises I was in a good position to work out costs, and I scoured estate agents for anything available within 20 miles. I decided it was not the right business for me when I realised that I'd be lucky to get suitable accommodation for a business (adding up costs for lease or mortgage, business rates, utilities, insurance) for under £7,000 per annum. There was also of course the cost of the business to consider, and whether changing the distinctive trading name would loose customers - it couldn't be "Stows of Sowerby" if I moved it to a Derbyshire village.

As a fairly new weaver, I thought that although I could find the money it was a gamble I had a fair chance of losing on.

I still feel rather wistful (if only we had an empty barn!) I really love these blankets - so do the cats. They prefer pure wool.
Annie-cat would like us all to know that black cats also suit twill blankets!! or vice versa?