Fabric [‘fabrɪk] – cloth produced by weaving or knitting textile fibres. Origin : late 15th century : from French fabrique, from Latin fabrica ‘something skilfully produced’. Oxford English Dictionary
I’ve been fascinated by textiles for many years. As a child and into my mid-20s, I was a prolific knitter. From knitting my first garment aged 12ish, a heavily cabled Aran sweater in undyed pure wool, I ‘progressed’ to the fuzzy yarns of the 1980s and designed my own creations using an array of colours. I also dabbled with stranded colour work, using the finest of fine Shetland wool and then the thickest single ply yarn from Léttlopi, when Icelandic sweaters became popular. I used heavy metal needles and circulars that had cables almost as thick as the needle and with very little give or subtlety.
All those garments and experiments have long gone and are just memories of an earlier creative life. In the late 1980s I stopped. Almost overnight. My then job as an editor, resulted in a bad case of RSI (repetitive strain injury) in my right wrist. Hours using a keyboard had taken their toll. It hurt too much to knit anymore.
My creative life went on hold and remained that way for the best part of 20 years. During that time my job changed. It involved extensive travel around the United Kingdom. Time for creativity was limited and when I did have time I found myself being too exhausted to contemplate making anything. The job had become all consuming. I did it because I believed in it and what the organisation I worked for, stood for. But times, people and organisations change. I was becoming increasingly dissatisfied. Then came the re-organisation and for me the writing was on the wall – redundancy. I found the whole process hard, impersonal and stressful. After 27 years, it was a very bitter pill to swallow and it was not the way I would have chosen to leave. I’m still not entirely ‘over it’ and it’s taken me four years to say that publicly.
The very thing that took away my creativity has, in the end, given it back to me. In the initial months after redundancy I found solace in creative projects. The act of making kept me busy and concentrated. It was a time to explore new crafts such as crochet and embroidery. I started volunteering at Wakehurst Place, the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew Sussex base. I learnt new skills in horticulture and through my friendship with my manager there, rediscovered my love for all things wool and other natural fibres.
Knitting is now firmly back in my life. I’ve just finished my first garment in over 20 years and I have another one nearing completion. Gone are the days of fancy fibres, with the crunch and spark of acrylic. I now choose yarns that are from natural sources and if possible, where I know their provenance. I've also started to produce my own yarn using a drop spindle. I’ve been inspired by podcasters from around the world who explore slow making, wool, textiles and what it means to be a maker.
And now, thanks to my ex-Wakehurst manager and great friend, I’ve dived into another fibre art – rigid heddle loom weaving. My first sample pieces are definitely not ‘something skilfully produced’, but the challenges of exploring and making fabric in a new way and being a maker and creative are continuing to enrich my life.