08 November 2011
the wool shop
I like to check that this picture is still on display whenever I go to Tate Britain because it is one of my favourites. It was there the last time I looked, at least. The young woman playing with the wool, and a somewhat diminutive Stanley Spencer seemingly overwhelmed by skeins of yarn with a life of their own. It exudes energy, the sensuality of new wool, and, according to this description, lustful thoughts on the part of Stanley too. I like what he says in his notes of the painting: "Stonehouse had several of these small local shops such as I remembered years ago in Cookham. The Cookham ones must have emigrated there." The Stonehouse wool shop certainly looks more fun than the Shelstone's in Watney Street, the haberdashers I used to visit as a child with my Auntie Mary . The best part was being allowed to sit - out of the way - on a high bentwood stool - until the serious business of making purchases was completed. I still dream sometimes about those shopping expeditions.
Which reminds me that I didn't mention my outing to Walthamstow Village to a talk by Debbie Bliss organised by East London Craft Guerilla. It was very informal, about a dozen of us sitting round yarning in a cafe, with Mrs Bliss telling us about her career as a knitwear designer and running her own wool shop - not very well, according to her. I was very taken with her - approachable, modest and very open about the challenges of being a knitwear designer - the years of being not very well paid, the copyright breeches, the boggledom of grading patterns. Lots of questions afterwards from would-be designers and me asking why her range of yarns were from imported wool (originally because there was not a sufficient volume of high quality fleeces, but "watch this space"). She also said something interesting about the upsurge of interest in making and crafts during economic downturns. Apparently sales of craft books and magazines increase enormously, but there is not generally a commensurate increase in sales of yarn. It seems we are all dreaming of making stuff but not always getting on with the actual knitting or whatever. Maybe we might if there were more lovely woolshops.