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.


Joanna said...

Ah the sensuality of new wool! I did not know that picture but feel like hopping on a train to go and see it immediately.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link to the Watney Street info. John Branagan who is mentioned in the piece was very influential in my life. While I was an undergraduate doing a textiles degree up in Manchester my dad died suddenly and ILEA could not forward me the money necessary to keep me afloat at university. John Branagan stepped in and got the John Cass foundation to give me a grant. I would have had to leave university if he hadn't done this.

I saw Debbie Bliss speak at last year's I Knit weekend and was very impressed with her and loved the fact that she had so many of her garments with her for people to try on.

The yarn shop of my youth was on Commercial Road, just near the Troxy and the Brewery Tap. I remember it as a riot of acrylic. I have a lace shawl that I knitted for one of my nephews when he was born (he's now in his 30s) with white acylic bought in that shop. Still if it had been wool it would have been eaten to death by the moths by now.

Best wishes,


knit nurse said...

I must check out that picture one lunchtime, as the Tate Britain is just around the corner from work. Funny that I've never seen it, I don't believe it was in the Stanley Spencer exhibition I went to some years ago, although perhaps it was but I wasn't so sensitive to the wool vibe at the time.

Annie said...

I have always loved that painting.

I'm fascinated by Debbie Bliss's comment that the sales of materials don't pick up along with the sales of craft books and magazines ... I've always suspected as much.

Gerry Snape said...

good old Stanley Spencer....he made to plain seem special and the ordinary seem exotic!

Liz said...

All of the wool shops here have disappeared so I have to resort to buying on the internet (which I do, I just don't knit anything). When I was growing up there was a wool shop a couple of doors away from ours. (It also sold women's underwear.) In those days we could take knitting into school (juniors) when the weather was bad and we couldn't go into the yard at playtime. One day I was knitting away and my teacher asked what it was. I remember telling her I hadn't decided.

Felix said...

This is such a lovely post.

I love the painting, and I was very inspired by your discussion of Debbie Bliss's talk. It was awesome to hear what your question was - Viva la British Sheep Breeds and WOOL! - but equally, very enlightening to learn that talented designers like Bliss can't always get enough of the raw stuff to work with... did you know she has a book of patterns called "Land Girl?"

I bought it right after reading your post.

Rattling On said...

Reminds me of Wendolene in Wallace and Gromit, perhaps it was the inspiration?
I buy lots of craft books and generally make things out of all of them! I really can't imagine not spending some part of every day making something!
I would much prefer to buy British (anything, not just yarn) but I want nice stuff, not some of the 'eco' yarns that cost a packet and are rough as whatsit. Home spinners seem to make lovely yarns so why can't the commercial spinners? The ones that are left that is...
(PS, Am off to the WI next Tues to give it a whirl)