2. More Beginnings

After the eye-opening revelation about micro-plastics and acrylic versus natural fibres, the conversation moved to Greece. For many years, the engineer had squirrelled away his savings and surplus energy and concentrated his holidays in one place. With the help of a raggle-taggle assortment of Europeans, he re-built a tiny Greek fisherman’s house in the old town centre of Skiathos and it’s there that our story really begins. It was there that we first engineered a house break-in (keys both present and missing feature regularly in every aspect of our relationship), shared an undrinkable bottle of ancient port, swam together, ate together, sang together and danced together.

It was also there that the beliefs of the engineer were called out by the textile artist.

In an idyllic mountain taverna overlooking the town and the sea, we were having The Woolly Conversation. We had seen some island sheep that day and Arthur announced his belief that local people were bound to be doing something useful with their wool. Uncharacteristically negative, “I bet they don’t,” I said. When asked what I thought they were doing with it, I said I expected they either burned it or buried it. I could see parallels between Skiathos and my home in the northern Lake District. As beautiful as the area is, its resident local population numbers are relatively low out of season, as are the wages compared to the national average. There isn’t much industry, farmers struggle with the weather and the environment and a huge number of people rely on tourism to supplement their activities as well as their income. I’m talking about Cumbria but I could be just as easily talking about Skiathos. Back then we had barely scratched the surface of Skiathos economics and culture, but we could see similarities in how dependent it was on tourism, to the detriment of other more sustainable activities.

Meanwhile, back in real-time Skiathos, the argument smouldered gently until our friend, Andreas, went to a neighbouring table and consulted with a local farmer and a butcher he knew and who happened to be enjoying a plate of lamb chops together. “It’s a problem,” was the initial verdict. However, the problem related to the fact that it wasn’t always possible to burn the fleeces and sometimes there was the additional difficulty of transporting the wool to the local tip. Rubbish dump.




Think about it.

The engineer looked at the textile artist and said: “We can do something about that,” and within the week his house was full of freshly shorn Skiathos wool.

Skiathos wool comes from Skiathos sheep. So small in number, they are currently (but we are working on it!) off the radar in terms of recognised Greek sheep breeds. There are a few Skopelos sheep also kept on the island and some other native breeds, which come from the Pelion on the mainland. Skiathos sheep are usually either all black or all white. The quality of the wool ranges from monstrously hairy (sorry, George, but it’s true) to actually probably soft enough to wear and includes everything in between. It makes me wonder what would happen if my local Herdwick sheep in Cumbria were crossed with the equally ubiquitous and hardy Swaledales. Like my imaginary mash-up, Skiathos wool is mostly strong with a decent staple length and best suited to rugs and home furnishings. This is what the ladies of Skiathos did with it, way back when, but that is a post for another day.

We picked the VM (vegetable matter) from the gleefully donated wool in the yard outside Arthur’s house under the curious gaze of a few passing older ladies whose eyes were on stalks to see such activities. Then we vacuum packed our cargo and sent it off to be spun into weaving yarn. After much deliberation and several more pickings through, the yarn was ready at the mill and waiting for the final carriage invoice to be settled. It was one of those things that got forgotten amongst other activities in the build up to Christmas 2019. For the first time in thirteen years, I was going to have a bedroom. With a door and a window and a beautiful flat-weave Balkan rug on the floor. I came home from my stint in The Wool Clip shop on Christmas Eve, admired the works and the paint job, cleared the table and laid the Christmas tablecloth. We put a bottle of wine by the Rayburn to enjoy together with dinner and popped out with the dog to deliver a Christmas card to our friends down the road.

It was a surprisingly mild evening. I didn’t bother with a coat as I had been gradually shedding layers after getting back from the shop. We shared a drink and a toast with our friends and headed home to pull up the Christmas drawbridge.

The next bit is both a beginning and an end.

A simultaneous death and rebirth.

In our short absence, our workshop home had been plunged into darkness and we were greeted with smoke billowing out from under the roof. To cut a long story short, by Christmas Day, fire took it all and nothing was left. I won’t go into details but I can tell you that the textile artist and the engineer learned to accept charity and our local community and the wider woolly community came together and supported us both. We needed it and will be forever grateful for it.

So, 2019 ended with tragedy and 2020 began with very little indeed except a late delivery of slightly hairy mill-spun Skiathos weaving yarn.