3. Faltering First Steps

Timing really stinks, sometimes. Everyone knows what happened next. We had two brief forays out into the world after the fire and then the UK finally woke up to covid and curbed normal activities. The textile artist was confined to base camp, right next door to the bare concrete pad that was all that remained of the workshop home. The engineer had no choice but to continue working (explosive atmospheres don’t care about germs) albeit under new constraints. Winter came to an abrupt end, it suddenly got hot and sunny and I only had one t-shirt to my name. There was no option but to explore the joys of internet shopping and the engineer discovered Facebook marketplace and re-engaged big time with eBay.

Arthur made friends with people he never met or even got close to and collected purchases from alleyways and car parks near jobs. We met – but didn’t meet – Louise, who generously passed on the textile tools of a friend of a friend who no longer recognised the names of the items she had collected. Niddynoddy, hand carders, umbrella swift, lazy Kate, double-drive wheel, four-shaft loom, warping frame and pegs, reeds, shuttles and bobbins. The textile artist brushed up on her weaving skills and the engineer built a small studio and rebuilt elderly looms.

In between lockdowns, the textile artist wove fabric from the Skiathos wool on table looms and the engineer reconstructed equipment and acquired new tools. The engineer loaded the works van and we drove spinning and weaving equipment to Greece where we spun and wove some more, got married and got locked down again. Arthur evidently got the bug for road trips with looms because after lockdown ended, we continued to expand our collection. A late night eBay bargain required an unexpected loom pick-up – from John o’ Groats. Just under 400 miles north of base camp and three nights in the van. The textile artist set to work experimenting with minimal processing of carded fleece and wove floor rugs on it. A collection of teaching looms and weaving equipment came up for sale and the engineer couldn’t resist. This loom pick-up and road trip took us to Launceston. Just under 400 miles south of base camp and requiring three assorted nights in dog-friendly accommodation because our van was full.

We now had enough equipment to furnish two workshops, one in the UK and also one in Greece. After much actual searching as well as soul-searching and money crunching, we took on some premises on the island to use as a base. This time our workshop needed more demolition than construction and a lot of work to get into shape before we could make use of it. Then we loaded the van again at base camp, built a bed on top of the looms and made a seat up front for the dog and drove the whole kit bag to Skiathos.

So now we have two phoenix workshops – one here in Cumbria, which literally rose from the ashes and one there in Greece, to revive and retrieve wool textile activity from museum status to active, functional relevance.

At least, that’s the plan.

The how-to is an ever-evolving process and the subject of sometimes heated debate and undoubted future posts.