1. Of Difference and Change

Arthur argues that I should start at the beginning.

However, one thing we agree on is that my brain doesn’t work the same way as his and I am inclined to start elsewhere. Possibly even with a different story. All the beginnings have already passed us by, so what harm could there be in being a bit creative?

Creativity is what drives us both but we couldn’t have a more different approach. I’m a textile artist, working with wool and rooted in the local environment. Arthur is an electrical engineer specialising in explosive atmospheres. There is not much room for creativity in a gas house where risk assessments and method statements rule – along with extensive regulations – and practical problem solving involves safety zones, stop buttons, ones and zeros, ons and offs. Practical problem solving here at Tinker’s Cutting has always involved fixing things with a bit of something we already have and making things work in at least two different ways because there’s nothing more handy than an adaptable collapsible piece of kit.

Tinker Tailors, my first handmade business, began as an outlet for making things out of stuff – mostly the stuff which had accumulated over the years at Tinker’s Cutting, but also stuff which grew in abundance around us. We made wooden buttons from slices of foraged sticks. We made hand-spinning tools from broken bits and pieces and created quirky accessories from recycled fabrics and fibres and incorporated found objects. I made paper from nettles and the old man’s beard and spun yarn from cast-off fleeces. Gradually hand-spinning evolved to include hand-dyeing, initially as one half of Wild Wood Wool, and I found my feet – and my woolly family – in the supportive fold of The Wool Clip co-operative. My two boys grew up surrounded by wool and wood, paper and books. Home was a full-time workshop. Dinner was shared at the end two feet of the most enormous table which was otherwise covered in works-in-progress.

Slow was a way of life.

Much later, after everyone left home apart from me, a long time of small change at Tinker’s Cutting was replaced by a time of great changes, works and improvements as two different people came together to make a difference in each other’s lives. My makeshift kitchen was upgraded and my even more makeshift dye kitchen was shifted further away. Workplaces were designed better for working and Fridays were adapted for going for a pint at the local. We went to distant places together to work and even more distant places together for fun. The engineer learnt about wool and colour from the textile artist and the textile artist learnt about taking risks and opening doors and windows. The engineer, who liked a nice label in his clothes, was amused to discover that he was looking at the wrong label all along and then amusement turned to shock when he found out about washing and micro plastics.

Oh, look. Here we are. It’s the beginning.

Hello! My name is Jean Wildish and I am a textile artist from Penruddock, Cumbria. Welcome to my woolly rollercoaster.

What came next was an eye-opener about the marvels of wool. The textile artist talked about sheep and sheep breeds and the different purposes of their different wools. The engineer brought the car to a sudden stop to watch the lambs pronking in the field next to the road. The textile artist washed a few fleeces gifted by a primary school friend with a farm in the village and the engineer made comments about methods of heating water but declined to consider a smellier method of cleaning. The textile artist demonstrated hand carding and talked of the virtues of careful fibre preparation for a better hand-spun outcome and the engineer flicked the switch on an electric drum carder and built a swing picker from scratch.

Together the textile artist and the engineer picked through a mountain of island wool side by side outside a tiny Greek townhouse, teaching each other a new language and making plans for the future.

And here is another beginning.