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Some of you may be interested to know that I’ve a feature in the new Rowan Magazine (no.46), which is out today. The piece is about British industrial textile history, and the past and future of two important mills — Cold Harbour, and New Lanark.* I really enjoyed writing this feature, as I’m sure you can imagine. In other me-related news, I have finally found some time to finish off not one, but two patterns, which I will be able to ‘release’ in a few days. The first is, at long last, the cloud (about which some of you have been asking) – hurrah! The second is what I am knitting here, on this Jura beach, several weeks ago.

knittinglyttleton

More about this garment very shortly.

Thanks for your thoughts on the last post. I now find myself able to step back and ponder my own cashmere-antipathy, which — legitimate and important objections to a particular global economic model and and its environmental impact notwithstanding — I fear may also be tinged with a (perhaps suspect) aversion to cashmere’s (incidental?) associations with empire, excess, and a certain kind of femininity. Should one really condemn a fibre and an entire fibre industry because of the way its symbolic connotations feed into a particular (gendered) debate about luxury and the mass market? Because I feel that cashmere-as-commodity somehow offends my version of feminism? I feel much the same way about cupcakes, for example, but that doesn’t stop me enjoying them. And, as Colleen points out, pleasure is not an insignificant component of one’s relationship to ‘luxury’ textiles which can be consumed and enjoyed in thoughtful (and sustainable) ways. Heather also neatly puts her finger on my capacity for self-delusion. While I am a complete sucker for a certain kind of nationalistic marketing (the kind that involves sheep and rolling hills, roaming free and Yorkshire Tea, ahem) I sneer at another which (to me) unfortunately suggests lounge or leisure wear, golf**, and Ronnie Corbett (cue ‘sorry‘ theme tune). Show me a coachload of cashmere-clad English golfbuddies heading for the House of Bruar and I will run a mile. On the other hand, wave 100g of sludge coloured yarn under my nose that smells vaguely of the farmyard, with an ovine phizog depicted upon it, and I’ll have shown you the colour of my money before you can say “British Sheep Breeds.”

I also wanted to say how much I always enjoy your book recommendations, and to thank you for two recent ones in particular: Sigrun for Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local and Kate M for the poetry of Sorley MacClean, which I am really enjoying, and wishing I could read in Gaelic.

*special thanks to Felix and the Felix-mobile
**apologies to Fiona

14 responses

  1. Congratulations, Kate! The article sounds really super interesting, and is making me wish I got Rowan’s magazine!

    Though I didn’t comment on your last post, I’ve been thinking a lot about it, particularly your remark about consumption making up for self denying femininity. Whether cashmere or low fat yogurt, it seems to me that what’s offensive about the sinful/you deserve it school of marketing is that it’s aimed solely at women, and that it’s always intended to make up for an unsatisfying life of doing for others, often unappreciated. So although cashmere may not be worse than another fiber, the association with that self denial/binge relationship with the world is offensive, and it’s hard to move away from that, just as it’s hard not to be offended at yarns that are greenwashed. It’s not the product that’s the problem so much as the presentation. (Although, of course, there are plenty of problems with product as well, but these are complex, and can only be explored individually, or it gets hard to justify any purchase or interest.)

    I was also thinking about your last year’s project of going without clothing that you hadn’t made. When we make our own clothing, we do at least cut out a single, often many, middle men in the process. Our consumption of luxury fibers and fabrics is still problematic, but perhaps not as much so as when we buy a pre made item. So while I think a cautious approach to cashmere is wise, I would be less likely to worry about a knitter than a mass producer in this instance.

  2. Congratulations on the article – I’ll have to drop by John Lewis to pick up a copy the next time I’m in Reading or Lun-don (oh for the days when Oxford had a Rowan shop.)

    We’re all subject to our own little prejudices and delusions about what is ethical, green, local, luxury, etc. I think the main thing is at least to consider what we consume, whatever it is, as mindful (compared to mindless) consumption has got to be some sort of an improvement.

  3. Hey I’m a man and I don’t knit but I follow you as I like your take on design, craft, history and the politics of consumption. I also own two cashmere sweaters, machine made, and I don’t play golf! The first I bought second hand from the Grass Market Fair 10 years ago, deep chocolate brown from an old Scottish mill, must have been at least ten years old when I got it. It is a luxury item and incredibly well made. In fact it is still as good as new, no sign of wear. I appreciate that aspect of high quality – that something expensive can have a very long life, be classic and resist fashion. I got the other sweater on the same basis, and I apply the same logic to shoes and everything else I buy. So I can have years a bit like your project but it is not a case of only wearing what I make – I can have years when I have no need to buy any new clothes at all as everything is wearing very nicely thank you very much.

    Discount cashmere – it is poisonous trash and designed to be binned in a season. But classic quality garments? Well I say no problem if chosen well from manufacturers I feel can be trusted regarding labour conditions and sustainable sourcing of materials.

    I also like cup cakes and Ronnie Corbett! But then I will be insisting on taking my wife to worship at the temple of William Morris at Kelmscott so I can drone on about the moral worth of useful art and the value of the worker regardless of sex…

  4. Paul–you own two cashmere sweaters? I had no idea….are you sure we’re married? ;-)

    Congrats on the article and thanks for the very thought-provoking previous post. I think you do raise some very good points over national identity of materials and I am sorry to see the emphasis on luxury fibers at the expense of good honest wool sometimes!

  5. Hi, I’ve liked the last-post, too. I don’t knit or craft myself but I have a real weakness for Laura Ashley merino wool knitwear and I’ve never even thought about its orgins or production.

    I will now, though.

  6. I tried a couple of times to reply to the last post – but couldn’t get the right words. I found it enjoyable and thought provoking (as I find most of your historic/economic articles [I would have said all, but then I just sounded too much like a sycophant :)]). As far as the “feminist” side of cashmere goes, not only do I find it offensive that consumerism will make me all that I can be (read: smug little git), but that, effectively, I’m summed up and found wanting without it.

    Congratulations on the article.

  7. I’m glad that Sorley is proving a success! My friend Emma just completed a thesis on his depiction of imagery within ‘The Cuillin’, in context of the social and political background of Scotland-within-Europe in the 30s – she has a related article in the 2008 issue (no. 2) of Aiste, the Gaelic journal of the University of Glasgow.

  8. Once again you totally crack me up with your ‘cashmere is the new cupcake’ line of reasoning!! And I didn’t realize that your article was coming out, like, today!

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