wool

eight

A sheep is a good thing to have on an Advent calendar but the weather has been far too horrible for me to go out and get a picture of one. So hurrah for these badges from Felicity Ford’s Etsy shop – they arrived today, beautifully presented with this lovely sheep stamp.

Felicity Ford wrote a really thought-provoking blog post yesterday about the relationship between wool and time. As I admired my new badges and thought about how I would write about them, I suddenly realised that her post that had already raised so many issues was particularly relevant to the Advent season.

Felix writes: ‘Wool is produced through the slow activity of grazing, and the alchemy by which grass is turned over weeks and months into the fleece of the sheep

You can’t hurry wool.’

She then raises some searching questions about how, in that case, it is possible for chain stores to sell wool items at knock-down prices.

‘I went to the High Street last weekend and I saw 3 for 2 offers on knitwear in a well-known retail outfit, and I realised that – however much their storefront alludes to ancient knitting traditions – their 3 for 2 offer markedly does not. For … sheep cannot be fed on a 3 for 2 basis; … wool cannot be baled on a 3 for 2 basis; … in the UK at least it is not possible for a scarf to be produced as part of a BOGOF deal unless you are hurrying wool to the shelves. And what do we know about wool? That you can’t hurry wool.’

So the high street tells us a lie and the lie is that you can have wool cheaply and you can have it when you want it. And then it presents the lie in cheerful colours scattered with words like ‘joy’ and ‘gift’ (see Felix’s photos for the proof) – and therein is another lie. Which is that if you acquire this discount wool, you will be full of joy and you will be able to spread joy and you will have a gift in your hands, either for yourself (presumably because you’re worth it) or  – marvellously – for somebody else. What’s not to like?

Well, the fact that all this is nonsense. There are a variety of ways to get real wool from real sheep onto the shelves at this price, as Felix points out. Either someone has not been paid at all, or everyone involved in the slow process of producing wool has been paid less than the minimum wage, or the garments on display don’t actually contain much real wool.

Where is the ‘joy’ in this? Who wants a ‘gift’ for themselves or for others that is wrapped up in a tissue of lies and injustice?

The word ‘advent’ means ‘coming’. It is a season in which Christians wait expectantly for the birth of Jesus.

You can’t hurry a baby.

Yet somehow over the years this once holy time of waiting and preparation has morphed into a season of rush and over-consumption. And the more we accumulate and the faster we want it, so the more the injustices pile up

And in the run-up to Christmas, these injustices increase in the name of the one who said:

The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

Luke 4: 18-19

I have been a Christian for quite a few years and I have been slow to grasp this, but if I could wish for one thing right now it would be that more people both inside and outside the Church could really understand that the Bible reveals a God who gets angry when farmers are forced to sell fleeces at rock-bottom prices so that high street stores can provide consumers with cheap products to give as gifts.

Especially, I would dare to suggest, at Christmas.

In praise of Wovember

Fleece on wire fence, Isle of Skye

Oh this is so exciting! Two of my very favourite bloggers, Felix and Kate, are collaborating on a fabulous project that celebrates all things woollen – Wovember. The website is an absolute joy for anyone who has the slightest interest in wool or sheep.

Just like Kate and Felix’s blogs, the website is full of stunning photographs and interesting facts. There’s also a petition which should be signed by anyone who is remotely concerned about issues such as ethical trading, supporting local economies or truthfulness in advertising.

Newborn lambs, Derbyshire

I used to do quite a lot of knitting, but studying and reading have rather taken over of late. So along with the woolly pictures I have included here, I would like my contribution to Wovember to be this passage from Rose Tremain’s marvellous novel Music and Silence. I love the way she manages to convey a real sense of the pleasure of knitting, along with a humorous dig at the type of men who find ‘women’s pastimes’ threatening.

They say that Queen Sofie, when she was young and before she had begun her habit of scolding and cursing and hoarding money, loved to be rowed in a little boat to this island and there sit in the sunshine and indulge in secret her passion for knitting. This activity had been proscribed throughout the land as tending to induce in women an idle trance of mind, in which their proper thoughts would fly away and be replaced by fancy. Men called this state ‘wool gathering’. That the wool itself could be fashioned into useful articles of haberdashery such as stockings or night bonnets made them no less superstitiously afraid of the knitting craze. They believed that any knitted night bonnet might contain among its million stitches the longings of their wives that they could never satisfy and which in consequence would give them nightmares of the darkest kind. The knitted stocking they feared yet more completely as the probable instrument of their own enfeeblement. They imagined their feet becoming swollen and all the muscles of their legs beginning to grow weak.

‘Queen Sofie had, from the very first, transgressed the anti-knitting edict. Yarn was shipped to her from England in boxes labelled ‘goose down’. At the back of her ebony armoire lay concealed a growing quantity of soft garments of many colours for which she knew that one day she would find a use. Only her maid Elizabeth knew her secret and she had been told she would pay with her life if it was revealed.

‘On the morning of the twelfth of April 1577, a day of pale sunlight and a tender blue sky, Queen Sofie, eight and a half months pregnant with her third child, set out at nine o’clock with Elizabeth to cross the lake and spend the morning knitting. Her chosen spot was a clearing in the woods, a little shaded by some hazel bushes and rose briars, where she would set down her cushions on the mossy grass. Here she was sitting putting the finishing touches to a pair of underdrawers while Elizabeth worked upon a sock, with the coils of yarn unravelling moment by moment between them, when the Queen felt a troublesome thirst come upon her. They had brought no provisions, only the secret knitting in a wooden box, and so Queen Sofie asked Elizabeth if she would row back across the lake to the castle and return with a flagon of beer … (get the book to find out what happens next!)

Happy Wovember!