Not being part of the problem
That was my mindset at the start of March 2020. The first UK lockdown was looking imminent, and for pretty much everyone the year was changing shape rapidly, some more drastically than others.
This first instinctive response came from a practical place. I was low-risk health-wise and my husband and I were both able to continue working, so I initially directed my energy into volunteering in my local community, and settling our children into schooling from home etc.
However, it quickly became apparent that as a self-employed weaver, the best way for me to help was firstly to ensure that my one-person business wasn’t another casualty (with a few hours voluntary work for balance). And secondly, with the benefit of hindsight, to use my creativity to try to encourage change from a negative narrative to a positive one.
Like many makers, my planned selling opportunities and teaching work was cancelled. To overcome the initial, and fortunately brief, slump I experienced as a result, I adopted the methods I had used when establishing my practice in 2014. I basically said yes to every offer of help and opportunity that came my way. This included selling at local online markets, participating in the artist support pledge, meditation (those who know me will know that this is uncharacteristic), free coaching, listening to LOTS of informative and inspiring podcasts and online training. This re-set my head for the year and got the ball rolling.
Once I got over the discomfort of selling luxury woven textiles online during a global pandemic, I discovered that the marketplace was surprisingly buoyant. Strong sales meant that I was quickly in a position to focus on a new woven blanket project that had been on the back burner. As I took a leap into new territory during a time of uncertainty, I experienced a sense of responsibility as an artist to direct the conversation in a more positive way. I knew that my new project had to have an element of optimism, despite the awful events playing out on the news channels and in our lives.
Working from home
From the end of February, I’d been relocating yarn and sampling looms from my Bristol studio to our kitchen in preparation for a potential lock down, so I could be in a good position to support our three children whilst balancing my work, rather like when I started in business. I think the unexpected opportunity to change my priorities has been good and as always, the time spent weaving was a positive part of my day.
Interestingly our studios have remained open this year and I could have safely continued to work there, but as a parent I had to make the right choice for our family too, and it made sense that we all stayed at home, as encouraged by those in authority. That said, as the summer approached, I was thankful to return there to complete the larger commissioned pieces.
Getting outdoors each day for fresh air and exercise became a really special part of our day and I’ve never been more thankful to live a 20-minute walk from acres of open land at Ashton Court Estate, or Bristol harbourside in the other direction. The colourful houses of Cliftonwood and Totterdown became an uplifting backdrop on the endless sunny days and fed back into my sketchbooks and onto my sampling loom, and from this, the design for The Bristol Blanket grew.
Embracing local networks
I’ve particularly enjoyed embracing local networks this year and the absence of the pressure to have a presence in London has actually been a positive. As the blanket went into production, I felt incredibly fortunate that the Bristol Weaving Mill is a 20 minute walk from my studio, and Rowenna, their sales and marketing manager lives a few minutes from me. With so much brilliant stuff happening online; it was a complete joy to interact in real life and work through the technical details and samples face to face with Rowenna. We frequently met in her sun-drenched street instead of another zoom meeting.
To evaluate the impact of the pandemic on the craft industry so far needs another blog post, but it’s been interesting to discover just how resilient and resourceful I am in times of change. Other makers have shared similar positive experiences. We also understand more about the value of practising craft skills and the positive impact this has on mental health, and the importance of surrounding ourselves with things we love in our homes.
The Bristol Blanket
It’s strange to think that without the pandemic the blanket might not exist, but more than ever I just want to wrap everyone up in the uplifting colours that make my home city of Bristol so special.
Five feel good things I’d like you to know about The Bristol Blanket
- The design is inspired by Bristol’s colourful houses, which brightened up our daily walks during lockdown in the Spring.
- It is woven in partnership with Bristol Weaving Mill. A renowned micro mill in the heart of my home city of Bristol, which specialises in innovative design.
- The optimistic colours in this sumptuous lambswool blanket are designed to lift your spirits and bring warmth and joy to your home, and it is so soft. (I provide samples for those who prefer to feel the quality of a textile product before they invest. Drop me a line if you’d like to receive one).
- The design reflects the connections with our neighbours and local community, which for many were strengthened during lock down. As an artist I wanted to design a collection that echoed the special bonds that formed from the shared experiences, in the hope that we continue to strengthen them and support each other.
- For every blanket sold, 10% of the profit will go to MIND- the mental health charity.
Angie Parker is a weaver, designer and colourist, based in Bristol. She trained in rug weaving in the 1990’s and started her textile practice six years ago. She developed her original style and bold approach to colour during her previous career in costume for theatre and television. Angie is also an advocate for small business growth. Read more about this project in additional blogs on her website. http://www.angieparkertextiles.com