Shop Small this Friday and Save Big

Black_Friday24It’s the Blackest of Fridays and I’m offering 20% off at both my independent shop as well as my Etsy shop with coupon code BLACKFRIDAY.  It’s good for 24 hours, starting at 7am GMT. (offer can’t be used on reserved items, custom orders or retroactivley).

While many resist this, the darkest day of shopping, why not shine a light on your choices as a consumer? Choose to support small, microbusinesses like mine and know that not only are you getting a good deal and a unique handmade gift, you are also helping subvert the dominant business paradigm by helping an one-woman business flourish (might I say against all odds?)

 

Holiday Order Deadlines Approaching

Yule_deadlines
Order deadlines for Xmas are fast approaching, dear reader, so order early to give the Feral elves (ok, that’s me, Ally) and the Ye Olde Yuletide Postal Strumpet (ok, me again!) Plenty of time to make your sparklies and post them out to you.  These dates are guidelines and not guarantees. I’m very aware that readers of this blog form my most loyal and long term supporters!Hope this joyful season is full of light for you and your families. –Ally

A Year After the Changes at Etsy, It’s Worse than We Thought

Mabon Tree of Life in progress-- curling up the hammered tendrils

Mabon Tree of Life in progress– curling up the hammered tendrils

In October of last year I wrote a post about my concerns regarding Etsy policy changes to allow manufacturing and drop shipping. A year on, how have these changes affected sellers and buyers? A great article by Sharon Whitehead of Brooklyn Accelerator discusses both, and prompted me to revisit this topic.

What has essentially happened is this: Etsy used to be like a lovely little beach where you could go and find interesting little stones.  Combing through the sand was fun, with many delightful surprises: a shell here, a piece of beach glass there.  And then one day the authorities decided to use it as a dump, piling up plastic junk. You could still go there looking for little stones and shells, but you would have to wade through tons of refuse to find the treasures.

I’m not competing with the two dollar, sweat shop made goods. I have more in common with the people making those sweat-shop goods than I have with the factory-floor managers or the designers sending their stuff to be duplicated in factories or the companies that own the factories.  Etsy would like me to become like the managers and outsourcing designers. This has always been my bottom line, that I make in solidarity with those who do not have the luxury to set their own price and must work for an hourly wage decided be someone else.  I am not in competition with them.

One of Micheal Wolf's portraits of Chinese Factory Workers.

One of Micheal Wolf’s portraits of Chinese Factory Workers.

I’m convinced the Etsy shoppers who are buying the cheap, mass-produced goods are few, and they are not my customers.  The widespread presence of those goods on Etsy makes it harder for my customers– both potential ones and loyal fans– to find my work on Etsy.

This was the edge Etsy gave makers– it put us up front in Search Engine Optimization and its effective, streamlined internal search meant that we were served up to customers who were looking for exactly what we make. It was great, for a short time.

It took less than a year for Etsy’s changes to take hold and have an effect on authentic makers, but it’s happening now. What’s at stake here is not the redifining of “handmade” to include “handmade by someone else”. We need to understand that all along Etsy was about supporting handmade microbusiness– businesses of one or two people doing it themselves and the magic of connecting to them as a consumer.

Last year when I saw that I would have these challenges ahead, I created my own web store and enrolled in a handmade business course. The course’s advice? Outsource my designs to a manufacturer. Pay someone else to make the things I’m making or burn-out and financial catastrophe awaited me. I’m stubborn enough to disregard this advice. I’ve gotten this far without compromising on this, and I’m going to keep to that.

Etsy used to send great business and sales advice emails, coaching sellers.  I followed all their advice initially and it helped make my shop a success. Now the emails they send me are about how to outsource my work to a factory or how to make storage space for all the manufactured items I’ll be selling on Etsy after they come back from the factory. I don’t even read them anymore.

I feel lucky that I have loyal customers who continue to support my shop.  You know who you are.  You have put a roof over my head and food on the table and have paid the vet bills for my cats.  I have a direct relationship with many of you and if I outsourced what I made I would lose that.  I’m not willing to do that.

If you love my work, I would ask you to support my independent shop and give me feedback on your shopping experience there so I can continue to improve it. There will always be perks shopping at feralstrumpet.co.uk.  Have you seen my SAMPLE SALE section of one-off designs?  Did you know I have a Birthday Club- on your birthday month you get special savings only at feralstrumpet.co.uk? (Email feral.strumpet.info at gmail dot com with your birth month and day and I’ll add you to the club!).

I know there are some loyal customers who will prefer to shop on Etsy because they shop on their mobile devices and Etsy’s app for that is great.  If you do want to shop for my work on Etsy, use the search term “feral strumpet” or “folk reveries” to find my work (and the work of my fab Folk Reveries team mates.)  Be sure to favourite the items you like so you can go back to them because they might not be as easy to find in search as they have been in the past.

I stand by my statement last year.  What I predicted has come to pass, but it’s even worse.

While my hours are sometimes very long, and my callouses are painful, I still don’t have the resources for interns and personal assistants. The new Etsy would like to cater to sellers who outsource the making of their goods because it means more volume and money for them. The decision makers at Etsy are looking a lot like the big businesses insisting on the bottom line, and the creative hands and hearts that originally built the site are ransomed in the process.

I know that someone out there who is tech-minded and passionate about handmade micro-business is already hard at work making something to replace Etsy. Whoever you are, I wish you godspeed.

In Sharon Whitehead’s insightful article, she offers advice for makers facing this drop in sales from Etsy’s changes. One suggestion is to “create a small network of fellow sellers” that goes beyond the Etsy Team model. Are you a maker with a companionable aesthetic to mine? Do you make other things besides jewellery, yet have a similar target market? Get in touch! Let’s work together to make better things happen.

 

Transmissions from the Hill of Odin

Photo of Roseberry topping taken by me, edited using Afterlight and Snapseed

Photo of Roseberry topping taken by me, edited using Afterlight and Snapseed

Many places I have been on this island feel forlorn, secret or forgotten. This is not the case with the incongruously named Roseberry Topping, a hill on the Eastern edge of North Yorkshire.  It was originally thought to be the highest hill on the North Yorkshire moors until Urra Moor was found to be higher. It is cared for by the National Trust and on the day we were there lovers, families and packs of teenagers climbed its steep height.  I got a sense this was a shared place, much loved still, and to climb it was a rite of passage of sorts.

The name shift from Odin’s Rock to Roseberry Topping is a slow linguistic morphing.  It’s thought that hill was sacred to Scandinavian dwellers who inhabited this place during the Viking Age, and that its name was Othenesburg.  Othenes slowly, weirdly became Roseberry and Topping is an old Yorkshire dialect for hill.

The scramble down Odin's Rock

The scramble down Odin’s Rock

But there is something mysterious about this place– at its summit there was once a sacred spring and its waters were used as a cure for sore eyes. (Yorkshire Holy Wells and Sacred Springs by Edna Whelan). Odin had one eye– having sacrificed the other in a shamanic bargain at Mimir’s Well of Urd, the waters of transcendent wisdom.

There was also said to be a hermit’s cave at the top, also lost, with a hole beside it called Wilfrid’s Needle, named after the 8th century Bishop.To crawl through such a place was a rite. The pagan past is not so distant– the Viking Age coming after the needle’s namesake’s reign of power came to an end.  The Scandinavian settlers left little evidence of who they were while they were here and its perhaps in residual Norse names and words (and their genetic code!) that their presence can really be felt.

All these structures are vanished now, with the top of the hill having caved in a mining collapse, burying these sacred spots. But the people of this place still hold it dear– I like to think the eye of Odin looks up through well buried in the ruins and sees the little girls climbing in their pink sandals, the teenagers, the lovers huddled in the crevices of the paths, and the dogs hurrying past their masters, all the way to the top.

More fascinating history can be found on the Yorkshire Holy Wells Website.

The triad design of these earrings was inspired by the Odin’s knot.

triskele_ear-5

Loaf Mass Blessings, Strumpets!

Lammas postage stamp from Red Moon Musings blog.

Lammas postage stamp from Red Moon Musings blog.

I live in a place where history is a constant companion. There is no place where this isn’t true, but York, and Yorkshire in general feels haunted, submerged in the past, and this inspires me.  Sometimes I don’t even have to imagine it– it manifests itself, like this summer afternoon at the abbey ruins of Rievaulx when these minstrels created what felt like, in the words of Hakim Bey, a temporary autonomous zone.

Today is the feast day of Saint Peter in Chains, and the glorious York Minster is dedicated to this original Houdini.  I’m going to walk to the minster today and think on all the miraculous escapes in my life! A day to not only celebrate shaking off the fetters of whatever holds us back, but it’s also a time to let things come to fruition– help them rise, like yeast in bread. It is Lammas, or as the Anglo Saxons called it hlaf mas or “loaf-mass”– a celebration of the first fruits of the harvest, a baking of the magic bread.

I’m not much of a baker. Sometimes I wish I knew how to fire ceramic beads in a kiln– clay instead of grain– now there’s a magic bread.

The Kitchen Witches' pentagram ring, available made in your size, in my shop.

The Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, available made in your size, in my shop.

I have begun to incorporate small ceramics in some designs, like the Kitchen Witches’ pentagram ring, above. I make these in many colours, but perhaps my favourite colour is the raku pottery– which is an ancient Japanese style of firing which allows for “happy accidents”– the colour takes on hues of a stormy sea or iron rich silt or even blood. I like to imagine that the fire makes up its own mind what the colour will be! In a way, that symbolises the creative process for me.

In the Middle Ages, when people lived by the seasons, the wheat stores were running low, and the new harvest and the first breads baked with it meant that the season of plenty was beginning again.

Ironically, this is true for my own business (and retail businesses in general!) The summer months are slow and I’m busy making for the time when the harvest begins again– late summer and then into the intensely busy winter holidays.

I’ve been making lovely new pieces that I’ll roll out over the next few weeks– this is my magic bread. What’s yours?

The Bawming of the Thorn

Appleton Thorn by Robert Bateman, 1880. Warrington Museum.

Appleton Thorn by Robert Bateman, 1880. Warrington Museum.

Tree of Life Necklace by Feral Strumpet.

Tree of Life Necklace by Feral Strumpet.

Once there was a time when we knew the trees and they knew us.  They were planted in the middle of villages and were considered guardians of a place.  On Old Midsummer Day, July 5th,  the third Saturday in June or there abouts, these guardian trees were adorned with garlands, ribbons, flowers and flags. Appleton Thorn in Cheshire is named after such a hawthorn tree and here this tradition, called the Bawming of the Thorn, continues.  The  tree there is said to be an offshoot of the legendary Glastonbury thorn, a tree with its own fascinating history.  Legend claims it was brought from Jerusalem to Glastonbury by Joseph of Aramathea and was the same tree from which the crown of thorns was made.  Others claim this fantastic story was a creation of the monks who wished to discourage the use of the Hawthorn in pagan rituals and yet still wished use its power to promote their Christian faith.

Tree of Life Earrings in silver by Feral Strumpet

Tree of Life Earrings in silver by Feral Strumpet

Sarah wearing the Tree of Life in Brass

Sarah wearing the Tree of Life in Brass

The hawthorn is the May Tree or White Thorn– with it’s beautiful white flowers juxtaposed against its sinister thorns. Washing in the dew gathered from the white petaled flowers was a Old Tyme beauty tip. Witches made their brooms from them– perhaps because the hawthorne is the gateway to the fairy realms, the Otherworld.  Vivian imprisoned Merlin in a cage of Hawthorne branches, using his own spell against him and it was under a Hawthorne that the Queen of May captured Thomas the Rhymer. Hawthorns often stand guard over sacred wells– and in these manifestations in story and landscape do seem to suggest the Yggdrasil, a tree linking this world with other realms.

What survives of these notions fascinates me. These happy village fetes, celebrating a tree with song and dance– is this a kind of Druidic hold over? A dream writ in Ogham on our collective subconscious? In England these ancient ideas manifest with fanfare– brass bands and Morris dancing. People still gather– they say it is for the sake of tradition– that it as has always been so, but I like to think there is something else here, feeding the imagination, talking back to our ancient guardians telling them we have not forgotten them.

World Tree Earrings in Brass by Feral Strumpet

World Tree Earrings in Brass by Feral Strumpet

 

 

 

Walking with Giants

Hableton Street, the ancient moorland road.

Hambleton Street, the ancient moorland road.

Yesterday Mike and I went hiking on the Arden Great Moor, down the ancient road which once joined Scotland to York, called Hambleton Street. Now just a stony track, it was once the main thoroughfare for cattle traders coming drown from Scotland to the markets in York. But it is certainly much older than the 17th century rovers who used it historically. It is one of the oldest roads in Britain and was once used by the Roman Legions and before them, the Brigantes– though we have no evidence of this, nor of the Norse settlers using this road during the Viking Age–no evidence save a claim made by ancestral memory from the folklore that has grown up around it.

Pile of stones marker on Hableton Street.

Pile of stones marker on Hambleton Street

Land wight. Anthropomorphic face in stone on a marker on Hambleton Street.

Land wight. Anthropomorphic face in stone on a marker on Hambleton Street.

 

Norse belief in land wights, or genius locii, starts to make perfect sense on these ancient roads. Here in the photo on the right, a stone watchman takes shape in the topmost stone.

Piles of stones along the way mark resting points.  Along with lonely moorland crosses and standing stones, these place markers are full of mystery.  Piles like the one pictured above were said to have fallen from the apron of the giantess Bell, wife of Wade– the namesake of another ancient moorland road, Wade’s Causeway. The giant Wade has Norse origins– in Old Norse his name is Vadi.  He is the son of a Norse King and a mermaid, according to the Vilkina Saga. He is the father of the mythic Smith Wayland whose name is synonymous with other sacred sites in England.

Wade could wade through the ocean, and he and his wife Bell had only one hammer between them, so they had throw it through the air to each other, over the moors.  Much of Wade is lost to us– save a bawdy mention of his boat in Chaucer’s Merchant’s Tale and a Latin fragment of his story mentioning elves and adders and nickers (water spirits), yet the land of the moors is marked by the giant (even his legendary grave is here at ruins of Mulgrave Castle near Whitby).

The landscape of the moors is still marked by ancient migrations– mythic and literal– the Romans may have left many structures and written documents of the Northern land they struggled to conquer, but it’s the unwritten legends of the Norse and Anglo Saxon people that linger in the land, waiting for the new inhabitants to know them.

Hand-forged Anglo-Saxon Pennanular Brooch in Bronze by Feral Strumpet.

Hand-forged Anglo-Saxon Pennanular Brooch in Bronze by Feral Strumpet.