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




The Future of Etsy

This is my one-woman workspace.  Chaos is free.
This is my one-woman workspace. Chaos is free.

This is a picture of my workspace. It ain’t pretty, but it’s where pretty things are made. It’s my one woman factory.

Etsy made big news a couple of weeks ago when it announced that factory made goods and drop shipping would now be allowed on the site.  Drop shipping allows for factories to make many of something and send it to a third party to be shipped out.

For many who shop on Etsy to have a clearer connection with the people who make what they wear and use every day, this is going to be confusing. For one-woman businesses who do it all and have built their shops on Etsy and earn their livelihood there, this may be devastating.

What this will mean for small businesses like myself is invisibility, as Etsy’s search becomes flooded with products you can find on Amazon or Ebay. Some are saying Etsy may be bought by Amazon in the future, and there are many changes Etsy has made internally that have already shaped it to be more like Amazon.

While this will mean challenges for me as a seller, if there is anything I have learned in the two and a half years of building my business, anything is possible as long as you have a little mountain goat attitude. It is time to evolve. I’ll be sharing these changes– a new online shop, other online selling communities– as I make these changes.

I have started by creating my own independent online shop.

What I mourn is my experience as a buyer on Etsy.  I could easily find the products of creative hands and get the feel of an individual’s vision, a glimpse of her creative process and in some way engage with this. This could be found easily through Etsy’s internal search engine, which may now be flooded with factory made goods.

Michael Wolf's Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker
Michael Wolf’s Photo of a Chinese Factory Worker

Oddly, as more and more sellers bemoan the “Made in China” goods sold at prices with which small living room operations like myself can’t compete, I have wondered what handmade means, and what I have in common with the workers in these Chinese Factories.

Around the same time Etsy’s CEO made this announcement, I found this photo essay by Michael Wolf of Chinese Factory Workers and the Toys they make.  Now that Etsy is featuring “artists” whose work is made by “interns”, I’m fantasizing about what Etsy’s coverage of selected makers will look like when the factory workers, like the women in Michael Wolf’s photos, get to speak.  It is of course a fantasy.

This is a missed opportunity– rather than Etsy reaching out to international cooperatives that might be working with free trade models and broadening its international focus to bring goods to its conscious, savvy shoppers, it’s totally confusing things and going for profit margins, betraying all the hard working one-person shops who’ve worked hard publicising the site and making Etsy what it is today.

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.

Interview at the Folk Reveries Blog

folk reveries sm jpegI’ve been featured in an interview up at the Folk Reveries blog!

Folk Reveries is an Etsy team of artists and makers who share a common aesthetic, inspired by myth, folklore and the narratives implicit in the natural world.

Etsy teams are groups of Etsy makers who work together to support each other’s shops, coaching, trouble shooting and inspiring each other.

Having an online shop and being an independent artisan can sometimes feel quite isolating– many Etsy sellers create and participate in teams to find support others might have at a more traditional workplace.  I am part of many teams but Folk Reveries has been the Team I have drawn the most inspiration from, and one that genuinely supports its team members.  The quality of the artists and makers on this team really shows Etsy at its best. Check out the blog— you can see many other wonderful artists interviewed, with a sampling of their work!

Sparks Fly from her Fingertips

Spiral Promise Ring.
Spiral Promise Ring.

Through the Christmas rush I’ve had a kind of breakthrough. It has to do with new skills, new magic tricks. It all seems to be summed up in this humble ring– the “spiral promise”– because the wires seem to endlessly circle each other and because it reminds me of a simple love token. I made one of these for myself– which is how most of my designs begin. I thought, it’s so humble, what would it mean to anyone who regularly collects my designs? And yet I wore mine every day and came to love it.  Little by little I have been introducing these new pieces that feel much more personal.

When I opened the shop I was recreating the vintage pieces I had to sell off, one by one, because I could not find work in Yorkshire. I still love the Victorian and early 20th century Bohemian influences and have kept those percolating through my design imagination, but then something else crept in, something I wasn’t expecting. This early 70s witchy woman muse showed up, with her hand forged boldness and her raw stones.

This is primal stuff– the first memories of adornment are of this crazy ankh necklace made of railroad nails which my mother wore. The thing looked dangerous and puzzling, a powerful piece! So I’m on a journey back to my roots.

I have always loved wire wrapped links, and as my designs have progressed they have formed the basis of almost all my pieces.  Now I have explored using different metals, pickling them in various solutions, hammering and bending. The deliberation of a simple metal spiral reminds me of binding spells and of the Celtic and Viking adornment which is very much of the place where I live now, its ancient history.

Things are changing. There is more of me in this new work– more of my hand, my heart and will. I hope you will come with me on this journey.

The Blackest of Fridays

It’s Black Friday. Don’t go down to the maul. Spend it with me instead, supporting small businesses and handmades.

I never liked Black Friday very much–the crush at the till, the mania for some consumer item I’d never heard of. Initially it was with a pang of guilt that I indulged in this, the blackest of promotions. But then I realized that I actually enjoyed shopping on Etsy and on other small business owned websites for gifts and treats for myself, and I actually started to look for coupons or sales on this day, allowing myself the luxury of a bit of a spree– something I almost never do.  This would not have been possible without the internet, and despite some recent issues on Etsy with resellers, Etsy’s business manuals and the nitty-gritty update emails have been invaluable to me during this very busy time.

It’s black, it’s Friday, and there’s a sale on in my shop— what’s not to love?

At the On the Edge Festival, Leeds.

The Feral Strumpet Stall at the On the Edge Festival, Leeds

TLast weekend the Feral Strumpet stall was in action at the On the Edge Festival in Leeds.  This new arts fest was held at Templeworks, an artspace in the old flax mill, which was designed to resemble the temple of Horus in Edfu, Egypt and built at the height of the industrial revolution in Leeds. Famous at one time for “the largest room in the world” an the sheep which grazed on the roof. It was a pleasure to sell at this festival, as we were blessed with the sun on that day and everyone was in a lazy Sunday mood.  The Feral wares were well received and we enjoyed the other traders, all DIY peeps.  Vegan food from That Old Chestnut was a highlight.

The Feral Strumpet banner was made by installation artist Edith Abeyta.

I have no plans to sell at another live event in the near future, but you can still shop at my Etsy store.

My faithful helper indulging in some end-of-the-day tomfoolery.