Telling the Bees

beesSpring is sidling up to us in the North of England, and the earth waits for it, eagerly. Bulbs in the garden, the same ones who took last year off, making me think the pots were just full of my gardening mishaps, have decided to make a go of it again, putting up their thick green fingers. I’ve taken this as a good sign.

I’m waiting for the bees to show so I can really celebrate. My most recent design was inspired by the old English folk custom called “Telling the Bees”. When there was a birth, death or wedding in the family, the bees in the resident hive would need to be invited to the funeral. Sometimes an offering of wedding cake or funeral biscuits would be made. The name of the dead would be sung to them, as in John Greenleaf Whittier’s sentimental yet moving poem, Telling the Bees. To neglect doing this might result in the bees swarming and the hive would be lost. This is now happening on Earth on a catastrophic scale. Bees are in terrible trouble due to pesticide use and habitat destruction, but that is a topic for another post. In other folklore bees are messengers between this reality and the next– the keepers of cosmic secrets. They flit between worlds, through doors we can’t cross, these harbingers of Spring.

The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore
The Telling the Bees Necklace, inspired by English folklore

This necklace design was also inspired by a dear customer of mine, Niina, who told me about her special bee-mother ritual. With her permission, I quote it here:

I love bumble bees so much but at the moment the winter here in Finland seems endless. There are days when the winter really gets my spirit down and then I think of the brave bumble bee Mothers, under ground and all that snow, hanging in there and waiting for the Spring. Me and my man have this celebration of our own: the Bumble Bee Feast! It happens the day when one of us (or both) sees the very first bumble bee of the Spring. If not possible (sometimes work and stuff gets in the way of important things in life), then the next possible day. The celebration is simple: we put honey and sugar outside in yellow bowls so the hungry, brave Mothers can come and eat and get stronger. After that we just eat and drink something good, toast for the Bumble Bee Mothers who made it and just like that broke the backbone of the mighty Winter! Winter can try and struggle and yes, there will be cold, bad days, but his time is over, the bumble bee brings on the Spring!! We get tipsy and so happy: we made it through another horrible winter and nothing can stop the Spring now!!

May we all see the bee mothers soon, soon!

Illuminated Ear Chains

Hours of Jean de Boucicaut from wiki commons
Hours of Jean de Boucicaut from wiki commons

The intricacies of illuminated manuscript borders have long been an influence on the work I make– before I made jewellery I was a painter, and my eye was trained looking at the wonderful examples of these magical texts at the Getty museum in California. There was something incongruous about these very old texts in this modern, less-than-intimate museum. Maybe that added to their power. Now I live in a medieval city, a place that often looks like something from these texts. I recognise the pastoral space, the tiny rooms, the changing seasons.

Below are ear chains designed for a special client– they hang from 5 piercings in the ears, like garlands. They were inspired by the floral borders of books of hours like the one pictured above.

Ear Chains, a custom order inspired by illuminated manuscripts.
Ear Chains, a custom order inspired by illuminated manuscripts.

 

Another view of the illuminated manuscript ear chains
Another view of the illuminated manuscript ear chains

 

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?

Selling at Whitby Gothic Weekend

This past weekend I had a stall at the Whitby Gothic Weekend.  Whitby is one of my favourite places on earth, and for the past seven years I have attended the Gothic Festival there.  So it was with a great deal of excitement I prepared to sell at the event. I am grateful to all the friends and shop supporters who came by and said hello– you kept me sane!

Sadly, selling at Whitby was a disappointment. I found myself displaying all my lovingly hand made, beautiful things in a fluorescent-lit gymnasium which stank of stale sweat and childhood trauma, trading next to people who were flogging 5 pound lingerie and Vivienne Westwood knock-offs.  Whatever I was doing was drowned out by cheap tat displayed as if we were at a car boot or swap meet.

One thing I learned this weekend– the context of a market defines you.  I had a difficult time explaining that I was a local Yorkshire artist, and that everything was handmade and carefully sourced.  My prices didn’t make sense to people, who were seeing bins of things for a pound, all imported sweat-shop type goods.

There was no security and though traders were encouraged to leave their stalls up overnight, the doors were not locked at 5 and people came and went, rummaging through the stalls of traders who were no longer there.  I ended up taking all my stock home every night because of this.

As the weekend wore on and sales in general seemed low, other traders became territorial.  The woman selling cheap imported jewelry behind me blocked the aisle leading to my stall from the entrance insuring everyone would have to walk the entire perimeter of stalls just to reach mine.  Yet, there was no one to deal with this besides a single volunteer who was a stall holder herself.  One evening she broke down in tears because she had so much work to do and so many demands put on her.

Yet, traders pay a premium to sell at this event–where is the money going?  I split the cost with my stall neighbor, the wonderful Paula from Deadly Desires. We are both new businesswomen and booking Whitby was a big experiment and risk for both of us.

What surprised me was the complete lack of any feeling of community amongst the traders or shoppers, many of whom were not goths at all but people who had come to photograph “freaks” or people in fancy dress– WGW has a lot of people who have no relation to the gothic sub-culture but like to dress up in Victorian costumes and promenade.

I learned that as a trader I need to find markets where the other sellers are also artists and makers, and where we are supported as such. Unless there are major changes to the way things are run at Whitby Gothic Weekend, I will not be selling there again.