Shopping small can often mean shopping local. That’s why I’m offering free shipping to my neighbours on this island. It’s interesting to note that this holiday season my customer base in the UK is growing exponentially. Was it the Etsy UK ads? Word of mouth taking hold? Or my own work at UK-based SEO? It’s a mystery to me but I’m grateful. Etsy brought many international customers, many Americans as well as others from all over the world, but very few British customers. This has changed, and perhaps it’s because people are coming around to the idea of shopping local. Compared to the US the UK is very small– the size of Florida. When I ship something to a UK customer, I can picture where they live, what it’s like there. Sometimes I wonder if I might know them or if they are a friend of a friend. The shared geography heightens the connection that is already a strong one between maker and the potential wearer of a piece.
As a small business this time of year is particularly challenging; you are competing to be heard over the shouts of the mega businesses, hoping to reach your customers without also having to resort to shouting.
By buying small you get something unique, you support diversity in the marketplace, and best of all, you are investing in the dreams and hopes of the underdog, the little guy, people like me.
It’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?)
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.
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.
Spring 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.
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!
This weekend I had a stall at the Proudly in York Pop Up Mall at the 14th century guildhall in York– the Merchant Adventurers Hall– a fitting place to celebrate York’s small businesses. The event was friendly, warm and well organized– really what you’d expect from the wonderful folks at One&Other Magazine who were the driving force behind the event.
My stall felt right at home in the gloriously light, high-ceilinged medieval hall. I was reminded again how this city and its ancient histories are constantly informing my designs and creative choices.
I was struck by the diversity of the stalls– many were representations of independent High Street shops with a presentation of a smaller version of their shops, others were small makers and handmade businesses like myself taking advantage of this opportunity to gain more exposure in the community. I felt a special affinity with Sonia Curry, the dressmaker behind Rowan Tree Designs who was also knitting at her booth, displaying a selection of her crocheted jewellery. (I always knit at my stall– it keeps my hands busy during the inevitable lulls). Frank and Olive Crochet were teaching folks how to hook and selling cute handmade baby clothes with a stall overflowing with granny squares.
I have to give a big shout out to to of my favourite stall neighbors, Bluebird Bakery who kept us fed with the most deliciously, freshly-baked and locally sourced carbs you could dream of. I didn’t even know their was a Real Bread Campaign in Britain, but now I do. From their website:
Bluebird Bakery was born from a desire to re-establish the connection between what we eat and where our food comes from. By using local organic flour, wild and organic yeast and employing traditional long-fermentation methods, we create hand-crafted loaves which need no flour improvers, saturated fats or other additives. Most of our loaves are suitable for vegans.
Also thanks to Sal and Jason of Swirl Clothing. Who have helped me in myriad ways, not just with this stall but with others as well– they are great members of the small business community. Plus, she designs lovely dresses– I was wearing one of her lovely frocks on Saturday!
Last weekend we visited the smallest turf maze in Europe, The City of Troy. A Classic “seeded” labyrinth, it’s about the size of a very small sitting room, situated right off the road. There’s a plaque and bench nearby for musing on this tiny, sacred structure. This maze is very well cared for and visible. It may not be very old, perhaps only Victorian. According to Labyrinthos.net, this maze was moved in 1900 and probably dates from the mid-19th century, but the intention of the thing is quite ancient. So much of English folklore is fuelled by just such mysterious whimsy. The plaque suggests this is a waiting place for lost souls who may be consulted at the centre! This is an echo of older belief amongst diverse cultures which sees the labyrinth as a path to the ancestors or itself an ancestor.
The labyrinth is also known as Troy Town, and the sign beside it says the origins may come from a the Scandinavian Bronze-age Trojaborg Labyrinth which is made of stones. Much of the landscape here is wedded, linguistically and otherwise, to our Viking ancestors. Sometimes these labyrinths are called Maiden’s Dance, which is a shadow of what was perhaps a symbol of the Goddess, particularly Ariadne, keeper of Labyrinths and goddess of dance.
Mazes and dancing: there’s a connection. Once, Kimberly MacKoy, one of my dance teachers, said when we were doing a particularly difficult drill, “Welcome to the labyrinth of your body.” (Talk about a goddess!) This “classic” labyrinth style is found all over the world, and is thousands of years old. It has seven circuits which correspond to many sacred sevens, including the “spinning wheels” or chakras of the body. “Caerdroia” is a Welsh name for labyrinth, translates to “castle of turns”, which brings to mind Arianrhod, the goddess of the “silver wheel” of the moon and her spinning castle.
It is easy to draw a classic labyrinth, as you can see below. It looks almost like those old fashioned dance diagrams.
Some say a dance is at the root of this drawing of the labyrinth, and Jacques Hébert has proposed a choreography here.
Though the plaque by the City of Troy states this is a “game”- it is more often used as a meditative device as it is a metaphor for the journey of life. I have a dear friend who has a tattoo of this maze on her shoulder. She is a dancer, too. I can imagine her dancing the maze, this “castle of turns” with the new yellow wheat all round, just as it was on this summer day, like the hair of so many maidens, lush and waving atop the Howardian Hills.