Firstly, we hope you are all well and have managed to stay safe during these extraordinary times. We have all experienced Lockdown in so many different ways but as we slowly emerge from this hiatus, we really hope that we can start to gather once more and be inspired and nourish one another, in sharing skills, learning, growing and moving forward.
We hope you are all ok and bearing up in the current circumstances. These are indeed unprecedented times and as such, all workshops and events due to be held at BTQ are postponed until further notice. If you had booked onto a workshop or event, the tutor will hopefully have been in contact with you. We are hoping that wherever possible, we can reschedule most events for later on in the year and will of course keep you posted.
When the dust has settled and the shutters are up once more, we have spaces available, so do get in touch if you are interested in becoming a member and we can let you know when we resume viewings.
In the meantime, enjoy the sun whilst its out, stay safe and stay home! May this time inspire us all…
Wow, its 2020?! BTQ is in its 6th year and we go into this new year with much excitement about what the coming months hold. The studio goes from strength to strength, mainly due to the brilliant members we have, the community that continues to grow around us and the workshops that we run… Here is a round up of what has been going on and what is coming up…
In Our Hands is a new feature length documentary by Black Bark Films, commissioned by the Land Workers Alliance.
It’s the inspiring story behind the blood, sweat and tears of the British farmers seizing the Brexit moment to outgrow an outdated industrial food system. This film explores the daily reality of nine real life farmers who refused the machinery of big agribusiness and are proving, every day, that an alternative is not only possible – it’s profitable as well.
The film unearths both seventh generation traditional farmers and new entrants to the farming world, who are taking back control of their lives ad their livelihoods, from the soil upwards. A way of farmining that will “bring back life to the soil, a fair wage to the farmer and a flavour to the tomato.”
This film is taking Bristol by storm, and many have seen it already. However, as the South West England affiliate for the Fibershed initiative, BTQ invites you to watch In Our Hands through a fibres and textiles lens. The worlds and systems of food and fibre farming were traditionally interconnected, on rare occasion still are, and we see this film as being wholly relevant to reimagining what a more local, resilient, and healthy textile economy should look like here in the South West.
Starting this week, Tuesday 10th and lasting through until end of play Monday 16th, BTQ will be hosting a textile takeover and pop-up studio in the Bristol Green Capital Lab space on the Harbourside (next to the Stable.)
Visit the Made in Bristol Christmas shop AND get to see local textile makers and designers going about their work, including:
A Peculiar Grace – contemporary and vintage upholstery Josephine Munsey – print designer
Lucy Lloyd – leather and suede moccasins and accessories
Laura Griffin – clean-lined, sharp, feminine clothing in beautiful fabrics Jokoto Clothing -sportswear-inspired tailoring and panelling with a hint of traditional yet playful Japanese aesthetic
“Watching the Lesotho shearers is like poetry; they are so relaxed they have no physicality to them at all…their hands simply float over the sheep and the wool falls off.”
This is not the only comparison made today between sheep shearing and what would generally be considered an altogether more classical art form. Andy Wear, shepherd and master shearer as well as our tutor for today’s Introduction to Blade Shearing workshop, owns and runs Fernhill Farm together with his partner Jen Hunter, animal husbandry specialist and current Nuffield Farming Scholar for her research into wool. The pair have created a unique farm, combining traditional farming (including 2000 head of sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens) with modern diversification (eco-venue for weddings & conferences, rural education, glamping, music festivals) while doing it all in as a sustainable way as possible. Not, as Andy says, because they feel like they need to, but because it simply makes sense.
The day begins with a farm ‘walk and talk’ – more an in-depth tour of Fernhill and everything that is amazing about it. Which is a lot. From the sheep – and we were there mid-lambing, to the willow reed-bed filtration system, the polytunnel and rural education projects they are working on, dry-stone wall conservation and restoration of historic stone buildings. We arrived back to the shearing shed/lambing barn for a brew and a shearing demonstration by Andy using just about the biggest sheep (a prize-winning Polled Dorset ram) that any of us had ever seen. A look of consternation begins to spread across everyone’s faces.
As Andy talks us through the process of how to prepare our blades – bending them, smoothing any burrs, checking their line, customising finger guards and straps..I’m reminded of the way ballet dancers ‘break in’ each new of pointe shoes – bashing them about, even taking a razor to them, to make them more comfortable and give themselves greater grip. And sheep shearing is, without doubt, another form of dance.
The expert shearer must have energy, strength and endurance, yet be completely flexible and relaxed at the same time; able to absorb the energy of the sheep without fighting against it, and transfer the weight of the animal around in artful, seamless movements without ever giving it reason, or opportunity, to struggle. For a learner it can take an immense effort to coordinate oneself, sheep and blades, yet watching an expert it seems perfectly choreographed. The secret to this, Andy emphasises time and again, is in staying relaxed. Andy lines up the group behind him, each with a sheep, and has them copy his moves step by step..just as if teaching a dance, together with the the direction of each ‘blow’ (stroke with the blades)…blow by blow.
His other secret is in the footwork: Andy controls the sheep he is shearing by gently applying pressure with his feet, calves and knees, manoeuvring the sheep by using it’s weight and centre of gravity in balance with his own. Its beautiful, seemingly effortless and not entirely dissimilar to a martial art. Indeed; in Wing Chun kung fu the primary stance for ultimate balance is the ‘goat stance,’ while another position is called ‘gripping the goat.’
The shearer even has his own kind of dance shoe: the shearing moccasin.
A shearer of over 30 years, though one who still professes to be learning, Andy has travelled the globe with his blades, competed internationally and (if he really wanted to) could shear around 300 in a day. The world record holders can shear over 500..but thats with mechanical blades, an altogether noisier, more stressful experience for everyone involved, and as Andy believes, not so good for the fleece either. Today’s group, comprising local biodynamic farmers, a vet, hobby farmer, future textile student and ethical restauranteur, all here for different reasons, each managed one in 40 minutes….not bad considering the look of horror on most of their faces as it dawned on them what they had let themselves in for. We even got one throwable fleece – one that is shorn off in a single piece.
While BTQ began facilitating these workshops in order to provide textile workers (be they students or professionals) with unique, immersive opportunities to learn direct from the animals and farmers who grow our best textile fibres in the UK…it is evident that learning these skills has the capacity to teach so much more. Confidence and self-esteem spring to mind; everyone in the group was surprised by what they managed to achieve in so short a time…but also care, trust and mindfulness. Sheep, like many animals, will mirror your own energy and attitude, and can excellently reflect how you come across to others: “treat them as you would want to be treated yourself,” Andy began, right back at the beginning of the day. Credit to our novice shearers (or perhaps the sheep have been here before) they might not have been the Royal Ballet, but wouldn’t have faired too badly at all at the local village dance.
BTQ can organise blade shearing, wool craft and other immersive learning days at Fernhill Farm tailored toward just about any kind of group..from schools to university students and community groups, even corporate, team-building and family days out.
We are excited to finally be launching BTQ as a workspace, but also a means of facilitating meaningful and productive networking and collaborations between likeminded textile peers. We are building a community that wants to see more responsible, more resilient supply chains lay the foundations for our local textile economy.
Please register to attend here and check back for update scheduling as we’ll be adding more as the time draws near: