Reflections on Lockdown with Cally Booker

Image: Cally Booker / Image by the artist

Image: Cally Booker / Image by the artist

In our new Reflections in Lockdown series, we hear from four makers based in Scotland on how they have continued their craft practice during the lockdown. Woodturner Emily Stephen, weaver Cally Booker, designer Joanna Kessel and textiles designer James Donald reflect on navigating new environments, adapting their discipline without access to certain tools or materials, and maintaining their creative businesses as lockdown restrictions are lifted in Scotland.

Starting with Dundee-based handweaver Cally Booker. Cally is passionate about making things by hand and shares her love of weaving through The Weaving Space, a programme of weave classes based in her colour-filled studio, as well as through workshops for Guilds and groups around the UK.

In this article, Cally reflects on how she has continued to share her passion for weaving during the lockdown.
As a handweaver and dyer, I make functional cloth using complex multi-shaft weave structures. On the one hand, I am quite geeky about weave structure and the way the interlacement of threads works to create the cloth. On the other, I love the simple, tactile pleasure of fabric and the play of colour as it moves. I’ve loved textiles all my life and it continues to amaze me that I have access to the tools and skills for turning yarn into cloth.

Spring and summer are typically seasons where I focus on teaching and making, to be ready for selling in autumn and winter. The first and most painful impact was having to cancel several workshops and refund many of my customers. I felt it was unfair to expect them to wait out an indefinite postponement, when everyone was suddenly short of money and facing unexpected costs.

“I had just set up a loom in my house as well. That was my saving grace.”

My studio was closed for two months so I couldn’t continue the work I had on the loom either. But I am extremely fortunate that, completely unrelated to the pandemic, I had just set up a loom in my house as well. That was my saving grace.

Image: Cally’s workspace / Image by the artist

In October 2019, I took part in a residency in Nova Scotia, funded by Applied Arts Scotland. My collaboration with quilt artist Andrea Tsang-Jackson was intended to conclude with an exhibition and a gathering of all the participating artists this summer.

At the point the lockdown began, I was just warping up the loom at home ready to begin this piece of work. We had made the key decisions about the direction of the project, so I could focus on the making. I really immersed myself in it and spent hours at the loom weaving the slowest fabric imaginable! 

There’s something about the process of weaving that allows my mind to relax into it.”

This project was my lifeline in so many ways. There’s something about the process of weaving that allows my mind to relax into it. With this calming rhythm in my life, I could start to think more creatively about other aspects of the situation and how to respond within my practice. The regular meetings with Andrea in Canada gave me a valuable anchor point too and shifted my perspective. Suddenly a collaboration across the ocean was as achievable as a collaboration with a next-door neighbour.

Image: Cally Booker / Image by the artist

“The loss of income and of access to my studio were major blows. Because I also have a part-time teaching job, I wasn’t immediately eligible for financial support.”

I stayed connected with my weaving students through a series of Lemonade Weaves, which I shared online. These were simple projects for novice and intermediate weavers stuck at home with limited resources, and I loved getting emails from people who were trying them out and sending me photos of their progress. It’s encouraged me to develop more online teaching resources, though it’s a slow process to develop something detailed and clear enough to work remotely.

The loss of income and of access to my studio were major blows. Because I also have a part-time teaching job, I wasn’t immediately eligible for financial support. However – in a spectacular feat of mis-timing – I had actually taken an unpaid leave of absence from 50% of that job so that I would have more time for my weaving practice this year. I eventually managed to obtain some funding to tide me over a short period of time, but it has forced me to re-think the balance of my income streams just as I thought I had that under control. 

My husband and I are both used to doing a bit of our work from home but having the two of us here full-time was another challenge altogether. When my husband was on annual leave in July, we finally drew up a plan and rearranged the entire house into a new configuration, so that we each have a dedicated workspace. It’s such a relief! Perhaps a bit late, but at least we’re ready for the next lockdown.

Image: Cally’s daily view / Image by the artist

I am used to working by myself and it suits me fine to spend hours at the loom on my own. But when I am constantly in my own headspace, I can find it hard to get out of the studio and meet other people. Now that we are connecting digitally, I have actually been more social in my working week than I would normally be. I’ve been able to meet and chat with other makers regularly, which has really helped me stay grounded. I’ve also been able to attend training events held online that would have been inaccessible if I had had to travel.

While the lockdown was at its strictest, I set myself a simple project to take a photograph in the same place every day (pictured above). It gave me something to commit to: I have to go out for my walk today because I have to take my photograph. And while my physical horizons have been limited I’ve been expanding my cultural horizons by tuning in to online discussions, book launches and poetry readings that I would never normally go to. It feels much more possible to dip into something new when I don’t have to leave my kitchen. I also appreciate being able to support other artists at a time when we are all having to reinvent ourselves. 

To find out more about Cally Booker and her work, please visit her website and Instagram.

Reflections on Lockdown is a four part series which explores the experiences of four makers based in Scotland during lockdown. Read Part Two with Emily StephenPart Three with Joanna Kessel and Part Four with James Donald.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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