Yarn can be described as fibre manipulated in such a manner so that it may be used to fabricate more complex forms, through an extensive variety of means including twining, braiding, knotting or weaving. However, in contemporary life I feel it might be more fitting to describe yarn foremost as commodity. The process of manipulating fibre into yarn has been a human preoccupation which has shaped families, communities, national identities, colonial conquest and industrial revolution to name a few. One need only dip ones toes in the history of the British rule of India to see the key role that yarn has played in developing global economy and power relations.

In economic terms, the Golden Thread is a framework for organizational alignment. For a hand weaver, yarn goes one step further, it is the fundamental component to achieving one’s goals, and is perhaps the single most important constituent of weaving. Though equipment, knowledge and technical proficiency are important components in the equation, without yarn there simply can be no cloth.

On my travels through India I often came across hand weaving communities which cited access to yarn as a huge obstacle to their production. This sentiment is echoed throughout the narratives of many weaving communities the world over. The basic trajectory goes roughly like this. First there were indigenous plants. Communities developed processes to manipulate these fibers by hand into a form of yarn which was more durable and workable than the raw material. Depending on the local vegetation some cultures processed bast fibers from plants like hemp, flax and nettle, others created soft lofty yarn from cotton bolls, others poured such effort into tree bark that they were able to create plush velveteen cloth from the rough rigid material. Although these early developments may seem crude or primitive it is interesting to observe these humble processes as early forms of human technology, the trajectory of which finds us in our contemporary landscape of high performance textiles which are fabricated in highly digitized production systems and secured through global supply chains. Now yarn is a commodity, produced in centralized markets and then distributed to even the most remote of locations. Often by the time yarn arrives in small villages the prices of yarn and the value of labour are at odds, creating a system in which weavers and local markets struggle to meet one another’s economic demands.

As a weaver in a city whose once booming textile industry has lay in wake for over two decades, the hunt for yarn has been an interesting winding journey through local history, global influence and a fair share of online window shopping. A large portion of my time has been divided between sampling the ends of yarn lots, an act of futility when attempting to secure future suppliers and enviously trawling through the instagram posts of people able to walk into their local yarn store bedecked with a full nomenclature of colours worth of hand dyed churro wool skeins.

Turning to the nearest of my fibre community it seemed the obvious answer simply put: import. While I admire and respect the work and specialty of fibre experts and textile technologists in all forms and geographies hugely, I feel strongly for that early ideal of localized resources. The idea of importing yarn into a nation which is not only ideal sheep country and includes over 28,000 hectares of cotton crops but also the mohair capital of the world seems incredibly at odds to my personal framework for organizational alignment.

Amongst my first round of communications with South African spinning mills, I received an incredibly disheartening message from the planning supervisor of the nearest mill that they would be closing down the following week. The news was shortly followed by a mournful announcement from my guild, noting that it had been one of the oldest businesses in the town, established in 1949.

Local mills pose several supply challenges to small scale yarn consumers. A declining industry demand creates a restrictive environment for suppliers, who in turn demand entrance requirements which are often inaccessible to local practitioners. The commodification of resources through specialized industrialized systems is a natural result of the human drive for technological progress. However, it is useful to remember that these systems were created by humans to serve humans and in doing so imagine how we can collectively reimagine these systems to better serve our constantly evolving needs and desires for both our communities and our environment.

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