Fly, my pretty!

Sometimes, you write a comment on someone’s blog post and it leads you down a very interesting path… for example, I never expected that my comment on The Contented Crafter’s blog would result in me owning the picture that the post related to. I simply said, of her lovely creation,  that ‘I would have it on my wall in a heartbeat!’ In no time at all the picture was offered to me in exchange for a dragon. Inspired by the one that went to Narf in Tasmania to guard her plants:

A dragon for Tasmania

A dragon for Narf in Tasmania

this one, however, was to be a water dragon…

And so I started the hunt for appropriate wool… none to be had locally, but plenty of choice on the internet. I chose “aqua” as the main colour, with support from “oxygen”(lighter) and “peacock” (darker).

Colours for a water dragon

Colours for a water dragon

Originally, I had a vision of an undulating dragon, but somehow as I worked on it, I couldn’t create the shape I had envisaged and after some frogging I made a much straighter body. I then decided to make the spines down the back sinuous by creating two intertwined rows in different colours… like a meandering river. As a water dragon, he could not have feet like a terrestrial dragon, so I made him webs for improved swimming ability!

Adding the spines

Adding the spines

I made the wings in “oxygen” and edged them and then remembered that I had a few freshwater pearls that would provide some appropriate embellishment. In the same box as the pearls, however, I came across an old film canister containing pearlescent beads. As soon as I saw them, I knew that they, not the half-dozen pearls, were just the thing.

Working on the wings

Working on the wings

But what about the eyes…? I tried mother-of-pearl, but the poor creature looked dead. I tried black , like the Tasmanian dragon, but they were too stark, I went to every shop in the area that sells buttons and couldn’t find anything that spoke to me so I resorted to e-bay – the world’s biggest haberdashery shop. There I was tempted by all sorts of glass buttons and I ended up ordering a selection because I simply couldn’t decide which would look best. In the end, I used vintage Czechoslovakian turquoise glass buttons, but now I have quite a few other buttons that will make great eyes on dragons to come!

Blue glass eyes

Blue glass eyes

I decorated the wings and spines with the pearlescent beads, and added some darker beads to the edges of the wings. Had this dragon been going somewhere in the UK, I would have wired the wings to give them extra support to counter the weight of the beads and make them poseable, but I was concerned that an x-ray at customs revealing a network of fine wires might result in the untimely destruction of the dragon in a controlled explosion (and it is, after all, a water dragon not a fire dragon). The final touches involved some needle sculpting and silver tufts on ears and chin.

And then the dragon was flying off to New Zealand and a new life…

It turns out that bartering for art is very satisfying!


I have some good marketable skills – I can edit (fiction and non-fiction), proofread, conduct ecological surveys, provide advice on land management and habitat creation, I can teach (ecology, conservation, permaculture, statistics), and I can make things (knitted snails, crochet bacteria, felt camera cases). So really, I don’t have a great problem earning a living. But I have this niggling desire to try to do some of my work for payment that isn’t financial… for things that I need or want rather than for money to buy things that I need or want. But, is it possible?

Our LETS (Local Exchange Trading System) died a death some time ago. These systems allow you to avoid direct exchanges, but instead earn some sort of credits that can be used to ‘buy’ from another member. Apparently, in our area, everyone wanted carpenters and plumbers, but most of the offers were for jars of jam and back massages… I over-simplify, but you get the idea. So LETS is not an option here. We already make use of Freecycle, but this is really only useful for physical items and anyway, has nothing to do with exchanges.

No use offering me eggs for barter - I have plenty of those!

Eggs are good for small swaps…

In a small way, we already exchange goods and services – eggs for chicken care, house watching when neighbours are away, swapping seeds and so on, but I want to do something more. The problem is most challenging with big things. The skill that I have that is in greatest demand is (perhaps surprisingly) my expertise as an ecologist. I know lots of people who want advice about managing their land: from enhancing biodiversity to improving their soil; from understanding the vegetation they have growing on their plot to planning a management strategy; from identifying a plant to creating a species-rich meadow; I get asked about all sorts of things. In general, I like to help out, but since this work forms part of my livelihood, I can’t do it for nothing… a girl has to eat (and feed her hens).

... but what is my teaching worth?

… but what is my teaching worth?

So, what constitutes a fair exchange? And what happens if the person who wants my services does not have something I want? As has been pointed out to me, this is where money comes in – it’s a way of keeping score, and something that I can exchange for those things in life that I do need. So, whilst I’d rather you gave me half a lamb for the freezer, hand-spun yarn, or a sack of corn to feed my hens, maybe I will just have to accept that sometimes I have to take a cheque or a bank transfer.

Anyway, I have decided to make a start by compiling two lists: one of what I can offer and one of what I want. This way, next time someone asks for some work from me, we will at least have a starting point for negotiating a fair exchange.

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