Basket for Adele

I’ve got a big project to make this summer (more about that in another post) which needs a good quantity of long straight willow. When I saw a facebook post from Adele offering more than 100 prunings from her willow hedge free for removal, I jumped at the chance. 

  

When we got to Adele’s she had already quality-controlled the willow into five piles sorted acording to length. I couldn’t take all of them but reduced the piles a bit, taking a mixture. We’re not sure what species of willow it is, but it looks fine for the purpose I’ve got in mind. 

I couldn’t believe that the prunings were only one year’s growth. When we tied them on to the roof bars on the car they were overhanging both ends. They must be more than twelve feet long. That’s 6 inches a week in a six month growing season. Nearly an inch a day. You could sit and watch!

This wee basket used up some of the thinnest and whippiest twigs. I’ll deliver it to Adele this week as a thank-you for some very useful materials.

Loch Voil basket story

Here’s a bit of the back-story to yesterday’s post…

On 25th Feb we paddled the boat from Loch Voil to Loch Doine and back. It was a cold day, overcast, low light, clear water, dark trees.

   
While Alan was brewing up, I went off to explore the shoreline and came back with the usual handful of twigs plus a mess of monofil fishing line, complete with weight and rusty hook.

 
One of the things I love about exploring in the canoe is that you have somewhere to carry all the stuff you find (rocks, twigs, shells, litter…).

  
The twigs dried out nicely over the last month, still bendy enough to work with, dry enough to reduce shrinkage in the basket (I hope). Last week I unfankled the fankle of fishing line and weed, in preparation for this week’s basket-making. Monofil is tricky to photograph but I liked these images of work-in-progress:
   
    
 
To finished basket…

 
  
It’s the first time I’ve tried making a birch-bark base, and it’s an open basket so that the silver side of the bark is visible inside the ‘bowl’. The bark was off the tree and already starting to decompose when I found it, so the texture is rough and corky. Black thread seemed right for the stitching, it was a black and ochre kind of day.

Loch Voil basket

Just finished…

  
Birch (silver and downy), oak, willow, bog myrtle, all the monofil fishing line I pulled out of the loch (untangled and wrapped round an oak twig), a weight and a swivel. The little rusty hook broke as I was trying to impale it onto an oak twig, so it’s in the bin.

River weave

We walked along the north bank of the River Earn on Sunday, looking for wildlife and tracks and signs and enjoying the spring sun on our faces (next best thing to being ON the river, which we didn’t have time to do). There were noisy oystercatchers giving us away round every bend, we didn’t see any animals. We did find otter spraint (droppings) and beaver wood-chips, and some mud-slides that might be used by both species. That’s an entertaining thought. I wonder what otter and beaver make of each other?

There’s a bit of spring growth along the river’s edge – some wild garlic leaves, aconites and celandines – but not enough to cover the evidence of this winter’s floods. In places the banks are a jumbled mass of uprooted trees, broken branches, plastic debris, dead vegetation, sand and gravel. It gave me a shiver to stand on the banks eight feet above the river and see flood debris hanging from branches above my head. 

The force and flow of the water is captured in these ‘baskets’, woven by the river…

  

Spring baskets

First warm weekend of Spring, first basket workshop taught outdoors (well, with doors open anyway) and first time working in the new Craft Hub at the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland. It was a good day with a lovely bunch of people.

We used twigs I’d collected from the roadside and path edges in Falkland Estate, a selection of birch, willow, larch, alder, hawthorn (thorns removed), lime, an accidental piece of honeysuckle and a few pussy willows.

  

We opened the glass doors and worked half-in, half-out of the room. Very pleasant.

    
    

 

 
  
 

This workshop was supported by the Living Lomonds Landscape Partnership. 

                                                                  …………………………………

I’m running more creative events at the Centre for Stewardship, Falkland during the spring and summer.

The Craft Hub will be open over the Fife Open Studios weekend (7,8,9th May), drop in and say hello if you are in the area. I’ll be working away on baskets, rag-rug projects and demonstrating drop-spindle spinning.

There are plenty more full-day creative workshops in the programme. I’m running:

Paint and Draw like a Pict (Sat 28th May), a chance to learn more about Pictish art and try painting with natural ochre pigments collected in Fife.

Summer Baskets (Sun 10th July). We’ll be using grasses, rushes and other seasonal local materials for this one.

All materials provided, no experience needed, free, bookable through Eventbrite. See the events page on the Living Lomonds website for more details: http://www.livinglomonds.org.uk/events/

Puppet impro

A cast of characters waiting for a story…

  
Today I was back working with the family crafts group in Benarty. They had just taken delivery of donated materials for up-cycling from the Living Lomonds Crafts of the Hills project, so we caught up while sorting out the jumble of stuff into separate bags and jars. There were treasures to be found: multi-coloured net and chiffon, sequins and pearl buttons, some real kilt tartan, fur fabric, feathers and felt.

The group were intending to make puppets today and had brought some wooden spoons for the purpose. I had come prepared with some ‘tree stories’ for puppet inspiration but it was soon clear that everyone wanted to get started making – so our cast of characters were suggested by the materials and the group’s imaginations. We all enjoyed the development of each puppet personality, problem-solving together. Double-sided sticky tape turned out to be very useful!

Workshop with Lise Bech

  
We travelled south to Abington on Saturday so that I could attend an afternoon class with Lise Bech and the Upperward basketmakers group. While we were working hard in the Community Hall Alan climbed Arbury Hill, a fantastic hill-fort above the village.  I had a great afternoon learning about Dicky Meadows, butts, bodkins and Japanese Knots. Lise taught us how to make a ‘banana-shaped’ basket, designed and shared by Mary Butcher as a good introduction to willow weaving. I think mine looks more like a fish than a banana but I’m very proud of it. 

Note: ‘Dicky Meadows’ is a variety of the willow species Salix purpurea. Very popular with basketmakers. No idea how it got its name.

http://www.bechbaskets.net/

Twiggage

I made a quick visit yesterday to this lovely coppice at Lochore Meadows Country Park:

  
There’s plenty of evidence of recent work (and picnics?) by volunteers and ranger Dallas Seawright. Each compartment of the coppice woodland is looking great. The hazel is growing well, there are less spruce trees than I remember and the big oaks, birch and other hardwoods look happy in their clear spaces.

I scavenged some twigs from the ground near the fire pit, sat on a mossy log and made a very quick prototype ‘nest’, as an idea for Spring workshops.

  
I remember making a nest before and realising very quickly that birds must use a ‘stitching’ technique, holding the materials at the thick end, pushing through, catching, pulling through and winding. There must be video footage out there to watch. I had the advantage of secateurs for trimming stray twigs. With the next nest I’ll take my time and use no tools. I wonder if birds stand back from their work in progress, cock their heads, assess and decide where the next piece should go?

I bumped into the ranger as I was leaving the wood and reassured him that I hadn’t been stealing sticks from the neat piles he’d set aside for pea-sticks and brooms.

Loch Voil Loch Doine

We didn’t have to break the ice to get onto the water yesterday but we saw plenty. We paddled against the breeze from Loch Voil into Loch Doine and came back in beautiful flat calm. There was just time to expore a few bends of the River Larig and that was the highlight for me, paddling on deep and clear green water. We’ll go back there in the spring.

  

  The lochs were very quiet but we did see 2 noisy Whooper Swans, 2 sleepy Mute Swans, 6 Goldeneye (4 females and 2 males displaying), a few mallard, one heron, ravens overhead, some crows, a gang of tits in the trees, one grey wagtail and a dipper.  It’s not a proper canoe trip without a dipper.

Espresso stop

 

River Larig
 
I collected a handful of twigs from the woods along the Loch Voil shore, and a tangle of fishing line from the weeds at the water’s edge – next basket.