The Falkland alder basket is nearly finished and I can’t say it’s been a pleasure. The twigs twist and turn, the little purple buds snag the thread and ping off without warning. But what beautiful colours in the bark and the scent is nearly as sweet as birch.
Do you remember the wee basket I made at Largo Bay in May? It’s been through an interesting process since then…
I made the basket for an experiment. I’d found an outcrop of sticky sediment at the east end of the Bay and tested it the way we were taught on geography field trips. I spat on a small piece on the palm of my hand and rubbed it. A soapy feeling meant it was silty. I rolled a small piece on the palm of my hand and bent the little roll into a horseshoe. It didn’t crack, meaning it might be clay. Exciting!
I had a memory of reading somewhere that shards of pottery showing an impressed basket-weave pattern had once been found in an excavation. No memory of where or when, or whether it was the author’s speculation or mine that the clay lining in a basket had been cooked and fired by accident. Why would someone line a basket with clay anyway? To make it waterproof? Would that work? Was this how ceramics were invented? I wanted to try it. I made the rough rope basket on the beach and took a small lump of the ‘clay’ home with me to try out.
The sediment softened easily with a little water and I kneaded it to get it workable. Lining the basket was fun. Not much leakage at that point. I left it to dry on a window-ledge and watched it change over the next few days. Cracks began to appear, so I pressed them together and smoothed the surface. The clay-stuff became sparkly as it dried. Mica flakes from ancient Highland rocks, reduced to silt long ago?
Would this basket lining be waterproof? It looked good. I took it through to the kitchen, poured in a glass of water and watched as it ran straight out onto the bunker! Hmm. Answered that question.
As the basket/bowl dried out again it developed a nice network of cracks. I quite like it. Should I subject it to the final test and bake it in a fire, or just keep it as it is?
Yesterday we visited an alder carr, a tiny stretch of nearly-natural river and woodland in lowland Perthshire. It was alive with small birds and there were signs that beavers had visited not long ago.
I like to imagine that the River Eden would have been like this once, winding its way through the Howe of Fife.
Tonight I finished an alder basket, lined with willow:
I made a short length of rope to carry home these roadside twigs. This goosegrass was brittle and much more fragile than than my first sample, maybe more weathered by frost and wind. The twigs will make a colourful mini-basket. My conscience is clear about cutting them, they were growing out into the road, a danger to cyclists and passing cars 🙂
Goosegrass, cleavers, sticky willie, Galium aparine, bedstraw.
I saw it on the roadside hedge, thought “that stuff is pretty tough when you’re trying to pull it off plants in the garden…”
The dried stems were more than six feet long and easy to pull off the hawthorn. Dozens of adhesive little seeds tranferred themselves to my hat. A car passed and I didn’t catch the driver’s eye.
I walked on up the road, twisting and turning the straw into rope. I tested it for strength and it was good. Ten feet of goosegrass rope to play with!
I kept it for a few days before deciding what to do with it, then stitched this basket with beeswaxed linen thread.
I left the last strands of straw free. I like the ‘wind in its hair’ effect.
The basket has a sweet scent, like a warm meadow.