Alder-wrestling

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.

Leaky basket

Largo Bay basket

Do you remember the wee basket I made at Largo Bay in May? It’s been through an interesting process since then…

Largo Bay basket and shells

Wet clay

Basket drying out

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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?

Black Loch basket

These are the twigs I collected three weeks ago from the roadside near Black Loch: honeysuckle, willow, blackthorn and snowberry:

Goosegrass rope

Here’s their basket, including goosegrass rope, jute and beeswax:

Black Loch basket portrait

Black Loch basket base

Black Loch basket

Heather and homespun

Heather plants a few years old are like small trees. They have tough gnarly trunks which divide into springy twigs and tiny leaves. I’ve read that in the Hebrides they made rope from heather. They must have had great patience, and big hands.

Heather and homespun

Heather, hand-spun wool, beeswax, red ochre, flax oil
Heather, hand-spun wool, beeswax, red ochre, flax oil

Alder and willow

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.

Clunie

Tonight I finished an alder basket, lined with willow:

alder basket

Goosegrass rope

Goosegrass rope

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 🙂