Oval shoppers day one and round shoppers day two with a bit of gypsy and sculpture thrown in

Round shoppers, gypsies and sculpture

We’ve had a lovely six courses teaching the Vale Adult Learners beginners basket making and they’ve made great progress along with some fantastic baskets.

The last course was in February and completed the two day round shopper course but there was also some time for finishing off the Gypsy baskets and in Nina’s case making a willow sculpture!

Everyone brought their half finished baskets back soaked and ready to go and before long were filling in the sides with a variety of weaving strokes. Nina managed to fit in a sculpture and a few others finished off their gypsy baskets while they were waiting for the stakes to be soaked enough for borders. Rather relieved to see the frogs hadn’t started spawning so we could use the local soaking tank.

Oval shoppers day one
Meanwhile the inters were embarking on the first day of the Oval Shopper course at the Heritage Coast Centre in Southerndown.
It was a fantastic day in February and we were able to work outside, spread out along the picnic tables and very little to clean up at the end.
A few brave people opted for black maul side stakes and so had to finish their borders at home but most will be finishing next time. Really nice variety of shapes and sizes and Diane and Mary had a go at packing up the sides. Looking forward to day two.

Willow hurdling in Barry

Willow panels

I must admit we were slightly dreading the thought of weaving willow hurdles with children on a bitterly cold day in early February so we put it off till the next day which thankfully turned out relatively sunny and springlike.

Luckily we had a nice stock of golden willow so we were able to add some colour to these panels which are going to used as screening in a nursery.

The children quickly got into the swing of things as they wove the willow in and out of the uprights to the chant of ‘to me, to you’.

Gypsies and Shoppers day two

Gypsy baskets

Vale Adult Learners took on the Gypsy Basket challenge last month and after a fair amount of sighing, the odd curse or two and cries of please no more packing, beautiful shaped baskets unfolded.

Welsh Shoppers round two

The second day of the welsh shopper course took place last month. It was a pretty cold day and once again we were all huddled around the fire at the Heritage Coast Centre. With hoops, handles and ribs all dried out it was a day of weaving the basket. It’s quite a tricky basket if you keep the traditional weave going and try and shape the basket at the same time. Also helps if you’re told how to start the basket off properly in the first place, I blame brain freeze…

More willow maintenance

A day at Slade in Southerndown

A lovely sunny Monday was the perfect day for a spot of maintenance and Slade House in Southerndown was the perfect spot for it. Walking down through the stunningly beautiful snowdrops and the purple crocus just about to burst open, was enough to lift anybody’s spirits. With the help of Mark the gardener we soon got to work and in no time at all we’d completed the beautiful willow arbour that sits at the bottom of the garden.

Next was the willow entranceway with a run of fedge either side of a short tunnel. The willow had thickened up nicely so we were able to create a roll top for the fedge and the tunnel had lots of small branches which we wove in. The result was very pleasing.

We finished off with the four way arch which had grown so well that we were able to create a canopy of woven willow that come spring time will burst into leaf and be a lovely source of shade for summer.

Set in six acres, Slade garden is an unexpected gem with masses of spring flowers. The terraced lawns, mature specimen trees, living willow arbours, rose and clematis pergola, orchard and herbaceous borders, create a very natural garden that also has extensive views over the Bristol Channel. The garden is open under the National Garden Scheme on Saturday 14 and Sunday 15 April this year and is well worth a visit.

I’m swapping my day’s work for some of their fantastic organic meat http://www.sladefarmorganics.com can’t wait for Sunday lunch!

Wonderful living willow

The living willow season is well and truly on us and we’ve already completed a fair few domes, tunnels, teepees and even a living willow dragon.

We had a lovely time at Ysgol Maes Y Coed both before Christmas doing a willow Christmas decoration day and last month building a willow fedge with colourful basket willow varieties so that the school can grow their own willow for craft and have a lovely living fence.

Big in Barry

We’ve also been big in Barry and had three days at Gladstone Primary and five days at Colcot Primary building mega domes, miles of tunnels and a whole village of teepees. With temperatures below freezing on quite a few occasions we’re all quickly beginning to resemble Nanook of the North and I found myself taking off 15 items of clothing before I entered the much needed willow bath. (That’s not an actual bath made of willow it’s a term used when you’ve been out willowing and freezing your nether regions off all day and the thing you most look forward to is a bath)

The year of the dragon

Snow! Just what you need when faced with three intensive days of living willow planting and just what we got in Bryn Bach Primary in Tredegar. The team were out en force and despite freezing conditions we managed to get all the willow planted and a reasonable dragon shape in three days. Many thanks Mary, Sarah L and Jo for helping out I couldn’t have managed without you. Back to add fiery breath and a nest of dragon’s eggs in a weeks time.

Beginners, squares and shoppers

Sometimes you just have to adapt

December was a busy month for our basket makers, we had beginners making blackberry baskets, inters making welsh shoppers and pros making squares.

Vale Adult Learners Beginners made beautiful blackberry baskets and in the absence of the soaking tank (wheelie bin) the local pond came in handy. Not sure what the fish made of it but worked all the same although I did notice a few crawly things when rinsing the baskets off, didn’t like to mention it to anyone. The baskets turned out really well complete with handles, not bad for a day’s work.

Welsh Shoppers

Competition between the sound of the fire spitting, the splitting of big willow rods and the cursing of several women was rife in the Heritage Coast Centre, Southerndown when the inters were preparing the willow for their Welsh Shoppers. This was the first of a two day course spread over a month which was making the rim and ribs to allow them to dry for the next course which will be weaving the basket. The process involved taking several large willow rods, splitting them in two, shaving them down to make sturdy ribs and handles which were then pressed around a forma to keep shape. The rim is also a large rod pressed around a forma and allowed to dry out. Looking forward to the weaving in a couple of weeks time.


Square baskets are always a challenge so when several of the pros said let’s make a log basket I thought we’d be there for some time. Day one – bases were complete and baskets staked up, even with all that scalloming. Day two – ten hours later with a no stopping weaving frenzy, a bountiful supply of cake, several trips for baskets to go in and out of my bath, we finally finished. They were beautiful baskets and a real achievement in two days. Just trying to think of more challenges for this year.

Christmas comes early …………….

Last week saw the start of our Christmas decorations courses – five of them, all full!

The teacher’s courses ran in the wonderful House for the Future at St Fagans. We had two lovely days working through our school progression which moves from oval festive birdfeeders, through colourful wreaths with freshly cut willow, to five pointed stars filled with random weave and fairy or angel wands for little ones or to go in flowers. The afternoon focussed on a lovely tree for the classroom and allowed teachers to relax and focus on improving their weaving skills. As always we reflected on how little time we have as primary school teachers to work on our own skills before passing them onto the children. The day ended with weaving a little angel for the top of the tree complete with feather halo – aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwwwwww!

The teachers left with huge bundles of willow and armfuls of their wonderful creations fired up to pass on their new skills to their pupils. The only complaint – where is the mulled wine on teacher’s days?! Next year – we promise!

The end of the week saw a course for the keen and talented parents at Rhigos Primary School, one of our favourite places on earth, a course at All Saints in Southerndown and finally another running at the Botanic Gardens. I moan like hell about the Christmas ads on the Telly in November but this is different, this is ‘real’ christmas – using the materials around us to start preparing for a natural and sustainable festive season.

So five courses down – nine to go, and going to try so hard not to be Christmassed out by Christmas!

Our courses are now unfortunately full for this year, the living willow season has also started – why not put your name down for next year!