Willowing in the woods

IMG_0314On a lovely sunny Sunday we bundled bodkins, snippers, irons and sticks into our bags and set off to the beautiful Bishop’s Wood, located just behind Caswell Bay on the stunning Gower coastline. With the intoxicating smell of thousands of wild garlic and their delicate white flowers mixed with swathes of  bright bluebells nestled under towering trees, it truly was a sight and smell to behold as we approached the log circle deep in the heart of the wood.

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IMG_0308Eight intrepid weavers looked excitedly on as we explained and demonstrated the age old methods of making a small, round stake and strand basket before they set to work on their own mystical first basket journey.

In fairness a few had already begun their journey so were up and running quite swiftly, so we challenged those with different weaves and the prospect of putting a handle on if they shifted a bit.

The complete beginners were taken through the process slowly and gently, nurturing their first grasp of the willow sticks, encouraging them to work with the curve, wiping brows as they puffed through pairing, challenging them to push those side stakes in a bit further, watching until they were well and truly relaxed with waling until their beautiful baskets started to emerge.

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IMG_0329 IMG_0341 IMG_0322The day flew by as the baskets flew up and before we knew it, it was border time. Using buff outside on a warm day with a slight breeze on the air was always going to be a challenge and despite copious amounts of spraying and dampening down there was no alternative than to take the baskets up to the well and give them a 10 minute dunk to be workable. What a joy that turned out to be, we got to see the fantastic roundhouse built by landowner Dai, complete with outdoor kitchen and cob oven plus his fantastic willow chairs, while our basket babies were baptised in the well’s trough, magical.

Borders complete and handles for a few, it was so lovely to see beaming faces clutching new born baskets, a wonderful end to a perfect day of willowing in the woods.

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Creative Crafts Skills Awards

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Fantastic News – we have been shortlisted for the Creative and Cultural skills national Crafts Skills Awards in the category ‘Engaging new and diverse audiences in Craft Skills’.

This might sound like we are blowing our own trumpets but we thought you might like to know why! Here are some details from our application:

We are applying for this award as we are incredibly proud of our wide variety of educational, hands-on workshops and courses, teaching the art of willow weaving and basketmaking to adults and children. Our audience ranges from nursery school children, young offenders and residents of nursing homes to the general public. We have worked all over South Wales, and beyond, passing on our own skills to many thousands of adults and children. We are passionate about our work and absolutely committed to reaching as many people as possible to enable them to experience this incredibly rewarding and ancient craft. We provide high quality instruction through a variety of workshops and courses.

Willow Weaving Courses – Cover the history, cultivation and use of willow then hands-on to weave a specific item eg Willow Taster Courses and Garden Structures
Basketmaking Courses – 1 day, 2 day, 5 day Residential and Progressive Basketry Courses (3 innovative series of 6 courses offering structured progression of learning basketry skills.
Teacher’s Courses – Designed for school staff to take simple weaving projects back to the classroom eg Baskets and Crafts for the classroom and Sculpture for schools. Supported by full visual instruction pack
School Workshops – To train adults in situ and teach children a variety of willow weaving skills eg Christmas Decorations and Living Willow
Community Craft Workshops – Each participant is taught and gently supported on a one-to one basis, to weave a simple item, eg a willow heart
Talk and Weave Workshops – a slide show with examples of all our work and then instruction to weave a simple willow project, eg an oval shaped birdfeeder, achievable by everyone.
Event Workshops – mini ‘have a go’ workshops, small-scale projects such as willow star wands

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We encourage the highest of standards and always urge students to strive for excellence in their craft skills. Students are encouraged to take part in progressive basketry classes where we keep detailed records of learning so that we know which skills students have covered individually and then can advance their individual skills accordingly. Individual projects are evaluated at the end of each course and students given targets to improve on.

In 2007 we set up the Welsh Basketmakers South Wales group to ensure that students had support between courses to continue to practise what they had learned. This group, which we are still very active within, is now a thriving community co-operative with over 120 members. The group has recently won an award for their work with the judges quoting ‘I am delighted that the Welsh winner this year is Welsh Basketmakers South Wales Group. It is encouraging that in our modern world, with all its digital technology, there is not only a place for traditional arts and crafts, but that the achievements of the group have been recognized. Not only are they producing work of the highest quality, they are also ensuring that this ancient craft and artform continues, something that we should all celebrate.”

During our courses and workshops we teach skills needed to produce projects that are achievable in the time available. At a show or mini workshop we will teach participants to handle willow safely and learn a simple weave in order to produce an easy project such as a heart or birdfeeder. On longer courses students will learn specific skills to produce more complex items such as baskets or garden structures. We always stress the highly skilled nature of the craft and have high expectations of our students. Most people are extremely proud of their hand-produced items and eager to continue learning.

Since 2006 our one-day courses have provided 982 course places. 35 students have attended our Progressive courses. Our school workshops have reached approximately 5800 children. Our teacher’s courses and workshops have trained 1000 adults who work with children and young people in schools and in the community. We have worked with around 2500 adults and children at shows, most of whom have never experienced willow weaving before. Many show visitors attend courses after meeting us. We have worked with around 2400 adults and children during community workshops and talks.

Many students stress the therapeutic nature of our workshops saying they are relaxing, satisfying and absorbing. One student told us that the day she learned to make her first basket was the day she began to recover from a gruelling divorce.

These are 2 of our endorsements:

‘Clare and Mel have revived the craft throughout the area with their enthusiasm, hard work and commitment. I am particularly impressed with their “progressive” basketry courses and their work with children and schools’. Bob Summers, past chair of Oxfordshire Basketmakers.

‘They have worked tirelessly to generate an interest in the traditional craft of Basketmaking since setting up in 2006. Much of their work has been with children and in the Community. Their skill lies in transferring their acquired knowledge, with enthusiasm, to new people. There is a need to pass on these skills before they are lost.’ – EJ(Bunty) Ball, Vice President and Past Chairman 2008-2012, Basketmakers’ Association

Are we proud to be shortlisted?  You bet we are …..

Mary’s cradle

IMG_5587 Only three months since the last post so getting better.

In September one of our lovely basket makers, Mary Ponting, came to us for a little bit of guidance on making a willow cradle for her son’s friend.

Armed with a mattress, a set of white (handled with extreme care) fitted inserts, a stand for the cradle to sit on and a printed picture of what the cradle looked like we set to work. Size was quite important so we measured carefully with measuring tape, wrote everything down on paper and crossed fingers. Mary set to work on the base while I was very happy being her basket making apprentice sorting willow, making tea, wiping her brow while she wove away. Day one and the base was finished, “I never thought it would take that long!” said Mary, I nodded sagely.

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Day two was German waling, pricking up and weaving away. We had to tie the uprights straight away to get the rounded front and back to come into shape. Crunch time came when we remembered to test out the mattress, inserts and put the halfway cradle onto the stand. Holding breath for what seemed an eternity we both let out a sigh of relief when it all fitted beautifully.

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Day three, more weaving, waling, packing, border and brow wiping. The cradle started to take shape nicely and Mary worked very hard with barely a whimper. After a good dunking in the bath it was finally time for the border. The end result was so fantastic and a real heirloom. Well done Mary!

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It seemed like it would never end

 How many?

Awwww, how cute we said after the first few goes of making a 10cm diameter frame basket, this is a bit tedious after the 20th, please no more after the 30th and still only half way there…

…needless to say we were pretty sick of the sight of them by the end.

These 60 (yes 60) little frame baskets were made for the Forestry Commission for children to use for gathering leaves for a Forest School activity. What a lovely idea 🙂

What’s been happening ‘3’… the final chapter

AUGUST – Willow Storytelling tree, Roman Military Spectacular (just look at those Gladiators) the Eisteddfod and the Vale Show

Nearly up to date – August was quite a busy month as well with The Eisteddfod and the Vale Show. We had a rather fetching teepee at the Eisteddfod and spent a very relaxing week on the Maes Gwyrdd. Les Llewelyn, our famous Cyntell maker demonstrated for two days making a beautiful white cyntell.

What better than willow swords and shields for a Roman Military Spectacular at the Amphitheatre in Caerleon. The event lasted for two days and we were treated with fantastic Roman Soldier battles and sparring Gladiators.

Another lovely project was a sculpture of a Storytelling Tree in Dare Valley Country Park. Spread over three days the workshop was for local children who either worked on the tree or made leaves which we attached at the end.

Finally the Vale Show which is an agricultural show held in Fonmon Castle in Barry, another event we’ve attended for quite a few year’s running. Always a very busy day which this year was made joyful by the return of someone very special… 🙂

 

 

What’s been happening….

How time flies, can’t quite believe it’s six months since we last posted. So here’s a quick update on what willowing activities have come our way since March 2012.

 APRIL – Willow Crafts for the Garden, Beginners Baskets and the wonderful RHS Show
With the living willow season finished it was straight into the willow craft season which included the RHS Show in Cardiff and lots of willow courses. Willow Crafts for the Garden is always popular and although every time we say remember the size of the car you came in, quite often this happens.
Beginners basket making are also very popular and we had some lovely baskets made in April at the Heritage Coast Centre in Southerndown. We even had two lovely ladies fly all the way from America. Back to the wheelie bin for soaking though.

We’ve been lucky enough to have a stand at The RHS Spring Show in Cardiff for the last four years and although a tiring three days, it’s always a lot of fun. This year the weather wasn’t so kind and it ended up a bit like Glastonbury outside our marquee. Many thanks to all our helpers, especially Sarah who stuck it out for the three days and most importantly helping to take the stand down, something not easily forgotten 🙂 We also made a willow badger for the Wildlife Trust Garden so it seemed as if we were living on the show ground for about a week.

MAY – Willow Sculpture course, Forest School sessions and Jubilee Crown

Four herons and a dolphin were made on our sculpture course, how amazing are they!

Forest School sessions started again, one afternoon a week for ten weeks taking a group of ten and eleven year olds to experience the outdoors and learn about their environment and to have fun of course. Some lovely tree art went on in the first session, sadly rained every single Thursday afternoon for ten weeks!

We were also asked to make a replica of the Queen’s Coronation Crown for the Physic Garden in Cowbridge to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee.

 

Jenny Crisp, Roy Youdale and Tom Hare

Mel and I have had some superb teaching recently from three great tutors, Roy Youdale, Jenny Crisp and Tom Hare.

Roy is an old friend who has spent many days with us teaching us advanced techniques and coffin making. He also taught our very successful residential coffin making course in September last year. The course is running again this year from September 19th to the 23rd.  This time, after a delicious lunch, Roy was teaching us how to make the traditional welsh tea basket which has a small cylinder in the centre for cutlery and is shaped like a scandinavian doughnut so that the tea set fits around the edge. The basket is much more straightforward than it looks! As always we were so impressed by Roy’s attention to detail and tips for weaving the perfect basket. Roy must also now be getting used to our constant barrage of ‘yes but ‘why’ do you do it like that? ‘ ‘what are your hot tips for …’ ‘how do you do ……’ – I think he is always left exhausted by our thirst for learning everything basketry! On the way home there was a shriek from Mel ‘OMG Daffodils’, I knew instantly what she was talking about – the cylinder shape is perfect for weaving a daffodil flower ………


 

 

 

 

 

 

We spent an inspiring two days at Jenny Crisp’s house in Leominster learning her distinctive technique of scallomed baskets with deep borders and an additional foot.

Jenny’s baskets are extremely chunky and satisfying to handle and look at – not only did we make beautiful deep fruit baskets ourselves but found ourselves arriving home with four of her baskets that were just too irresistible to leave there.

It was the first time we had met Jenny and stayed at her beautiful house.

Not only is she a thorough, patient and inspiring teacher but a fabulous host as well – we can’t wait to go back soon for another two days learning to make her wonderfully complex square fitched shopper.

 

 

 

And finally ……………. what a wonderful two days we spent at Musgrove with the breathtakingly talented sculptor Tom Hare.  Tom’s stunningly beautiful sculptures of flowers and seed heads are featured at Chelsea.

Tom is a very laid back tutor who makes you feel like you can achieve anything (fantastic for me as I was actually just tagging along with Mel who is already brilliant at sculpture).  We started by honing our skills at making random weave far less random and much more regular, weaving with multistrands of willow.  We then learned a finishing technique called ‘directional weave’ which took a lot of practice and was incredibly time consuming covering about 10 cm in an hour but very pleasing and regular.

On day 2 we worked from a basic hoop to form a circular flower shape – I called mine a Ranunculus – as I am not so comfortable with things being abstract and  it looks lovely sitting amongst my hedge outside my kitchen window.  We finished by sculpting giant flower shapes onto a metal frame as Tom does for his huge sculptures – I finally got to achieve my longstanding desire to make a giant sculpture of a daffodil.  The shape is now waiting to be filled with a random weave (regular of course!).  It was supposed to be finished in time for the Royal Welsh Show – but I think I had better set myself a target of the RHS Spring Show in Cardiff 2012 instead!  It was the end to a great two days and boy did we get some funny looks coming up the M5 and over the Severn Bridge with a giant daffodil on the roofrack!

Thanks so much Roy, Jenny  and Tom – here are the links to their websites if you want to know more about them:

http://www.willowbaskets.biz/

http://www.jennycrisp.co.uk

www.tomhare.net/