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.

New Directions – Carved Arches

We had a fantastic two days at Rhydfelen Nursery finishing off the Fairytale Village with a carved wooden arch. Although we have done a fair bit of green woodworking, use knives on a daily basis  and had worked alongside another woodcarver we still felt we had a lot to learn when we embarked on this project.


We needn’t have worried. We spent two days working on carving and chiselling the children’s own drawings and impressions of their willow village (see previous blog entry) onto a lovely ash arch. This is still one of our favourite projects as everytime we visit we observe the incredible imaginative play that goes on. This time the whole group of ten children were whispering and tiptoeing around the structures so as not to wake the sleeping dragon in her lair.  The staff also reported that a child who chooses not to speak at all in nursery came out of the willow village telling a story about the dragon – how fantastic is that!

Willow Fairytale Village – Last day Planting Living Willow of the season

What a fantastic finish to the season! We have been working on a mini Fairytale ‘village’ of living willow structures at Rhydfelen Nursery School. We started on Tuesday constructing a circular boundary fedge of Flanders Red Willow which joined onto the existing native hedgerow to form a secure and secluded area for play. We then constructed a Fairy Castle (two wigwams and a mini tunnel), a woodcutters cottage (small dome), the 3 bears Chairs, a dragons den (lozenge shape) complete with dragon’s nest and eggs a dragons tail and head and a ‘spinney’ (circular tunnel which spins you round and gives you the chance to enter from one direction and come out of the other). We are also going to weave a ‘tower’ for peering up and out of.  This will be solid posts arranged in a circle which will be solidley woven with a basket weave and chunky willow.  Lots still to do but the living willow is in the ground!

The area is designed to stimulate imaginative play and the nursery plan to complement the village with props such as a dressing up rail, story books and artefacts such as 3 bowls and wooden spoons. We also plan to make a selection of crowns and wands from willow.

I don’t know about the children but Mel and I are just beside ourselves with excitement simply working on this project………… can’t wait to visit and see how the children play in it!

Day three – on a roll

Sun still shining, loads more weaving, can’t stop the birds from singing, anyone know how to shut up a cockerel?

Willow village coming on splendidly, had first group of children play in it which was wonderful to see. We now have a fishmongers, a doctor, a church, the White House, a baker, just to name a few of the new residences of the willow village.

Started the woven fence at the back of the extra large dome, really exciting, uprights in for the wood stores so well on track.

Italian restaurant tonight as a treat, what with Dave’s breakfasts, waitrose picnics and cafe cakes going to have to do Rosemary Connelly extreme dieting for a month!

Day two – great progress

Glorious day again, birds singing, sun shining and lots of willow weaving.

Started with a very hearty breakfast cooked by Dave, our friendly owner of the very comfortable 15th century hunting lodge we’re staying in. We opted for the full English and not the yoghurt and fruit obviously, slightly regretted it later getting stuck into the derby dibbing.

Clare worked like a demon sledging the wooden stakes in for the woven surround of the large hut, I had the very strenuous job of holding them level, it’s going to look fab though, can’t wait to start the weaving.

Children worked very hard planting the smaller domes, had all of them on the derby dibber, puffing away and they’re already getting precious about their very own domes, “I want to live here,” one of them cried.

Looking forward to next couple of days, fingers crossed weather will hold.

Crickhowell and Perthcelyn Primary Schools Scenic Willow

We had a fantastic week last week, if a bit hectic, working at 2 lovely schools with the most wonderful bunch of children.  Both schools were surrounded by the most beautiful views in two very different valleys …..

At Crickhowell we worked in 3 different areas to provide shade and shelter and play structures for both Junior and Infant children. The juniors wanted a dome with a wiggly tunnel exactly opposite their exit from the school, the infants fancied 3 wigwams to fit in their physical play area for ‘dens’ and we also built 2 arbours. On Day 1 we enjoyed soaking up the sunshine and enjoying the awesome views of the mountains surrounding the school, on Day 2 the torrential rain meant we couldn’t even see the mountains! We were joined by very keen parents who didn’t mind a total drenching to help us finish the project. I was the lucky one who worked with the infant children making willow crowns and magic wands while Mel got soaked to the skin!

After finishing at 3.30 we then went on to construct a beautiful arbour in a private garden in Abergavenny. The arbour was built to frame a 9ft ship’s bench and to our delight also echoed the shape of the mountain behind. No photos as we finished in the dark!

Thursday and Friday were spent at Perthcelyn Primary School, another stunning location looking out over the valley formed by the Taff to the mountains to the East. Another playground location to stand and stare (on Day 1 anyway, no sign of any mountains again on Day 2 in the thick drizzle), although there was a little too much work ahead to do too much of that.

Luckily we were incredibly ably assisted by the older children at Perthcelyn, especially Ryan and Niamh who became our willing apprentices for the 2 days. We have NEVER come across a pair of such confident, dedicated, skilled children – so much so that we handed over our hoodies and both became official staff members! The rest of the team were also superb and we made great progress with the tunnels, arbours and wigwams which were on order for this school. I am very envious that Mel has got another opportunity to go back to this lovely school for Day 3!

Welsh Basketmakers South Wales Group – January Meeting

A massive thanks to Deb for taking notes, typing them up and sending them to me in an e-mail  – a lot harder  to lose than an envelope, although I promise I still have this month’s safe!  We had a great meeting with more than 20 people attending to agree the programme for this year and weave some beautiful willow hearts from fresh Black Maul and Flanders Red willow.  Yvonne brought some gorgeous organic willow for our basketmakers to pounce on.  Anyway, here is the programme for this year, expect there will be changes on the way but it will be a more relaxing way to do things I think.  Again thanks to everyone for offering to help.

Dates and Activities for 2011

The Group agreed a list of activities for the forthcoming year and agreed dates for the monthly meeting.

N.B  Unless otherwise stated we are hoping that all meetings will be held at Colwinston Village hall – fab venue with easily sweepable floors and loads of car parking.  One summer meeting will be held at Kathy’s house in Cardiff Bay – to be confirmed.

January 31st Fresh Willow Hearts 7.00 – 9.00 pm
February 28th Hoops for frame baskets – Knife skills and using skeins   Material costs £1 per frame 7.00 – 9.00 pm
March 28th Weaving Materials from the Hedgerows At Pencoed Organics 

Final details to be agreed.  The main aim of the meeting will be to improve material recognition and identifying the most useful hedgerow materials for weaving

7.00 – 9.00 pm
April (actual date Tues, May 3rd) Bases – practice your round, oval or square bases for finishing baskets at home. 

Material Costs – £1 per base

7.00 – 9.00 pm
May (actual date Mon, June 6th) Plant supports 

Material Costs – £5 per plant support

7.00 – 9.00 pm
June 27th Borders 7.00 – 9.00 pm
July and Aug No monthly meetings due to summer holidays, however there will be a picnic at Dunraven – date to be arranged 

 

Sept 26th Corn dollies – weave your own dragonfly, bodkin cover or anything else made using a corn dolly weave 7.00 – 9.00 pm
October 31st Angels and trees – 3 dimensional tree or angel from white or buff willow 7.00 – 9.00 pm
November 28th Christmas party 7.00 – 9.00 pm
December No monthly meeting

Getting Organised

At the first group meeting, we decided to keep things informal.  However as things have progressed and as the group has increased in numbers, there is the need to formalise a few things to ensure the smooth running of the group.  At the moment we need help with refreshment rotas, keeping notes of the meeting and collecting funds.  Details are as follows:-

Refreshment rotas

We agreed to have a rota for providing refreshments – tea, coffee and biscuits/cake.  We will arrange the rota at every meeting and pass on the tea/coffee making equipment to those next on the rota for the following month.  Kathy agreed to sort out February (with Ann to help although she doesn’t know yet!)

Keeping Notes

We have agreed to keep a few notes from each meeting particularly where we have agreed actions.  These will then be posted on our blog.

Funds

There is a minimum charge of £2.50 at each meeting for the cost of the hall and materials.  Sarah kindly undertook this at the January meeting and has agreed to carry on doing this for future meetings.

Basket making and other willow events

Wool and Willow Festival 2011 – Llanidloes  (http://www.woolandwillowfestival.org/)

Dates for this year’s festival are 28th May to 25th June.  Set up is on Friday 27th May.

Out to Learn Willow are running a workshop making Framed Baskets for the garden or kitchen on 17th June

Prue Thimbleby will be running a workshop for willow and recycled materials on 3rd June.

We also have a stall for exhibiting our work – this is for everyone and Maggie will be in touch with further details shortly.  If anyone is interested in selling any of their work then contact Clare and Mel as we also have a table for selling willow items.

Basket makers Association Summer Meeting – Cheltenham  17th June 2011

We agreed that we would like to attend the AGM and it would be sensible to organise a minibus for a number of us to attend.  Unfortunately it clashes with Clare and Mel teaching and stewarding at the Wool and Willow Festival but other group members may well fancy a day out

Deb will be in touch to organise numbers and minibus hire.

Next meeting

28th February 2011, 7.00 p.m.  Colwinston Village Hall (to be confirmed when booked)

Looking forward to seeing you all again next month, if you have a sharp knife such as an Opinel knife or fixed blade penknife please bring it with you along with a piece of leather or suede to protect your knee!

Love the Living Willow!

We are now on Twitter (Lovingthewillow) and just getting used to having a way of communicating with everyone on a daily basis (or minutely basis if we like!).  Had a lovely couple of weeks with new basket courses running, harvesting vast quantities of  willow in the pouring rain for some great jobs in the weeks ahead.  We have planted a basketry willow ‘fedge’ around the allotment at Wick Primary school.  This will provide craft material for their Christmas projects next year, nothing like planning ahead!  We have planted an ‘S’ shaped tunnel with the children of Cyfartha Junior school and completed some maintenance jobs at schools in Cardiff and St Donats Castle, maintenance of course is an essential part of working with living willow.

The rest of the days have been spent organising the next few week’s work.  A lovely Woodland Willow Playground in an urban school in Merthyr, basket courses at Crafts in the Bay in Cardiff, an African Village in Berkshire complete with woven mud hut in the centre, a communities first workshop in the valleys,  willow wigwams and tunnels in Chepstow, training for Bridgend Youth Services, yet more harvesting, more maintenance and 11 more intrepid beginner basketmakers for our course on 22nd January at the Model House in Llantrisant.  That course is (1 more than) full but why not join us on 26th January at All Saint Church to see what it is all about!

What a great start to the Year – thought January would be a peaceful month for getting on with some basketry commissions of our own – ha, ha!