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 РWillow 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 ūüôā 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.

 
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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!

January is for New Skills!

Courses

This week started (or last week ended) at the Model House in Llantrisant with eleven new basketmakers trying their hand at small round fruit and bread baskets.  We had visitors from as far away as Durham and Cheshire on this course, it is absolutely incredible how far people will travel to do some willow weaving.  The Model House is a lovely venue, full of inspiring work by artists working in a variety of mediums.  Llantrisant has lovely shops and cafes too!

It's worth travelling 300 miles to make your first basket!

Progressive Baskets

The first of our two progressive basketry courses started this week at the peaceful and inspiring venue of All Saints Church in Southerndown.  Wednesday saw six basketmakers on Progressive 1 which is suitable for beginners Рthe group are very keen and were not put off in anyway by the arrival of Film Cameras and interviewer from Vale of Glamorgan who are filming us for a promotional video on companies who have benefited from Creative Rural Community grant aid.

A beautiful first basket made by Liz with a Trac Broder

Progressive 2 saw six intermediate basketmakers working on frame baskets with integrated handles working with mostly fresh and a small amount of dried willow  Рthis is a challenge as fresh willow is a lot less well behaved than buff or dried and soaked willow Рit has a mind of its own and control is a lot more difficult.

Everyone managed very well and six beautiful baskets were produced each with its own personality. It was a lovely relaxing day.

Making hoops

Spot the mistake!@!

Ann and Fiona getting to grips with their frames

Growing and Working with Willow – Teacher’s course at National Botanic Gardens

We were back at the National Botanic Gardens on Thursday and Friday running a teachers course in what looked like stunningly beautiful weather – the sun was shining but it was absolutely bitingly cold. ¬†After learning on the job with ¬†hands-on maintenance of one of the structures in the willow playground we used the harvested willow to plant a pretty willow tunnel. ¬†The willow playground is made up of a variety of willows – I recognized Chinese Viminalis (easy as it has scarlet buds which burst into soft pink furry ‘pussy’ willow buds). Q83 – smooth green rods which darken to brown at the tips, a lovely chocolate brown viminalis and then lots of bigger willow which takes quite a lot of maintenance). ¬†John – one of the volunteers at the garden and a fellow course participant – told us about his work with Bob to keep the structures maintained during the winter months.

By popular demand the afternoon was spent learning some simple craft projects for the classroom. ¬†It was wonderful to read some of the comments on the evaluation forms which reflect how inspired people become after courses to take their skills back to their schools – there were many plans afoot for domes, tunnels and shady play structures in school grounds. ¬†It was also lovely to hear how one Christmas Crafts for the Classroom course participant had worked with willow at Christmas time to make a range of natural christmas decorations with her children. ¬†She commented on how she had discovered that working with the willow was a wonderful activity for focussed work on improving children’s abilities to ¬†follow instructions and improve gross and fine motor skills.

Schools Work

A lovely drawing by Charlie who helped build the willow tunnel in Chepstow

We had a great return visit to Alltwen primary school to see the successful willow bed planted in the shape of a Celtic Knot on a wet bank.

Willow planted in 2010 didn’t grow very vigorously ¬†– the drought in April and May stunted the rods and the plants never seemed to make up the lost ground. ¬†With the help of every child in the school we planted 300 dogwood and purple willow cuttings around the edge of the school field and did some basic maintenance on the willow bed. ¬†Despite the pouring rain we had a fabulous day ………

Mel and Helen worked in Chepstow last week on a large willow project, long curved tunnel, a wigwam and an arbour. Lots to fit into a day’s work so the children were ¬†kept very busy.

Mel has also been working hard on the designs for 3 large projects in local schools, we love the Living Willow Season!