All the way back in February I contacted Michael Sinclair (The Orkney Woodturner), to ask where I might be able to get hold of some wood for whittling. I had a little project in mind, one I still haven’t got around to finishing, but Michael very kindly offered me some of his offcuts.

Michael mentioned that he had been interested in the idea of combining basketry with his work, for some time. Some of the neolithic pottery pieces that were found near to Michael’s home and workshop, had imprints of basketry and these ancient vessels have been an important inspiration and influence on many of his pieces.

We got together for a chat about the possibilities of bringing our crafts together, at Michael’s home, which he and his wife Sara built themselves.

You couldn’t wish to meet a nicer couple and Matt and myself have enjoyed our visits to Howar over the last six months, to discuss the project; life in Orkney; gardening and the challenges of running a small craft business from an island.

Micheal Sinclair

As well as the house and workshop, Michael and Sara have also built a gallery, which is part of the island’s craft trail and they offer a warm welcome to visitors who come to see Michael’s work. The buildings sit surrounded by a beautiful garden that they started from scratch, when they built the house and which is home to some wonderful Phormium Tenax (New Zealand Flax).

I am rather envious of these as my own Phormiums are just babies yet and my garden is very much a work in progress! Still, it gives me hope that one day my efforts will result in something that looks more like a garden and less like a field!

So it was decided that the baskets should be made with fibre from Michael’s own plants, a nice link to bring our work together. Connections are very important in my work and also in Michael’s. My own work is linked to my local environment by the plants that I gather and the found objects and materials that I often incorporate into my work. Michael’s work is connected to the rich history of Orcadian craft and the islands that have been home to his family for generations.


It has been my first collaborative project and I was more than a little nervous of taking on the  responsibilty for finishing Michael’s wooden vessels, with my baskets. Michael has been a woodturner for the past 28 years and is on the Register of Professional Turners, so I really wanted to do his work justice. Not only that, but this was a collaboration, so it was important to make sure that my work was sympathetic to his – adding a little, but not taking away from the design of the vessels.

Michael was equally sensitive to my work, and created shapes and detailing that would be well suited to being ‘cocooned’ and enhance the texture and colour of the flax.

All of this had to be fitted around our ongoing projects and our busy families, but we finally finished the last piece and were able to see them grouped together for the first time, months after our initial talks.  


We’re both really pleased with how they have turned out and I think that they speak well of the people that made them and the islands that inspired us both. For me, there is a strong sense of Orkney in them – strength, but also a delicate and simple beauty.

If you would like one of these three collaborative works, you can find them in Michael’s shop by following this link, and you can also find out more about Michael and Sara and the process of making one of Michael’s pieces.