I have been spending some time this week, working with plant-fibres that I have gathered from the garden. Eventually, all of my baskets will be made with materials that I have grown and gathered myself. This idea of sustainable craft, is so important to me. I feel like there is so much to be gained, from working in this way. A connection to my local environment, a deeper understanding of the materials that I am working with, the knowledge that they haven’t been sprayed with chemicals, that forests haven’t been cleared to grow them.
It takes a lot more of my time, for sure. In fact I could never factor in all of the hours of work taken to produce these baskets, in the cost to those buying them. Tending the plants, processing the fibres, creating the baskets – it all takes time, but in my opinion, it is time well spent.
I have been thinking about where my work is going and I don’t honestly know. I am allowing myself the chance to experiment, to discover a bit more about my creative self. I have so many ideas buzzing around in my head, not all of them baskets, but always using plant-fibres and I think that those ideas deserve to be explored.
I didn’t go to art college. I got in to three, but turned them all down. At the age of 18, I was just recovering from four years of being very ill, it didn’t feel like the right time. It felt like I had woken from a long sleep, to find myself as an adult and I wanted to focus on very practical things – getting a job, earning some money, meeting people.
It was a good decision, the right decision for me and a couple of years later I was married and starting a family. I have always loved making things, but for the last couple of decades, that has mostly been for our home and family.
I stumbled into working with plant fibres, because I wanted to show my children that they should never be put off trying to create something, because of a lack of resources. There are always materials available, if you look for them.
I’m so glad that I did, it is a journey that I am very much enjoying.
So, what have I been up to this week?
I have made a start on my foraging basket. I don’t often make the time to make baskets for myself, but I have a real, practical need for something to go gathering with – so it’s a good excuse!
I am making it with wood rush, which grows prolifically here. A large portion of our land, amongst the trees, is covered in a thick blanket of it. It can be gathered for use when it is fresh and green, but also when it is a season old and lost it’s colour.
This time around, I am harvesting the green leaves. They are easier to work with and plait beautifully. They need to be well dried first, because of shrinkage and should be dampened as little as possible for use, otherwise you will have the same problem. I find that wrapping them in a damp cloth for a couple of hours or even just holding them under a running tap for a few minutes and shaking off the excess water, is plenty.
I want to stitch the plaited wood rush together with something from my garden, so I am using a fine cordage made with common/hard rush. This also grows in abundance here and makes lovely cordage.
I am hoping to experiment with spinning plant fibres this year, so that I have a ready supply of stitching materials. I will be growing some flax and foraging for nettles, for this purpose, but having never spun anything, I have no idea how that will go. It feels right though and I think that there is a lot to be said for instinct.
The second project for this week, was making a little basket with some cordage, made from retted New Zealand flax.
I was given some old growth from my neighbours garden, a few months ago. Once the leaves have been through the process of retting (soaking and drying alternately), the fibres can be stripped down and cleaned. It’s messy work and you’ll need to invest in a good nail brush!
Once they are clean and dry, the fibres are a beautiful auburn colour and when twisted together to make cordage, they have a wonderful texture. I coiled them into a simple basket, stitching with some naturally dyed raffia. I could have dampened the cordage and carefully straightened it, but it felt more important to follow the natural flow and rhythm of the fibres.
Although very different from my raffia baskets, I was very happy with the result and the weeks work, has really got me excited about the possibilities of the year ahead.