aWren is always interested in what I’m making. The other day, she was looking at some samples of coil work that I had made for a tutorial and started swishing one of them about, like a ribbon twirler.
We both decided that it would be fun to make one with proper ribbons and it’s such a simple, fun craft project, that I thought we would share it with you.
You could make this for your little one, make a whole batch as party favours, or it could be a fun project for a child to make themselves. Littles ones will need to do it by your side, to remind them where to put the needle, but older children will manage it fine by themselves.
All that you need to make a ribbon twirler, is 5 x 2metre lengths of ribbon and some yarn. I have worked this one in a single colour, but you could use yarn scraps and use as many colours as you like.
You will also need a tapestry needle.
Begin by folding each of the 2m lengths of ribbon in half. Then begin to wrap a length of yarn around the ribbons, starting about 2 inches from the folded ends. Wrap towards the folds for about 1 inch.
Next, bend the wrapped section around to form a loop and continue by wrapping the yarn around both sections of ribbon together. Wrap tightly.
When you have worked about 1cm, begin to coil the wrapped section around the loop and pass the needle through the centre, making a stitch.
Carrying on wrapping 3-4 times and then making a stitch through the loop, until you have gone all the way around the loop.
Once you have completed your first coil around the loop, you will carry on in the same way – wrapping a few times and then making a stitch. From now on, your stitches will pass between the row that you are working and the previous row.
You will need to start new lengths of yarn as you begin to run out.
When you only have about an 1 1/2 inches of wrapping yarn left, start a new length as shown in the images below.
First place the end of the new length with the ribbon core, about 1 1/2 inch should be fine to make it secure.
Next, wrap the old length around the core and the new piece of yarn, a couple of times.
Placing the remaining end of the old piece of yarn with the ribbon core, now start wrapping with the new piece.
In this way, the new length wraps over the end of the old piece, keeping everything in place.
Continue working in this way, until it is the right size to fit nicely in the child’s palm.
To finish working, pass the needle back through the last 1-2cm of wrapped coil, to secure in place.
Trim the end of the yarn, close to the coil, so that no ends are showing.
You ribbon twirler is complete!
I told you it was simple. I hope that you enjoy making them. I think they make a nice introduction to coil basketry.
Today I am finally plucking up the courage to talk to you, about how you can help to support my work with basketry and natural crafts and also have fun learning and making along with me. Have you ever wondered what that red “Become a patron” button is all about? It will take you to my Patreon account.
I set it up nearly a year ago and have skilfully avoided using it since! But thanks to the encouragement and support of some of the lovely people that I have got to know through my work, I have now started regularly posting there.
Whilst I will always continue to write about my work and share my experiences here on my blog, Patreon gives me the opportunity to spend more time making tutorial videos and also videos to explore my current work and some insights into my island life.
It’s a new skill for me to learn – well quite a few actually! Film editing is something that I know nothing about and it is surprisingly difficult to stay nicely framed, when your hands are energetically going about their work. Not to mention my rather basic filming equipment (my phone!).
I will tackle it how I tackle most things in life – just start and then work with passion and determination.
Learning from doing is such a valuable experience and gives you the confidence to try more and more new things.
That’s why I love sharing what I do.
Over the coming months, I will be showing how to prepare your materials, how to begin your own basket, coil basketry, twining, plaiting, dyeing fibres and a whole lot more.
I hope that some time in the future, I will be able to offer short courses at my workshop, but for now, myself, Matt and our children are sleeping in it, while we wait to renovate our derelict farmhouse.
Working on Patreon, gives me the opportunity to start sharing my craft now. And it’s not a one way street. The conversations that I have here, on Instagram and on Patreon, make me push myself further, make me ask new questions and help my work to keep evolving.
So however you choose to follow along, I would like to say a great big THANK YOU! You all make such a difference and help me to continue on this wonderful journey with plants.
I have wanted to work exclusively with plants from my garden or plants that I can gather locally, for a long while. I made a good amount of progress towards this goal, early last year, but having to move to several temporary homes, whilst waiting to find our proper one, meant that it was easier to work with raffia through the autumn and winter.
I pushed myself to explore the possibilities of my raffia work and really enjoyed experimenting with natural dyes and pattern work, so it was difficult to leave it behind. I had grown comfortable with it and confident in my skills and it was comforting to have a little list of people waiting to buy my baskets.
It would have been easy to just carry on. Would it have been what I really wanted to do? No. A big part of the fascination of basketry for me, has always been its accessibility and potential for sustainability.
I am certainly never going to be able to grow raffia here, so I had to say goodbye.
Panic started to set in a little, looking at our rather bare garden in winter. I didn’t have any stores of plants and fibres from last year to use. It didn’t seem practical to put it all into storage, so I had left it all behind. However, I am a firm believer that there is always something (wherever you are), that you can use to make a basket.
I began to look more closely and noticed a large clump of last years crocosmia leaves. Unlike some patches, these were in great condition, dried to perfection by the wind and sunshine. Surely I could make a basket with these? I hadn’t used crocosmia before, but have seen many beautiful baskets made with its leaves. Usually they are gathered towards the end of the season, but while they are still green. These were a beautiful auburn colour and very dry.
They reminded me of the wood rush leaves that I had worked with in our last garden, which could be used when brown, if plaited. They proved to be too fragile for cordage or twining. So I decided to use the crocosmia in the same way, carefully plaiting the leaves together, before coiling into a basket.
It turned into a sweet little basket with a twisted handle and I found that by soaking the leaves in water for a couple of days, I could also make them into cordage.
The only fibres that I had brought with me, was a large handful of Phormium Tenax. I absolutely love this plant and its wonderfully versatile, strong fibres, so I couldn’t bare to leave it behind.
It was a very small amount though, so I used it to make a tiny basket, the one that you can see in the main image at the top of this post. I loved making it and knew that I wanted to carry on with my work with this plant, as soon as possible. Phormium Tenax (or New Zealand Flax), is one of the first things that I have planted in our new garden, but I won’t be able to harvest from it this year.
Fortunately, I noticed that there were some plants by our local beach, with a lot of old growth leaves. These dry, partially retted leaves are more time consuming to process, than the fresh green ones, but give just as good fibre once the work is done.
You can find these fabulous plants, growing all over the Orkney Islands, because they can withstand the high winds and are very happy in salty, coastal conditions.
I found my wire brush and got to work, breaking down the leaves. If fresh, a wire brush would be all that is needed. For these older leaves, I find that it is best to separate the fibres as much as I can with the brush and then leave them to soak overnight. The next morning, I continue the process by hand, until I have a beautifully clean batch of fibres, ready for basket making.
I had taken inspiration from a little wrens nest, for my tiny two loop basket and I wanted to continue with nest inspired work. We have such a variety of nests here and each one is precious. So beautifully and skilfully made, with each little bird using the materials around them to create their masterpiece – nature’s sustainable basket makers!
I began by thinking that I would use a variety of plant fibres and found materials, but I started the basket with Phormium Tenax and Sphagnum Moss and I have become fascinated by the relationship between these two, as I have been working.
The Tenax fibres are being used both for cordage and as the stitching fibre. In addition, I am using them in my moss cordage, to give extra strength and structure.
I am learning so much from making this basket, not only about the plants that I am working with, but also about myself.
For me, the connection to my materials – the gathering, the preparing, is just as important to me as making the basket itself. The joy of making, is magnified by the intimacy with plants that I have found or grown and with each new discovery made along the way.
So I look forward to a year of getting to know the plants around me and finding out what baskets we can make together.
The last month has just flown by and here we are finally living full-time in our new home. Last week (the first week), was really hard and I don’t mind admitting that there were times when I questioned my decision making skills and whether I was up to the challenge before me.
I think exhaustion, after months of building up to this final move, played a big part in those feelings. After catching up on some sleep, my sense of humour has returned, as has my optimism and passion, for turning this old abandoned house into our home. The challenges before us are the same, we’re still really cold, still strip washing with a bucket, still running across the garden in the dark and all weathers to use the toilet – but now I remember why we’re here doing this.
It is a funny and enlightening thing, to have the conveniences of modern life stripped away.
I am acutely aware of how much water we are using and how often, because we have to fill a bucket to flush the toilet, fill jugs for handwashing and drinking etc, boil water for washing the dishes or ourselves. That connection to what we use is so important, it reminds me how lucky I am to have clean water to use. It makes me use that amazing resource with respect and as sparingly as possible.
Matt and I have spent so many hours outside in all weathers, trying to insulate and repair the old wooden cabin that we’re staying in, while we wait to renovate the main house. It’s been frustrating and exhausting, but I can stand back and know that we cut every piece of wood to size and hammered in every nail, to make it strong and weatherproof. It is the same deep feeling of connection that I have when I make baskets, with the plants that grow around me.
I am beginning to realise just how important this feeling of connection is to me. It guides my life choices and drives me forward.
Home-educating, home-birthing, breast-feeding, handicrafts, home-baking, dressmaking, growing veggies and flowers from seed – all of these things and many more, deepen the connections to my family and my environment. My life is richer for them and I find that I am increasingly comfortable in my own skin. I suppose, I have a greater sense of self.
My confidence in all areas of my life, is growing day by day. As I learn new skills and work with my hands, I find comfort in the knowledge that there are so many things that I can take care of myself. It is the realisation that things I might have felt I can’t do, are actually just things that I haven’t learned yet.
So yes, sometimes it’s hard, often I reach the end of my day, too tired to do anything but sleep. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I don’t want to just live on the surface, I want to keep spreading my roots and making those very important connections.