January is flying by and there is no sign of the winter blues here. There is so much to be done and our new home gives me so much inspiration for making!
My very first basket of the year, was one that I made just for myself. I found some old baling twine in one of our barns and it was just crying out to be made into a basket. Although it must have been there a long time, it still looked and smelled as fresh as the day it was made.
That’s one of the things that I love about baskets – not only do they have practical uses, but they are also a pleasure for your senses. Take the time to hold a basket, feel the textures of the weave and then smell it. Each natural weaving material, has its own smell and a connection to the plant that it came from, or the season when it was gathered. Oh and of course it’s a treat for the eyes!
I decide to make a simple twined basket with this baling twine, that was so connected to our home’s history.
My skills at this kind of basketry don’t match my skills at coil basketry, but I really enjoy it and want to spend a lot more time working in this way, this year.
A simple little basket it might be, but it looks so at home our old farmhouse.
After indulging myself with the baler twine basket, I got to work on my first commission of the year.
This basket was filled with emotion for me, as it used the very last of the raffia that I dyed with fuchsia, from our old garden. The wonderful fuchsia hedge there, brought so much pleasure through the summer months, absolutely bursting with blooms and bees.
I shall miss it this year, but I have plans to start a new fuchsia hedge, at our new home. I certainly won’t be able to get any dye from it this year though, so this basket was a celebration of the beautiful green, that this plant gave me.
I decided to pair it with two different, soft yellows, the first from plantain stems and the second (with a hints of green and pink), from poinsettia leaves.
The poinsettia dye didn’t quite turn out as I had hoped, but proved to be just right for this particular basket.
I had hoped to create a red dye for my diminishing stocks, but I only had one plant with a dozen red leaves. I would certainly try again with poinsettia at some point in the future, but for now I am concentrating on making a variety of colours to keep me going until spring. I have a pot of sycamore dye on the go at the moment.
I have hoped for some time, to edge away from raffia, in favour of plants that I can grow on my own land. Moving house has obviously slowed up this transition, but I am keen to get it back on track, as soon as possible.
I have spent the past couple of weeks, researching plants to establish in my craft garden, with the intention of using them for basketry.
If I manage to achieve that goal this year, then I will be very happy!
I haven’t been writing here much, over the past few months. The stress of selling our old home and finding ourselves temporarily homeless, relying once again on self-catering holiday accommodation to put a roof over our heads, has made it difficult to settle to writing.
Although we are still living in temporary accommodation, the peace of mind that has come from finally buying our new home, has been instant.
Finding our way forward, has meant a change of island. We are now connected to Orkney mainland by the Churchill barriers, but are still very much living on a small, peaceful island. Those wide open spaces, that have meant so much to me over the past couple of years, are here in abundance and I can’t help standing out in the garden and just breathing it all in.
For a while, it looked like we might have to leave the islands. Covid has seen such a huge surge in interest, in a life up here, that there simply wasn’t any property available, that suited our slightly unusual needs.
Then, against the odds, a house that we had wanted to buy since we first saw it in early summer, became ours – four days before Christmas.
I am so pleased to still be living in these beautiful islands, where I learned to make baskets and our children have spent such happy days, out and about in this huge landscape.
I also feel contentment, to find myself still living where I can always see the sea and hear the birds. These things bring me such peace and make me feel more like myself.
It’s just as well that these simple pleasures bring me such comfort, because there is a huge amount of work to be done, to make our new home into our dream.
We’re not wasting any time. Work began the day after we picked up the keys and after taking two days off with our kids for Christmas, we were straight back to work on Boxing Day.
It feels good to get started, after months of waiting and putting our lives on hold.
There are lots of little surprises for us, as we work. Discoveries and glimpses of the past, like a calendar from 1899, with compliments from J. Spence & Son, St Margarets Hope.
That is the joy of old houses. They have their many challenges, but they also have a deep connection to lives lived, which is so grounding and it feels like such a privilege to be part of.
There is so much that we are looking forward to doing here. Obviously sorting out our living space is top of the list, but as we work on that, we will also be starting to create working spaces, a flower and craft garden, a polytunnel and outside veg beds to grow our food, developing outbuildings for our animals and of course, developing our businesses.
It is a sustainable life that we are hoping to build here, simple in some ways, complicated in others, but always moving forward, learning together and doing the things that we have talked about for years.
So if I disappear from here from time to time, you know where I will be – busy living and working! But I will do my best to post here regularly again, as we move through 2022. It will be great to look back next December and see what we have achieved.
I wish you all a wonderful start to the new year and thank you for following along with me over the past twelve months. xx
I have finally found time to write a tutorial for the woven stars, that I made at the end of October. Although I originally made these with handmade cordage, I have worked the tutorial with yarn, to make it easier for children.
If you can’t get hold of any willow or hazel rods, you could use try using paper straws instead. You could also use natural twine instead of yarn.
I began by cutting five, 14cm lengths of willow. I had cut this willow several weeks ago, so I soaked the lengths in water for several hours before using.
I always find it easiest to start at the top of the star. Cross one length over the other and wrap yarn tightly around 2-3 times.
Then, wrap the yarn in between the crossed pieces 2-3 times (see picture below).
Knot tightly and cut close.
Now, you need to repeat this with the other points of the star. See the positioning of the third length below.
When you add the fourth length, it should pass underneath the first length that it crosses and then across the top of the second length.
Push the star flat to the work surface with the palm of your hand. This will help to bend the willow into shape.
The fifth and final piece of willow, should follow the same pattern as the fourth, travelling first underneath and then across the top of the lengths that it crosses.
Now that your star frame is complete, you can begin to weave.
The amount of yarn/cordage/twine that you need for each point of the star, will vary depending on the thickness of your weaving material. It should be between 3 and 5 metres.
If you run out, before reaching the base of your star, just repeat the starting and finishing steps below, with a new length of yarn.
Start by holding the end of your length of yarn against the left hand edge of the point (1st picture below).
Pass the yarn underneath the right side of the point and bring it all the way around and over the top.
Then pass the yarn underneath the lefthand point and again, around the front.
You will be working this figure eight shape all the way to the base of the point.
If you have difficulty weaving as you near to the base of point, use a tapestry needle to pass the yarn back and forth.
Once you have filled the whole of the point with yarn, you need to weave in the ends.
Using a tapestry needle, pass the yarn up through the weaving and then back down through a different place. Cut the yarn close.
If you have decided to make your star with natural cordage, you will only need to pass the cordage up through the weaving to secure it.
Repeat this process with the remaining four points.
They would look great hung on a tree or strung along a garland. You could even make them all different sizes.
However you choose to make yours, have fun and if you are making them with children you might want to make the frames in advance.
Next time, I will show you how to make an oat straw star, for a very natural Christmas.
I have been continuing to work with natural dyes this year, building on what I learned in late 2020.
A lot of these dyes have been used on raffia for my basketry, but I have also been trying to keep track of my results on some quiltmakers cotton, so that I can, over time, get enough pieces to make a dyers quilt.
The dyeing season didn’t really kick off for me until April/May, as the growing season is a little late to get going here.
Yellows proved to be plentiful, with dandelion, ribbed plantain stems and later on dock stems.
As the year continued, I began to feel like I would never make any green. So far the nearest I had come, was a gold colour with a hint of green, from my daffodils.
I needn’t have worried though, patience was all that was needed. Cow parsley brought me my first green, a light, fresh, spring green, so perfect for its season. Then in summer, came the surprise of a gorgeous blue/green sage colour, from my bountiful crop of fuchsia blooms.
Our wonderful fuchsia hedge kept on giving, even as the blooms faded and disappeared. I decided to try making dye with the large amount of seed pods that were left behind and was rewarded with another lovely, although entirely different green.
After my success with crowberries last year, I was eagerly awaiting the beginning of autumn, so that I could make some more gorgeous purples.
We started keeping an eye open for them in August and I was quickly rewarded with my first handful. However, a combination of a large population of hungry birds and the distraction of selling our house, meant that we only found a few more.
I was determined not to waste these tannin rich beauties, so after leaving some raffia in a pan of blackberry dye overnight, I added the crowberries, heated gently and pressed the whole lot down to burst the berries.
The resulting raffia was a delight and there was just enough to make one basket.
I also had just enough left to soak a small piece of fabric which I had stitched and gathered, so that I could have some patterned pieces for my quilt.
The patterned pieces got me thinking and I decided to make an eco-bundle with some of my quilters cotton, using up some of the last of summer’s flowers and just a few crowberries that I had left.
I have tried this process with paper before, but never with fabric and I was really pleased with the results.
The raffia which bound the bundle together, left an unexpected and particularly nice effect. They are the perfect addition to my quilt.
If you fancy trying this for yourself, it’s really very simple. I had already treated my fabric with a soya milk mordant, so I only had to put on the flowers and berries and roll the whole thing up in a tight bundle. The tighter the better!
Then I put it in a pan (one that I only use for dyes), and let it gently simmer for around 40 mins. At that point I switched off the heat and left the bundle in the water overnight.
I am no expert in this process, but I assumed that it was important to let the bundle dry for a while before unwrapping it. After leaving for a further day, I decided the time had come to see the results.
There is unlikely to be any more dyeing sessions for me this year, as we are moving house in two weeks time and will be staying in temporary accommodation until we find our new home.
Hopefully I have enough coloured raffia to put me on until we get settled again and I can set up my dyeing room properly.
There are so many new things to try in 2022 – I can’t wait!