A couple of weeks ago I was gathering some common rush in our garden, when I noticed some grass that was really fine and yet very tough. I had a feeling that it would make some great coil baskets, so I collected a small amount to try it out and left it to dry.
I have been looking for a good alternative to raffia for making coil baskets, something that we have commonly available on our land. The further I go down this path of basket making and working with natural fibres, the more resolved I am to use what I can gather myself.
After doing some research this week, I have identified the grass as Sheep Fescue. There is a chance that I am wrong here, but all of the pictures and descriptions that I have seen, match what I have. Grass identification can be really tricky, especially if you can’t find any seed heads!
Once I was sure that it was completely dry, I got to work on my coil basket. I hadn’t really planned ahead and decided that a brown yarn would go really nicely with the colours of the grass, so I had to use some little scraps that I had a s part of a texture pack. They were really a bit thin for the job and not as strong as I would have liked, but this was only an experiment so I just got on with it.
Within a couple of rounds I knew that I had been right about this tough, hair like grass. It worked up beautifully, better than raffia in fact. Because it is so fine, it is very easy to keep it in nice even rounds and it is so densely packed that it makes a very sturdy basket.
I had only collected a very small amount of grass, so I just made a tiny basket and it didn’t take as long as working with raffia because I wanted the core to be visible.
I was really pleased with the end result, so I have already started to gather more to make some much bigger baskets to put into my shop. I will get some yarn for the job this time too. I would really like to use some Orkney yarn, maybe from the famous North Ronaldsay seaweed eating sheep!
The only trouble with this grass, is that it is tricky to gather. A great deal of it is growing in amongst our willows and with autumn already arriving, there are a lot of leaves tangled up in it. There are also lots of other grasses and wild plants growing in the same place, that have to be avoided or picked out later. My hands (which are pretty tough from 18 years of being a busy mum), were getting sore after a session of pulling this very tough grass. I did consider cutting it instead, but it grows in such thick clumps that it is difficult to get to the base with a pair of scissors.
In my opinion, it is well worth the effort and the satisfaction of working with my own fibres continues to make me very happy in my work.
Our kids are really noticing what I am doing as well and it is so nice to see them gathering their own materials for craft projects and coming up with ideas for how to use the resources around them.
We are just about to start a couple of linked projects on permaculture and the history of crofting, which I hope will reinforce the importance of working with what we have locally and working with nature. For those of you that don’t know, we have been home educating our kids for the past 14 years and I am pleased that they are getting to see an alternative way of living, so that they feel aware of their choices as they grow up.