Up until now, I have been making baskets purely by trial and error. I think that is a great way to get started – you start to build a connection with what you’re doing and also learn the questions that you need to ask. I also have to consider that we have very little money (getting started with a ‘simple life’ means just that at the moment!), so any resources that I invest in, have to be carefully considered.
There are some skills that I really wanted a bit of help with and two of those areas were shaping and finishing. So last week I finally bought my first basketry book – Rush Basketry, Weaving With Eight Makers, produced by the Basketmakers Association.
I was not disappointed when it arrived, it is a very beautiful book to look through and could be enjoyed by anyone who appreciates beautifully crafted things. It contains some history of the craft, tips on preparation and getting started and instructions on how to make baskets from Felicity Irons, Jane Bradley, Rosie Farey, Brigitte Graham, John Page, Clair Murphy, Ruth Salter and Nadine Anderson.
Although there were other things that I was supposed to be working on, I was so eager to try out some of the ideas, that I got started the next day.
I decided to begin with the tutorial by Rosie Farey, as I fell in love with her baskets some time ago and it was seeing those, that first drove me to try cutting and drying the much smaller common rush from our garden.
I will be trying out all of these baskets with the common rush that I have gathered and prepared myself. I did spend some time considering whether to dig deep and find the money to buy a couple of bolts of rush. I really hope to be able to encourage others to have a go at learning new crafts and not to be put off by the costs of buying tools and materials, so I decided not too. Preparing for and ordering the books for a new block of home education, helped to deepen my resolve!
I briefly dampened the common rush that I was going to use and made a start.
My weaving was very clumsy for the first few rounds of pairing and I found that this much thinner cousin of the rush that is usually used for basketry, was not easy to twist in the same way as described in the book.
I persevered and my work started to get neater as I adapted the method slightly to suit my fibres.
The instructions called for a mould to aid the shaping of the basket. I had a little glass pot that was about the right size and shape, so I tied my work to that.
With the house starting to stir, I packed up for the day, but I still wasn’t happy with the quality of my weaving or the flexibility of my materials.
That evening, I decided to dampen my rush in preparation for the next session of weaving, The book recommended leaving the larger rush in a wet cloth overnight. I used an old swaddling muslin and carefully tucked the rush in, popping the unfinished basket in as well.
By the following morning, the rush was nicely mellowed and much easier to work with.
I started weaving again, but found that my basket kept slipping on my mould. I tried tying it tighter, but it made no difference and I put it down to the glass being too slippy for the job. I decided to take it off and carry on without it.
I could see within a couple of rounds that taking it off the mould had affected it’s shape, but I was quite pleased with it anyway, so I carried on.
The instructions on how to reduce the size of the basket to close the opening, were really helpful, as were the instructions for working the border. I was a bit concerned that my tiny blades of common rush would not be up to the considerable pulling that was needed to make a neat finish on the border, but thankfully none of them snapped!
I struggled to find something that was the right size for inserting into the basket while it dried. This apparently helps to make a nice even opening. I eventually settled on a cork and left it to dry out overnight.
The cork did it’s job and I was really pleased with the end result. I know that it is filled with faults and that it is not the right shape at all, but it was a wonderful learning experience and I think it has a charm of it’s own.
It is also surprisingly strong and solid, for something that is made out of such tiny blades and it has deepened my resolve to use the natural materials available here.
The rest of my week had to focus on lesson plans for the coming two months of homeschool and preparations for a sixteenth birthday, but I am looking forward to trying another project from the book and learning some more techniques that I can apply to my own work.