I have wanted to learn to make baskets for a long time, but life with five children can be busy and somehow years have gone by without me prioritising the time to do it.
Just before we moved to Orkney, I was taking part in a craft fair and the stall next to mine was a traditional willow basket maker. He sat and made baskets throughout the three days that we were there and I was fascinated. It renewed my drive, to give it a go.
I think that after the exhausting few months of relocating our life to Orkney, I could easily have become distracted from basket making again, but being immersed in nature as we are here, has made me passionate about working with it. We decided that on the second year, we would plant some basket making willow on our land, because I really wanted to be able to gather my own materials. But as I walked through the wild plants that fill our landscape, I started to wonder which of them I could weave with. I knew that traditional Orkney baskets were made with whatever was to hand, commonly grasses and dock stalks.
So I started to look into basket making with more unusual materials and found that there are very talented basket makers using all kinds of foraged materials to make stunning baskets.
That was it for me, I was totally hooked. I have been trying out coiled baskets with our kids using raffia, but as I was clearing the fading leaves of the daffodils, I realised how similar they looked. So instead of putting them on the compost heap, I tied them into bundles and hung them all around the house to dry out.
While I was waiting I made a new coil basket, this time with handles. I was really pleased with it and decided that I would take the plunge and start making simple baskets to sell in my Folksy shop, building on my skills as I go and switching to hand foraged materials as soon as I has some.
It is so easy to put things off to another day, I often find that you just have to decide to do something and start straight away. Otherwise the momentum is lost and a hundred other jobs will take priority.
Meanwhile, I am learning more about basket making everyday, but I didn’t want to miss out on the opportunity to gather some of the wonderful materials from our garden. I am very conscious that gathering wild materials is a very seasonal business.
I was delighted to find that our little bit of land is covered in honeysuckle vines, which make beautiful white baskets, but I apparently need to wait for autumn to harvest those. So for now I can just enjoy their beautiful blooms that are just starting to appear.
I had a feeling that now was the time to start gathering stalky plants and grasses, while they have already lost their seeds and are at their tallest. We have many wild areas in our garden and they are full of a lush variety of wild plants. I decided to gather plantain stalks (which I had read were good for weaving), sorrel (not wood sorrel, but the kind that is a part of the dock family) and red clover (which grows to an enormous size here).
Wren came gathering with me, practising her scissor skills and collecting her own materials to make a wild collage. We only managed to work a very small area of land before it started to rain, but already we had found a considerable amount of what we were looking for.
I brought them inside and while Wren was busily sticking her clover heads to paper, I started to remove all of the heads and leaves from my hoard. I tied them into small bundles and hung them up in the airing cupboard, being careful to label them, so that I can see which work best.
I think that ideally you are supposed to dry stalky plants like this on racks, but I don’t have any yet and I am not going to let that put me off.
My daffodil leaves are already dry and I shall be wrapping them in paper (initial tests at weaving have worked well), to store them until I need them, along with some pampas grass.
I think that I will soon have taken over the house with my foraged materials, so I will have to work out somewhere else to put them. Matt has promised to make some room for me in his workshop for now. I will be out today gathering more, so that I have plenty to work with over the winter.
I am so excited to be learning this new skill, it seems to fit so perfectly with our new life here and I can’t wait to see where it takes me.