Day 36: Basket Weaving

I think we can all agree that life these days is stressful and we could all do with finding more time for self-care and relaxation. Trying something new is known to be good for you; trying something new that enables you to switch off totally is all the better! This is exactly what I did on Day 36 of #100DaysNoTV – I joined nine other absolute beginners for an afternoon of basket weaving.

According to the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers, the craft of basket making, or basketry, can be traced back many thousands of years, pre-dating other ancient crafts such as textile weaving and pottery. You can imagine our ancestors gathering their materials and sitting as a group, possibly around a communal fire, quietly weaving and putting their world to rights. 🙂

It’s even easier to imagine this in a place like Wandlebury, just to the south of Cambridge. While it is now a country park, looked after by Cambridge Past Present & Future (CPPF), it has a very long history. Evidence of human activity from the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iron Age and Romans has been discovered. Its most intensively occupied period seems to be the Iron Age with the construction of a circular hillfort beginning around 400 BC.

I am easily stirred by ancient history (can you tell?), particularly when it relates to a place I’ve known since childhood. So, you can see why it was a no-brainer that the venue I chose to try a basket weaving class was Wandlebury!

In all honesty, there is no point in me trying to explain how to make a basket. For a beginner, this is a craft which requires an expert showing you each step – one who is also happy to fix it when you go wrong! So instead, I’ll show you some photos of my progress.

It all began indoors. Some old stable rooms are now the base for an education centre for schools and adult classes, with three separate rooms. The space was perfectly adequate while we made our basket bases, but as you’ll see in the photo further down, we had to move outside for the next stage! (No eyes were lost in the making of these baskets.)

Our baskets were made from willow, and you need rods of varying thickness for the different parts of the basket. You also need a surprising number of rods for each basket. Fortunately, willow grows in abundance on land owned by CPPF, so there were plenty to choose ours from.

After selecting our willow rods, trimming them of leaves and cutting them to size, it was time to construct the foundation of the basket base: the slath. Slaths, stakes, weavers and wales. The vocabulary of basket making was all new to me!

Next, we began weaving the base while separating the spokes evenly and gently bending them upwards to create a slight dome shape. If that sounds complicated, it’s because it is!

Base complete, we went back to the willow pile for slightly thinner rods for our 12 spokes, which would provide the structure to weave the sides of the basket. At this point it was time to leave the stable rooms and find a table outside so that we had enough space to insert the spokes.

To an arachnophobe, it was slightly unnerving seeing 10 of these spider-like creations (yes, I know spiders don’t have 12 legs 😉 )!

It got a little harder to remember what we needed to do once we started on the sides. We were using two different weaving techniques to give an interesting change in pattern up the sides. At various points my mind must have wandered. I got my overs and unders (not technical terms!) muddled and had to unweave a few rows. So frustrating! I’m refusing to look too closely at my basket now as I’m sure I’ll spot a few more mistakes!

Given a choice of a basket with or without a handle, I opted to go with one. Before the sides were too high, we inserted two marker rods to be replaced by the handle later.

The spokes were the last part of the main basket to be weaved, then we trimmed the messy bits, and found thin willow shoots to cover the handle. At this point I realised I’d bitten off more than I could chew with the handle. Despite the class lasting six hours I still didn’t manage to finish covering the handle, but we were able to take some willow to finish it at home. 🙂

After being told that we could plant a willow shoot at home and it would grow, I think we were all keen to give that a go. As advised I’ve popped it in a large pot, as the roots can apparently go a bit crazy and cause damage if planted too close to your house.

Not sure I’ll be using my little basket to carry anything small or heavy; now that it’s starting to dry out I can see some significant gaps appearing! At the moment it’s sitting in my office with an old Winnie the Pooh toy sitting inside it. It may not be a functional basket, but it’s a very happy reminder of a special day spent at one of my favourite places.

Have you ever tried basket weaving? If you’re a seasoned weaver, is it your hobby or profession?

Bye for now!

Emma heart pink slender

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