baskets and other cases

The first creative thing I did in 2013 was go on a basket-making course. I’ve long had an interest in baskets, and when I ended up doing some work on a book about baskets in 2011, it only served to strengthen my interest. I had to satisfy my curiosity, and so I signed up for a one-day workshop with fantastic basket-maker Stella Harding,  author of an inspiring book on basket-making techniques, and creator of many a beautiful thing (not just baskets – she puts her basketry skills to all kinds of uses, from jewellery to sculpture). It was really good fun, and the best bit is, I now have my very own handmade basket to keep wool in! It seems to me that basketry and yarn-based interests go perfectly hand-in-hand with one another. There is no end to the number of lovely baskets I could make to house my wool stash. I see it as the perfect excuse to buy more wool on the one hand, and to make more baskets on the other.

We started off by making enormous willow spiders. The more spokes we put in, the more unwieldy the things became. Fortunately there were only two of us making baskets on that occasion – myself and a colleague from work – in a large studio space, so at the end of the day we and Stella all emerged with our eyes intact. Once the spider stage was finished, we hung the huge leggy creatures on the wall to admire, and it looked as though we had just created rather nice, minimalist contemporary willow sculptures. As nice as they were, though, we soldiered on and set about turning them into usable objects.

Making a basket turned out to be an unexpectedly exhausting activity. I ached all over for days after that workshop, mostly in my arms and hands, but all over in fact. I was surprised by the degree of force required firstly to push willow rods into the base, and then to make every single weaving motion to build the base and sides. I imagine it could be a pretty effective form of exercise (or maybe just upper body building) if one made baskets on a regular basis. It certainly made me feel like a bit of a feebloid.

I admit I felt a bit foolish walking through Deptford and all the way home on the train on my own on a dark winter’s night, wielding a freshly-made basket (that still smelled strongly of damp willow). I do wonder what people thought I was up to. But here is my finished basket, back in its new home! The squares are another story (a happier one than they promised to be, given the difficulty I was having back in November in making square crochet squares), for another post. But doesn’t the basket look lovely, and doesn’t it serve its purpose well? I’m really glad I’d had the forethought to make all those squares in preparation for the basket’s arrival. Now it looks like they were made for each other. Perhaps I’ll have to leave the squares in that unjoined state forever, so that the basket always looks at home.

Then last weekend I encountered another interesting basket. This time, a Roman one that had been dug up at an archaeological site at Marcham, near Oxford. It’s so misshapen that it’s practically impossible to divine what shape it used to be originally, but thanks to a fascinating talk I went to, given by various keen local basket enthusiasts and makers, I learned that it had once been a barrel shape with upright sides, and is in fact an exceptional example of basketweaving, having been made with a very large number of exceedingly fine willow rods. What a find! So – 2013 has turned out to be the Year of the Basket so far, and I’m really quite enjoying it. I wonder where my next basket encounter will take me?