A Basket Case

I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so.  One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell.  With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket.  Here was my mission:

Forage a Basket

Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.

This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well.  And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials.  img_6431-2blogWe gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow.  We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.  img_5231-2

Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers.  The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length.  We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove.  Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source.  We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants.  The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green.  Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising.  img_5235-2Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes.  It was lunchtime………

After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets.  Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone.  We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame.img_5239-2  All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.

We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone.  Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread.  Bimg_5237-2efore long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border.  I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles.  However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer.  I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. img_6497 Putting the handle on was a doddle.  All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others.  Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some.  What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping!  What a fun day!

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Not Exactly Silver Bells and Cockle Shells

At the end of half term week we take the girls back to Hackney.  Emsie cooks us a delicious roast chicken dinner then we head back to Winterborne Kingston.  A sustained interval of visitors and visiting has drawn to a close.  We face a month in our Dorset home before we repair to St Vaast at the beginning of December to prepare for Christmas.  I have many tasks I would like to tackle, some are long-standing and involve rooting out cupboards, weeding out drawers, organising and arranging the trappings of my life.  Above all I want my garden back.  I began to lose it in April and May.  By the end of June when we returned from France after our three week sojourn in the south of France I had acquired a wildflower meadow.  The borders had run rampage.  Fortunately I had made the decision back in May to vacate many of my pots and leave them with montages so I did not have many dried out and shrivelled plants to dispose of once autumn arrived.  There is a resident in the village who is a keen gardener and grows an assortment of plants which he sells and gives the proceeds to charity.  I walk round to Broad Close to see what he has to offer and buy small Viola, Primula, Wallflowers and small Cyclamen.  I spend £40 and get all the plants I need to populate the pots I have waiting in the wings, some of which, with bulbs, will be overplanted.

Out of the blue I get a message from Barns enquiring whether we will be about over the weekend of the 12th. img_6426 Fortunately we will although I have committed the Saturday morning to a pro-EU group who are running an Outreach stall in Bournemouth.  This will be my first experience of lobbying, in a minor way, out on the streets.  Meanwhile Barney and the children will join Nick for the village walk during the morning.  After my ‘reaching out’ I get home before the others return after their pub lunch.  The rest of the weekend is spent playing games, eating good food and on Sunday we do a walk in the morning which does push me to my limits.  Barns proposes we drive to Worth Matravers, walk to St Alban’s Head, along the coast to the cliffs above Chapman’s Pool and back to the car.  This entails those nightmare steps which need to be negotiated in order to cross the deep valley running down towards the coast.  We count 217 down and about 180 up the other side but there is a stretch of unstepped slope on the up side.  I complete the ‘crossing’ having found it extremely taxing.  (My leg muscles will ache for at least four days afterwards).  After a delicious slow-roasted shoulder of lamb Barns loads the kids into the car with all their clean laundry and drives the back to Oxfordshire ready for school the next day.

A relatively uneventful week ensues, culminating in a pleasant inaugural lunch at The Old Workshop to launch Splinter, a somewhat conspiratorial group of erstwhile village book group members.  Four of us eat my quick version Paella followed by Lemon mousse, choose our first joint title to read for discussion and decide on other titles that we have variously either read, or intend to read and which we will talk about as and when.  The following day I am going to drive to Sandford Orcas to forage for a basket with Kim.

A Willow Deer and Adventures with the Little Dears

After successful workshops run by Kim Cresswell in which I have crafted a badger (which looks more like a hog) and a Goose (which does look like a goose) I am challenging myself because I have signed up for a weekend at the end of which I will hope to have woven a willow Roe Deer.  By way of preparation I need to supply some photos of the deer species, and the posture, I am hoping to achieve.

As with the other two workshops I try to imagine how we will get started, and fail.  The secret with this particular animal, given that is larger and will need to be more sturdy on long legs, is to build a wooden frame.  But even that I stumble over.  I succeed in constructing my frame arse about face.  That is the horizontal struts destined to form the basis for the neck construction end up at the rear end on my frame.  But never mind, Kim says that I can work round this.  At the end of the first day I have built the bare bones of my animal with a primitive neck and head framework in place.  img_5205-2blogKim ensures that, with timely and expert intervention to make sure we do not lose sight of the animal we are trying to create, we all reach the same point of completion before we go home.  The second day will be taken up with fleshing out my animal, creating density, muscular definition and a recognisable head.  At the end of the afternoon it is time to pack up and load our animals into their transport.  My roe deer, the smallest of the animals just fits into my estate car.  Kim provides me with a bundle of sticks and a few canes of stripped willow to complete the finishing touches.  On the journey home I wonder where my roe deer is going to live.  Once unloaded Nick places the deer under the porch, facing the front door.  This seems ideal because it is dry and this will preserve the willow until I am able to treat it.

Later that evening Dan arrives with Lola and Ruby.  The Hackney duo are going to spend half term with us.  During the week we will do some collage using my cache of greetings cards, we will make pom poms, they will collect pebbles at Lulworth Cove and I will enjoy a trip with them to the cinema to see Dr Strange.  The film comes out of the Marvel Studios stables, and is in a genre with which Lola is very familiar.  She gives an occasional and informed whispered commentary on the background to films based on Marvel Comics.

On the last day in Dorset we plan to go and see the Floodlit Gardens at Abbotsbury, as we did last year.  They enjoyed it very much then.  The plan is to go to Weymouth for Fish and Chips at the Marlboro (this was a disappointment and we won’t go there again) but it all unfolds somewhat when we get there and find we have to wait for a table and then with the realisation that 8.30  p.m. closing time means the gardens must be vacated at that time, rather than the entrance gates closing at that hour, we have little more than an hour to enjoy the activities on offer.  The girls spend an extended time in the Bugfest tent which barely leaves us time to make a quick tour of the gardens to enjoy being scared.  The scary features are, I think, a bit better i.e. scarier than last year but we barely get our money’s worth.  If we do this event next year we will plan things differently and either do the gardens first and go for F and C after, or perhaps better take a superior picnic to eat under the marquee provided.