Transition Stroud

This is a shared history blog. Together we can write the history of our process of transition as it happens.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Wonderful willow


I've just spent a fab day making a fruit basket from hedgrow plants. By selecting a variety of different plants you can have a striped red, yellow and green basket--made in a day but that will last for years and give you huge pleasure! Somerset is the home of willow crafts and we also used farmed willow which has been produced on the Somerset levels (where they are called 'withies') for thousands of years.

Basket-making is, of course, an ancient craft. One of our teachers, Sheila Wynter, explained that cavemen got tired of only being able to carry what they could hold in two hands and so invented the technique. To carry water they then lined the baskets with clay which is how pottery came into existence. Archaeologists have found example of pots with the imprint of woven baskets.

The ancient craft has its own lore and language. You begin with the 'slath'--a base made by binding 6 strong, stoutish sticks together firmly and then you carry on with a 'pairing weave', using fine rods to separate each base stick to form a spoked-wheel shape. Before inserting uprights to make the sides you have to 'slype' them--which means making a pointed end.

You can also tell that the craft comes from a time when we lived in harmony with nature. The techniques involve a relationship with the natural materials: the withies are humanised, being described as having a belly and a back. You work with the grain of the natural material - using the bend to create the shape you want in your work, just as you would in wood-working. This experience of fitting in with the rhythm of nature is a key part of the Transition process and something that all rural crafts can teach us.

Both teachers came with a basket full of well-used tools, including a horn of tallow (for more on this magical craftsman's material see this post to my Gaian Economics blog). If you'd like to make your own basket or seat a chair or stool with rushes book up for Sheila Wynter's courses on 19th-20th April and 3-4th May. (Send a cheque for £30 as a deposit to 4 Trinity Road, Stroud, GL5 2HX. The total cost is £95 including lunches and refreshments.)

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