Always had something of a fetish for baskets – they’re just strangely pleasing to see and I get a thrill from some of the more odd shapes, especially pack panniers. They’re also a great, attractive eco-alternative to plastics for storage of all kinds of things, that you can make yourself – kiddies toys, eggs, laundry, your sock-balls etc. I am actively trying to rid my home of plastic, so it was high time I went and learnt this skill. After having put it off for years, imagining it to be a difficult skill to master which would take many hours, I was pleasantly surprised by how quick and easy it is to get passable results within a handful of hours. Of course, you can take it as far as you want and apply creativity, let baskets take over your life in the quest for more and more elaborate colours and designs…or you can just make workaday baskets to hold stuff.
(my first basket in situ: I have free range hens and tend to find nothing for a while and then a treasure trove, then it’s egg roulette when you use them as to how long they were hidden for…)
Our ancestors weren’t daft in the pre-oil age; baskets are made from common things which grow quickly and in abundance, such as willow and brambles, so even if your baskets wear out quickly it really is just a case of going for a walk, identifying whips that suit your purpose and snipping them off to take home. They only need to be stored dipped in a pond or some other wet place like a dustbin perhaps, and the tools are extremely simple so as craft hobbies go, it’s actually one of the more low maintenance, space-saving ones imo!
I went for my course at Wild Harvest which is local to me near York. The course was extremely cheap (£45ish) and teaches you everything you need to know to complete a simple basket in one day, with all materials and hot drinks provided. You also get to hear the amazing story of the owner Di Wood, who raised her children by herself off-grid in the woods, and that’s just the start of her adventures!
(Every single basket is a piece of art, isn’t it: that bit in the middle anchors it all together and then the willow whips ‘chase’ around it)
There was a meme going round recently (probably still is) which talked about feeling your ancestors knitting along with you as you do. Your sitting and stitching is the wonderful continuation of millennia of tradition, of people doing and making for themselves rather than sitting, maws open, waiting for the capitalism to feed them. Sorry I might have got carried away there because I feel passionately about not being robbed of our ability to look after ourselves, so we remain free, which is part of the ethos of Wild harvest itself – ‘self reliance’ – but my point was that I particularly enjoyed the tradition of it. I’ve spoken before about my love of collecting evocative words which have slipped out of use, and basketry has been a rich seam to mine, with ‘Randing’, ‘Fitching’, ‘Slewing’, ‘Slyping’ and ‘Slath’ to add to my collection!
(My finished basket – can’t wait to make more!)
As mentioned, the work itself was simple to pick up, merely a case of selecting the right sized rods for the different elements and remembering simple patterns (with a tutor on hand to set you right if you forget!) and notching, snipping and bending. By the end of the course, sure enough I had my basket which has been treasured ever since and survived a few months of various uses. If you missed the link to the course earlier, here it is: Wild Harvest Basket Making Course