Monday, 14 October 2019

branching out with bits of wood - in which I try willow weaving

sheep and turnips at West Dean, Chichester

'Twas an autumn day when I headed west to West Dean College near Chichester, for an 'art break'.

Having spent the past three months unable to decide where to go and what to do with a week off (even nearly retired people need time off from whatever they normally do....), I hastily booked a course in small scale willow sculpture.

On a whim, you might say.

The whim that I wrote in my diary was that I fancied making a 'nest for words'.......

- a bookish flight of fancy....

I had forgotten that by the time I departed on my travels, and instead carried with me some random bits from the hedgerow and some stone pebbles that look like birds eggs.

I think I fancied myself as a sculptor.

I arrived late afternoon and just had time for a stroll in the gardens before classes began.

a line made by sheep

It was beautiful in the late autumn sun.


Apples and pears clung to the trees in the walled garden.

english apples


A feast of colourful gourds sat quietly in the greenhouse.



west dean gourds



The house was shrouded in plastic and scaffold. A new roof is happening.



west dean college and scaffolding

The gardens are a delight.



west dean garden


But I was here to work.

Hard work for fingers and thumbs.


learning the basics

Lengths of willow to be bent, twisted and cajoled into baskets, balls, wild animals and anything else that took our fancy.

It was not easy.


I kept reminding myself that I was here to get ideas and learn new skills, not to create a masterpiece.

Our tutor was the incredibly patient and perceptive Mary Butcher MBE.

She gently taught us a number of basic basketry techniques; random weave, scalloming and how to make twine from rush stems.




First we had to make a sphere by random weaving.

Each piece of willow had to be wrapped around a hammer handle in its entirety to make it more flexible.

For the first hour or so my sphere was a total mess, exploding from its orbit at every opportunity.



random weave at the stage where giving up seems a good option...



But with Mary's encouragement to keep going I eventually achieved a stable sphere.

What to do with it? 

I have no idea......  

willow sphere using random weave


Everyone's sphere had different characteristics.

My favourite this tight ball containing twigs and conkers.



autumnal willow container


After that we were encouraged to work on our own project.

Not so easy.

I made a sculpture with willow and grasses. Then ruined it by trimming the willow strands.

Into the bin it went.


Time for a nest. This required an open sphere.

loose ends to unravel. frustration station.


Add caption


The pebbles waited patiently.

Eventually they were rewarded with a soft mossy bed to lie in.

a nest for eggs


Time was running out. Others had made baskets with extraordinary neatness and patience.



in the basketry studio


I dabbled with another sculpture, made some twine, wrapped some rosemary with it

and then tied two twigs together with my newly acquired whipping skills.

I have to say that this gave me more pleasure than all of my other creations.

Keep it simple....



my twigs



I am never going to be a basket weaver,  I but might find a way to wrap stones and twigs just because I can......

and I did enjoy making my own twine.....


some of our creations.



I will leave you with some of Mary's beautiful work.

She really is a very good tutor.

Her positivity and patience allowed each individual to work in their own way. Nothing was deemed too difficult.

I was very lucky to experience a class with her.


'Bark weaving' by Mary Butcher





'willow scribble' by Mary Butcher






'when the boat comes in' by Mary Butcher



And next I am going to make a boat......



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