|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.
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|
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.
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....
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......