Spring is the time for new beginnings…at Lydd we have been learning to crochet baskets! One of the group members is really very good and she has been guiding us beginners, very patiently. We have all made at least one basket, some of us just need to crochet the handles and we have started crocheting a bag.

This could be the beginning of a social enterprise. We now need to learn how to spin ‘Romney Sheep’ wool and use the yarn we have spun to crochet baskets and more!

The word crochet comes from a french word, ‘croche’, meaning hook. Crochet still remains a hand-craft and has been around since the early 19th century, Europe, it was known as ‘shepherds knitting’.

Queen Victoria leaned to crochet and crocheted scarves for the veterans of the South African war.

By the 1920’s – 1930’s people across England had become ‘hooked’ and were crocheting hats, gowns and other garments.

During and after the war crochet was popular, women would crochet items for the troops and also collars and other accessories to give a fresh new look to their clothing.

The 1960’s and 1970’s saw the creation of the ‘granny square’ and crochet really became fashionable. Granny squares can be different sizes and are a good way of using up part balls of wool. They can be joined together to make blankets, clothing and accessories and homeware, such as cushion covers.

The largest ‘granny square’ blanket, in the world, was made in 2015. It measured 3,133 square metres. It was made as part of the ‘Mandela Day Celebrations’.

Information found on; Wool and the Gang Blog, A Brief History of Crochet, 2015.

New beginnings…

A perfect example of nature showing us how to make the very most of foraged materials. What a wonderful example of a ‘foraged Easter nest basket’, complete with eggs. The number of eggs in a clutch can be between 3 and 8.

Swans usually stay loyal to their partners for their lifetime. They will find another partner if one of them dies or they have a nesting failure.

If you have been lucky enough to see them with their curved necks making a heart shape, then you have seen part of their mating dance.

The male, (cob), is larger, has a bigger ‘blackberry’ on his beak and a thicker neck than the female, (pen).

The male helps with the nest building, sitting on the eggs and raising the cygnets. He will rear-up flapping his wings if he senses a threat, while guarding the nest. I witnessed this behaviour a few days ago when Fizz decided to join me in admiring the nest in the photos. When Fizz moved away and he settled down.

Fizz in the wheat field.

Swans are related to ducks and geese. Unlike swans, ducks often have an extra partner to produce extra offspring.

Could this be the extra partner?

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Another basket!

The students at St Mary in the Marsh are making good progress. Their basic weaving skills are improving each week. I feel, they are becoming much more confident in themselves as they find it easier to work with the willow.

Having successfully finished making a random weave Easter ‘nest’ basket and, this week more practising making willow fish with a tighter weave and also creating some super willow stars, they are now keen to have a go at making a small egg basket.

Made by Ollie, age 9 years

Super stars and catch of the day!

Foraging for local materials has highlighted our collective lack of knowledge of ‘how to identify the plants we find in the hedgerows on the marsh?..’ Blackthorn has always been at the forefront of our experience. It has featured and continues to feature on Romney Marsh as a method of dividing up land for sheep farming. In 2016, the artist Kelvin Pawsey’s artwork illustrated the use of blackthorn as early sea defences, his work was located in the churchyard of St Thomas a Becket in Fairfield.

However there are many plants that can be found in our hedgerows and we have over the winter months identified hazel, alder, wild clematis, bramble and honeysuckle as useful for decorating and adding structure to our exploration of weaving methods. Thank you to Discover the Wild from their great online resources….

obviously Spring buds and seed heads from willow and hazel are decorative but also short lived. We have chosen to add them into our designs for a temporary but really lovely way to celebrate the plants that, in the 21st century modern way of life, can go overlooked.

We are also aware of the very expert weavers we have all around us in the form of wild birds and their ability to make the most beautiful and well foraged examples of ‘nest’ baskets, as illustrated here by a flock of rooks!. These we can only attempt to replicate!

We are building our reputation for making locally, and this month we have had an offer of some free viminalis. Romney Marsh visitor centre have been doing some pruning at their site in New Romney and have very kindly offered us the material. When these sort of generous offers come along, it allows us to think BIG. So hopefully the next series of free workshops will be plant supports. Just in time for the seasonal preparations for growing runner beans and sweet peas, on the allotment? or in our gardens

Of course, another form of inspiration, comes in the form of excellent publications like this one. This copy is published by the Basketmakers Association and is very recent and full of lovely designs.

Community partnerships and sustainability

One of the students at Lydd had been inspired after visiting a garden centre and spotting some willow sweet-pea planters. After sharing her photos with the group we scratched our heads, bounced some ideas around and shared our knowledge and skills gained through attending the sessions regularly to help and support, not one but two students transform their part woven, two colour baskets into sweet-pea planters.

I really love the lighter colour simple trac border, achieved by using light colour uprights, against the dark weave.

We are all looking forward to seeing them full of sweet peas!

Also, across the Romney Marsh, we were not the only ones busy weaving and getting ready for planting…

Will it be a basket?

The foraged Easter baskets have been a really good ‘starter’ project to introduce willow to our new students at St. Mary in the Marsh.

This week they added the finishing touches to their Easter baskets, adding a few more ‘foraged’ weavers to complete the random weave basket and then a handle. They look great!

We put the Easter baskets aside and practised making willow fish to help the students further develop their basic weaving skills.

Next time we will practise weaving more fish before moving onto making willow stars.

Across the Romney Marsh this past week I have enjoyed watching the birds pairing up while out walking in the fog, wind, rain and sunshine with my little faithful friend, Fizz.

On a foggy morning, in the middle of a field in Brookland, the turning wind turbines on the Romney Marsh are just visible.

Fizz, still looking for the troll?

Willow fish

Our workshops and projects have had a main theme of using local resources, foraging, gleaning and returning to skills and knowledge that would have been used by our ancestors.

We have also come across many *soft outcomes* since starting on this journey in 2017. Those are the benefits to well being, mental health and social inclusion ie some of our students found working with other people and spending regular time learning as a social opportunity, really worthwhile.

Our latest designs have Easter in mind. Bay leaves have given the work yet another sensual dimension. The church is another inspiration, and now that we are through the winter, we feel we will no longer be * suffering* for our art. The temperature inside the church is now much easier on us đź‘Ť

Developing a skills base to look toward generating social enterprise

At Lydd some of the group were busy adding some dark weaving to the baskets they started last week with dark bases and lighter uprights.

We welcomed back one of our members who we haven’t seen for a while, lovely to have her back. She accepted, along with another lady, my offer of a ready made base, rather than making their own. I think they were keen to catch up with the others.

Busy basket makers, All Saints, Lydd.

We have been continuing with our foraged Easter baskets at St. Mary in the Marsh, they have grown some, going to hold lots of little chocolate eggs. We will add handles next week.

Meet Fizz my 2year old Patterjack. Fizz is rather camera shy, she spends most of her time with her nose to the ground!

Waiting for the troll…

Fizz living her best life!

These gorgeous young bulls seemed keen to meet Fizz. They came running over to the gate as we stopped to take a photo. Fizz was wasn’t taking any risks and took a few steps back from the gate. I must admit I was tempted to follow, I was wearing a red jacket! I’m glad I didn’t, they came right up to the gate, close enough for me to touch them. They were very interested in Fizz but she was staying away, and after a couple of minutes they started to walk off.

Brookland, Romney Marsh.

More willow weaving and Fizz!

Great to have a day without rain and strong, blustery winds. Fizz, my patterjack, and I enjoyed a pleasantly warm walk this morning. I could hear a wood-pecker in the trees, as I often do, but couldn’t see it today. A couple of days ago I heard and caught sight of two ‘greater spotted’ woodpeckers in different trees, but try as I did I didn’t catch them on camera. They did move and fly around but stayed high up in the tress and although Fizz is fairly patient she is a nose-twitching terrier always keen to get her nose to the ground…not willing to stand around for too long.

The group made some really lovely Easter baskets using a ‘random weave’ with foraged willow, honeysuckle, ash and bay leaves.

We were a little low on numbers this week with a couple of our members being tied up with other things. We shared our foraged materials and it was great to witness group members sharing their skills and experience, gained through regular attendance, with new or less experienced members.

On my way home last week in the wind and the rain, I stopped several times to take some photos, to share with you, of some of the things I love about the Romney Marsh and some of the things I just cannot believe people think it’s okay to do! What do you think? Photos taken from my car.

Say cheese!

Just adorable,mummy ewes sheltering their lambs from the strong winds.

Random daffodils

All of this in a distance of approximately 5 miles and a re-cycling centre not far away.

On a much happier note, we started a new, six week trial, willow weaving sessions in the church at St. Mary in the Marsh this week. The group will meet on a Monday afternoon, with three attending yesterday. Next week we are hoping to have two more who were unable to attend this week.

Keen and eager to get started on making a foraged Easter basket they made good progress in this first session. We hope to finish them next week adding some materials they have foraged!

Foraging, fly-tipping and Fizz…

It’s been very, very windy across the Romney Marsh for the best part of a week now, still foraging though…Have seen a few trees up-rooted while out walking and also small pieces of twigs being blown around, luckily none have hit me or my dog!

My daily dog walking walks with my patterjack terrier have now become foraging walks with my patterjack. She waits patiently while I check out the hedgerows and I wait patiently, (still checking out the hedgerows), while she goes about her business.

Some examples of foraged materials from the hedgerows, Romney Marsh

The group have been making bases for their next basket.

We are hoping to gather enough foraged materials between the group members to weave into our baskets to add interest and colour.

Hazel added to the handle

Stripping wild honeysuckle, foraged on the Romney Marsh.

Still foraging…

We have been busy recording interviews with local people and working with actors voices to bring the cultural history of #RomneyMarsh back to life.

Our visits have included going to talk to one of the women volunteers who used to help launch the Dungeness lifeboat. This included going out, with babies and young ones in tow, in the worst storms and wild weather imaginable. The children would be deposited in the boat shed and then the women were expected to place the heavy wooden launching boards onto the shingle beach. The lifeboat would then be ready to launch. Our audio trail will feature stories like these, from local people and about marsh experiences.

We are also working with actors and volunteers to read passages from creatives who have lived, worked and been inspired by Romney Marsh such as HG Wells, Noel Coward, Paul Nash, Russell Thorndike and more

E Nesbit was a prolific writer who found her gift for writing books for children. We have been visiting community groups to find out what and if local people, are aware of her as an important cultural figure.

We were invited to attend a lovely coffee morning at New Romney Library where we celebrated the work of E Nesbit and discussed the reason she wasn’t known by her full name of Edith.

I’ve been purchasing second hand copies of her books at abe.co.uk, as we are planning on providing a lending library in local villages when our SaLT trail is launched this summer. Some villages have set a book swap box in unused telephone boxes , we are thinking of using our Looker’s hut. The idea is that you start with a collection of books and the books are free to take as long as one is added to the collection in return. We will be the organisation to set the ball rolling , our books will be by or about the artists, writers and composers that we are celebrating in our SaLT trail.

Some of the books I’ve bought online are such lovely copies I know I’m going to find it hard to part with them. I’ve also become a fan of E Nesbit’s work, only previously associating her with the film The Railway children . I’m totally in awe of her capacity as a writer and her involvement in setting up the Fabian Society. I would like to work toward having a permanent representation of her on the marsh. I can’t bear the thought of her being lost and forgotten as her books become ‘out of print’ and her contribution to children’s literature overlooked.

I hope Edith and her work withstands the test of time…….

Thank you

For supporting our project

Celebrating E Nesbit & the test of time