February sunshine & willow bounty

What an amazing crop willow is. It is so stunning to look at, and then it grows so fast…incredible. A group of us made sure that we cropped suitable material for making baskets with. We also made good headway in cutting back the willow that has been left to grow abundantly but sadly, is not any good for making as it’s too big. Some of us thought about making fencing or hurdles with it but most is going on the bonfire planned for next meet up.Collecting one year growth from the withy bed that we are helping to maintain, in glorious sunshine. Ok so it wasn’t all fun, as my boots can verify. The only suitable footwear was wellies. It’s not called a marsh for nothing. The rewards though were bountiful. Most of us returned home with a good size *tree* ie loads of Withies in the car. We tried very hard to identify the varieties of Salix or viminalis or osiers that we collected but that is a whole new area of research….

Back to basket making, with all this new material now in storage, the community group are using the willow purchased from Somerset suppliers…..however only four weeks to wait before we can try weaving in glorious technicolour…

the idea of foraging for hedgerow material has been discussed and that is the next part of our adventure…

The other skill we are exploring is a technical one …photographing the work in the incredible environs of Lydd church. The light coming through the huge church windows is an inspiration in itself. I need to say that the willow used in this example has come from my allotment and then the final top layer is alder from our garden. It has such a lovely pink / red colour I can’t wait to try and use it again….this is what happens when you start making things from willow and other materials…it becomes obsessive and makes dog walking an exploration of the hedgerows and woodlands.

The unusually warm February weather has meant going to the beach an essential activity too…..


Willow egg baskets and a glimpse of rural Romney Marsh


Truly beautiful, bright, sunny, fresh, crisp morning, couldn’t resist taking a few photos of the quiet countryside before making willow egg baskets. It would have been great to have got at least one photo of some of the birds that were also enjoying this beautiful morning, I did try but wasn’t quick enough today.Photos taken in Brookland, Romney Marsh

The group got creative using steamed willow for the uprights and the upset and could then add some fresh willow, if desired, to weave the sides using a weave called ‘slewing’.

Using a combination of the steamed and fresh willow adds beautiful natural colours.


Learning to make egg baskets. Work in progress…photo taken in the corner of the church dating back to the Roman times.

Learning through making

The weather and the light keeps changing but as soon as there is a glimmer of sunshine I head to the beach

This is a view toward Fairlight Glen which is a magical landscape with sandstone cliffs and waterfalls , you would never believe it held such treasure. I understand that Victorian plant collectors would come here for the ferns.

the third workshop went ahead. The students have learnt how to weave a slew and simple trac border. Only we are having difficulties with the willow we bought at the end of last year. It is was the material that the supplier had in store, it has been difficult to soak and has been breaking a lot. Our students have been very philosophical about this and certainly, knowing the right willow for the job is a skill in itself.

Workshop 5 has involved myself and the class tutor making 5 bases in o Dee to keep our group motivated. We achieved this and we were pleased with the results.

The next workshop will be a chance to secure the uprights and add the upsetting. This will mean there is potential for the group to make a second basket in 3 sessions.

This is a random photograph taken in the valley leading to Fairlight glen , in glorious winter sunshine on Sunday. How do trees do this?

Random photos, slewing and making borders

Ok, so workshops are going ahead….and I decided that in order to be more than one step ahead ….full on basketry is taking place. I have the advantage of plenty of supplies from both the garden and Hambrook Marshes. I usually feel under pressure to use up willow that I’ve soaked but currently, using fresh willow me as that I can leave it out in the garden and it is ready & waiting for the next project.

The sunshine has also inspired me to hard prune the very invasive clematis in the garden. I’m not sure of the variety , it is cultivated version, but it is in plentiful supply. I’m really encouraged by this material, admittedly it does need the outer layer peeling off, but otherwise it is very flexible. I’ve a basket almost totally made from clematis, that I made last year, It is still my favourite 😍

The basket here is a practice slewing weave and learn a four rod border project. Slewing needs an odd number of uprights and is very quick. The sides of the basket are rapidly constructed. I think it is an attractive weave too so, lots of positives. A four rod border is far from easy and I don’t manage it without the help of a good basketry book!

outside the church – before

Inside the church – after the second masterclass was a bit rushed this week. We also discovered the need of a bodkin, especially when your hands are so cold. We were inside the church , as per usual, and coffee and hot chocolate did help us thaw. However, the temperature didn’t help the processes we were trying to achieve, so a bodkin is on order and maybe,,,,some gloves?

I’m using all fresh willow and the base is pretty much all clematis. I’m guessing this means I can call this one a hedgerow basket.

The handle on the egg basket made last week, is no longer secure. The fresh willow handle was a tight fit then, but with the drying out of the handle, it is no longer functional…

. That basket is in need of some attention. …All is in hand….

This is a random photo taken from a 2nd hand book in the church, transporting blooms. Maybe there is a connection….

Blue sky views #coast #marsh

I’ve been making sure to celebrate the sunshine as and when we have it…..this is the view of Romney Marsh from close to Camber Sands and Broomgrove Sands. As I was leaving a huge flock of wild geese appeared on the skyline.

You can hear them on this short film

The first workshop at Lydd church went really well, despite it being colder in the church than it was outside. We took this photo of our basket base on the church stone pillar. It is so nice being in such an inspiring space. There were visitors and all of them were interested to know what we were doing. The Churchwardens are very supportive and allow us hot chocolate and fresh coffee to keep us warm. They like that there is an activity going on in the church.

More sunshine today, has meant more blue sky views and yes…..more willow weaving

Foraging and practising traditional skills

it’s the time of year to make the most of the limited daylight hours. Because willow grows so quickly it’s possible to forage thin weavers but there is also a lot of much bigger material.I’ve decided to test out making baskets from both dried willow and fresh willow. Obviously, the colour will fade but I’m wanting to find out if the structure of the basket is compromised by drying and shrinking material. We shall see….

I’ve decided to use the bigger material for making Catalan platters, they’ve gone down well as gifts. 1year old willow plants are providing enough material to make these lovely platters. They can be used for presenting cheese and other tasty treats, but I’m also enjoying them hung on the wall as a reminder of all the gorgeous colours that are available at this time of year.They can also be used to display beach combing treasures. These were found at Rye Harbour and St Leonard’s bulverhythe beach.

I’m pleased to say that the bird feeders are in good use. The corn dolly design is the most successful and it seems to be squirrel proof! A great design feature. The barrel design is too easily raided so I’ve added more of the bird friendly design, which means that the fat ball lasts a lot longer and we can enjoy watching more wild birds feeding from them. result!

I had a bonfire yesterday evening, burning hedge materials that I can’t use for making. It wasn’t a big fire but gave me an excuse for keeping the fire going while enjoying a clear night sky and it’s constellations. I burned 2 baskets that I made when I first starting making *solo* ie without a n expert on hand to guide me. As you can imagine they weren’t without errors and it was time to let go of them. I gather that burning baskets is like an initiation ceremony, that the baskets have improved sufficiently to let go of the less successful versions. The smell of the willow burning was lovely, one of them had a collection of dried sage in it so even more pungent in the cold night air.

Next week, I start a masterclass weaving session. The idea is that I teach basketry at an easy beginners pace, with the idea that the students then consolidate their learning by teaching another group. Speed, peer learning , I think it could be really good. the first objective is an egg basket made with both dry and fresh willow….it might also be time to forage for some clematis too!

Willow colours and winter challenges

Thank goodness we have had some winter sunshine amongst the gales and storms.

This time of year It is good to be outside (even in the rain) to think about the materials and colour that can inspire our creativity

In addition to the material we were able to bring back from #Hambrook marshes in Canterbury. I’m using material that I’ve grown in the garden and on the allotment

The important thing to remember with willow is that it is essential to cut the year’s growth before the end of the following February.

Our next trip to Hambrook marsh has already been organised for that very reason.

If the trees are left, they grow so fast there is a chance of ending up with a full size tree and no suitable material for weaving. I’m learning all this through being a volunteer and trial & error.

These are the results from this weekend. The bird feeders have provided the colour palette I need to cope with the winter blues and greys! I know that their colour will fade over time , and possibly the weave will dry and shrink. However, so far, they have kept their shape sufficiently and are being given away as gifts. They are proving to be very popular. We had an order for 15, from a very chic shop in Rye, and as a result our community group in Lydd are inspired to develop their basketry skills and the potential for selling their products. A big ambition for this group is to build a cottage industry using local free / low cost resources with the potential for bringing new economies to the town.

I think small willow projects help to build confidence in working with this very special material. I am enjoying trying out using freshly cut willow. This material was cut over 4 weeks ago and left outside in the rain, wind and sleet. It seems to tolerate these conditions and the willow does need to ‘mellow’ before being used ie don’t weave with it straight from the plant.

The Catalan platter is a joy to make from material that’s not quite suitable for making a basket ie too thick, thinner rods are easier. There is a great skill behind cultivating willow so purchasing material from willow farms is always going to be a necessity.

The platter is made using willow from my garden, I’ve so enjoyed having the skills to select out the length and diameter of willow suitable for this project. I find myself thinking about my community group as I make and wondering how we might be able to source enough fresh willow for each of them to make one of these. I think in February I can bring supplies from Canterbury and it will be the perfect time of year to be experimenting with this range of colour.

On a completely different tangent, our new audio trail project is going well. The SaLT project which stands for Stories and Lives Trail, will help to preserve stories and lives from the amazing and rich cultural history of Romney Marsh. We are working with a local designer to produce a SaLT trail postcard to illustrate the ideas behind the audio trail. New research has brought some amazing archive photographs to our attention.

These are the women, who during the 1950’s would launch the lifeboat from Dungeness beach.

I spoke to one of the few women who helped launch the boat and who is still living on Dungeness and volunteering for the RNLI. She remembers the need for using local women’s skills and strength to respond to an emergency at sea. We hope to talk to her more and record her stories & memories in order to include them in our audio guide next year. If you live locally and want to get involved please email or phone us at officeairm@gmail.com or on 01797 367455

We are able to develop our project through the generous support from Heritage Lottery Fund @HLFSouthEast who are supporting us to make this exciting new archive and resource

Cultural and art exchange trip to India

the last few days before setting off on the journey home have been full of colour, sweltering heat and artworks

My sketchbook is almost full and with a heavy heart I’m saying goodbye to our resident cook

The last day of our residency brought an impromptu dance performance and ceremonies of an official government visit. Everyone was served with a fresh coconut for delicious coconut milk drink

And trying to keep my thoughts on how we might work in partnership in the future. The quality of the work we’ve seen has been of such a high standard

And the opportunity to learn skills and to find out about the use of local free resources such as palm leaves, natural colours, shells, wood apple sap, betel nut has been inspirational

We also had the chance to meet artists from around the world who are currently busy making steel sculptures from scrap during the symposium of Odisha Triennial http://otia.org.in/ . This is the first year of bringing new commissions to this part of India and trialling the first open air sculpture park. Exciting new opportunities for the area, engaging with international artists and the new wave of Triennial and Biennial arts festivals. We wish them good luck for their opening ceremony taking place tomorrow!

Coconut shell as a painting surface

We arrived at the studio expecting our request to try and paint using a coconut shell to have fallen between the edges of English and Hindi. But no, 4 small coconut shells were placed on the work mat. Result! The shells have evidently been primed with a type of mud/primer/plaster, very pink and absorbant surface perfect for painting.

Again, our choice of design. I have gone with a 3 sided , the coconut has 3 surfaces, I want to pay homage to the lovely and unusual natural references that I have noted since arriving here, water lily, Ibis, cockerel, macaque.

I start by painting a layer of white paint as a primer and then draw an outline in blue to give a frame for each shape. The asymmetrical quality of the coconut suits my style of working. I will be bringing the main objects out and over the borders and mixing the design in with other motifs and patterns

The tutor really responded to my design and clearly really likes drawing chickens. I have my paint brush snatched from me regularly and so most of the main objects have been done by him. I’m a bit disappointed with the Ibis. I was looking forward to tackling this myself, but ah well we have another nut to transform at the end of the week

these are the final results