A beautiful farmhouse, taken over as a military hospital and battery during WW2, abandoned until 1990, slowly being renovated by a carpenter and a basketweaver.
A hand-built Granary in the grounds, holding the first (of what I’m sure will be many) weekend course in the ancient art of weaving, taught by Katherine, who grows the reeds herself on the farm, and her sister-in-law, Dominique, both of whom have been weaving for over a decade, and make it look INCREDIBLY easy, and beautiful.
The first morning was spent creating the base circle, including splitting the centre of the first reeds with a sharp implement, to then cross-secure the other reeds through the middle to create the base. Once the base was complete, the reeds were inserted into the spokes to create the sides, and then set, vertically, against their grain, to get a firm sharp edge and begin the shaping of the piece. They were to be ‘upset’. And we were ‘upset’ by lunch. And on track to be waling by the afternoon.
Lunch was a ‘light’ affair (if that’s light, I daren’t wonder what feast is served up on high-days and holidays) of homemade soup, homemade bread, salads from the garden, local cheeses, fresh fruit and apple streusel.
The waling (or wailing, as I preferred to think about it) formed the base and the bottom of the sides and then, once the corner was turned and a pleasing number of waling rounds completed, the English randing began. As long as I kept in the rhythm of the weave and didn’t speak to anyone, this beautifully elegant effect was pleasing to the eye and the hands as it formed the sides. The next morning, the randing continued followed by the not untimely waling again, to set the height of the finished piece, form a durable upper edge and then work on the handle.
It is worth mentioning here that the Little One had seen fit to remind us of her presence between the hours of 2 and 5am that night, which, as this was the Saturday night following the balloon ride and the 4am Friday morning start, was not entirely welcome. So, by this point in the weekend, the tea and cake were sadly insufficient to keep my sleep-deprived brain on the task at hand. The trials and tribulations involved in BENDING BAMBOO HANDLES against their will and NOT KINKING IT or SNAPPING IT proved too much and it’s fair to say that by lunch on Day 2, I was close to ACTUALLY WAILING.
The patience of Dominique and Katherine is not to be understated here. They dragged me, kicking and screaming, to the final stages of the basket, including the wrapping of the FOURTH ATTEMPT AT BENT BAMBOO handle with willow, more weaving, tidying, trimming, bending, knotting and snipping to put the final finishing touches on it.
I went in with the only experience over 20 years ago on a school trip, and an almightily wonky result still languishing in my oh-so-sentimental Mum’s cupboard… If I managed to create an un-wonky basket, I would be satisfied.
It is a thing of beauty, and I’m claiming the shape, form, undulations and irregularities as ‘organic’ and intentional. A satisfying weekend of wrestling reeds, dunking water-baths, warm tea, homemade cake and continental coffee.
Bliss. Triumphant, wonky bliss.
Katherine and Dominique are just starting to set up a schedule of these weekend basketry courses. There isn’t a website as yet, but if you are interested, get in touch, and I can forward the details to you. Bargainous, scrumptious and productive, all in one weekend!? Excellent.