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Basket case! Muddy has a go at willow weaving

Mindful me-time with the bonus of a handmade masterpiece to take home and show off: just two good reasons to try a Making Space to Make workshop.

What an Autumn treat, driving through the Devon countryside armed only with my trusty secateurs for a day-long course, weaving the colours of autumn into a beautiful multi-coloured berry basket.

Making an entire basket in just one day as a novice sounds like quite a challenge but I’m hoping with help from teacher, Jenny Gracie of Making Space to Make, I can nail it.

THE LOCATION

Secretly, I was a tad disappointed that the course is in a village hall, (redolent of cabbage smells, dust, and echoes of Vera Lynn…). Broadhempston Village Hall however, was a revelation. A new, beautiful megalith of a building, straight out of Grand Designs.

The bang up-to-date modern space made adhering to Covid-19 easy, plus Jenny provided all her attendees with their own table, a set of tools and plenty of – much needed – space.

THE LOWDOWN

After graduating from an Integrated Craft Degree, Jenny (above) concentrated her attention on porcelain and basketry. For the last 15 years she has been making willow creations here in Devon.

Initially, her focus was more on live structures (a skill which has been put to good use during lockdown with a spike in demand for living willow structures for Devon gardens) but the primary focus of her business is her true passion, basketry. She’s extremely knowledgeable and regularly attends courses herself to learn new techniques and is clearly of the ethos that learning never ends.

Jenny has developed a willow copse in her own garden which she cuts each year to use in her basket making courses and supplements with Willow from the Somerset flats (and friends’ gardens!)

THE VIBE

Very relaxed, encouraging and friendly. These courses are not just about leaving with a beautiful artisan product made by your own labour but also about having space for yourself, a really good thing for busy minds.

THE COURSE

We begin our basket bases with a ‘slath’ and are walked through the first steps of weaving using a pipe cleaner, so much easier to undo than actual willow! After constructing a firm base we add long ‘whips’ which take full advantage of the social distancing…..

The fun really begins when the unassuming piles of sticks start to grow into little baskets made from a selection of beautiful coloured willows Jenny has prepared for us, including Flanders Red and Dickie Meadows which starts a rather unappetising speckled-black but once dry is the most beautiful soft green.

The final job of attaching the handle with, by then, rather tired hands was a bit of a challenge but the overwhelming sense of satisfaction and of a job well done when I finally picked up my completed basket was fantastic.

I was so blooming chuffed with it I was inexplicably compelled to skip all the way back to the car clutching my beautiful basket like an aged Little Red Riding Hood. Already wondering what I can make next….

THE MUDDY VERDICT

A very meditative, mindful practice and it couldn’t be a better time to learn some traditional skills – take a beautiful basket to the shops instead of the dreaded ‘single-use plastic’ – and when we’re all attempting to consume less and purchase in a sustainable way.

Good for: suitable for all abilities, even those who feel they lack any sense of the artistic; fun with a friend but you would be equally at ease going solo; the gift of a voucher for one of these courses would be an excellent choice for Christmas if your mother/sister really doesn’t want another scarf.

Not for: it’s a long day and a certain level of strength is definitely required in your fingers and thumbs.

The damage: around £70 for a full-day course which would be sufficient time to make the berry basket or a trug; £25-£30 for half-day courses making various designs from bird feeders to plant supports.

Fancy having a go at willow weaving?

Jenny is running a number of Making Space to Make autumn/winter courses, including Giant Willow Stars & Christmas Decs on Nov 12 at Art House, South Brent; Xmas Wreath Making at Broadhempston Village Hall on 10 Dec and Make a Willow Angel at ReStore, Dartington on 12 Dec. Book via makingspacetomake@gmail.com.

Words by Ashley Tremlett.

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