Since I started working here at New Brewery Arts I've done a lot of things; I’ve set up exhibitions, manned stalls at festivals, led a kid’s ceramics class, made beds, given talks, cleaned sinks, written reports and sent countless emails. But the thing I hadn’t yet done was take part in a workshop.
I’ve often watched our basket making tutor, Susan Early, carry armfuls of English willow into our studio in the morning, and seen workshop participants leave in the afternoon with a beautiful basket in their hands. And so, determined to try something new, it was the willow workshop I decided to try.
By mid-morning cup-of-tea time we all had a base to our baskets and the next stage was to start to move upwards and form the sides of the baskets. Susan was so kind; every mistake I made was simply smiled at and I was made to feel it didn’t really matter (it's only a basket, after all).
I’m sure if I took part on a longer workshop or regular course these things would have been resolved and corrected – but the aim for the day was to make sure we all went home with something.
I was a bit nervous as the workshop started, unsure of what to expect of the day. But the tutor and the other workshop participants were lovely and, after a brief round of introductions, we got going and made a start with the willow.
So where do you start? At the bottom, of course.
As we progressed, slowly but surely, the willow twigs in my hands started to look more and more like a basket.
After lunch in the café we continued weaving our way upwards - for me, this was a simple weaving pattern of “over two and behind one”. Other members of the group tried different patterns and using different coloured willow to change the design of their basket, but I felt happy just getting to grips with the basics. With an hour until the session ended we made a start on the rim of the basket, which is the part I found the most complicated; others added a quick handle to theirs, but I was happy to finish mine simply.
I remembered that I enjoy making, as well as enabling others to make things. And I was reminded of the astonishing amount of activity happening here in our studios every day.
I was amazed at what I had learned in just a day. I’ll never take baskets for granted again. Whilst I’ve used them all my life, I don’t think I’ve looked hard enough at them - I’ve just taken them for granted. Perhaps, unlike ceramics and glass objects, baskets break and rot away – and you don’t see collections of basketry at the V&A. Now I’ll never look at a basket in the same way again.