For those who have been following my slow initiation into the World of Handmaking, you know that I’ve had a long yearning to make baskets! Last summer, I even tried teaching myself using wild grasses from my garden (and the internet).
This past weekend I had the enormous fortune to study basketmaking with a master. Like many geniuses who hide away in the forest, Joan Carrigan lives on our timid little island and is one of the world’s greatest (and sweetest) teachers of this ancient artform.
This two-day workshop took place at Jane Stafford Textiles, a gem of a venue, founded mostly for weavers. The walls are lined with elegant looms under a rainbow spectrum of threading spools. Jane’s hospitality was above and beyond anything I expected, warming our weekend with sweetness and luxury.
The moment the reeds were in my hands, I felt a deep familiarity. Of course there was a learning curve as I tried to discipline the reeds, but for the most part I felt I’d done this with my womenfolk for lifetimes. The only thing missing was our weaving songs.
Joan’s teaching style was so clear with experience that I felt guided at every proverbial and literal turn.
Once I learned the 3-rod-whale weave, I was unstoppable – my fingers flew and my mind went silent. By the end of our first day together I had something that very nearly resembled a basket being born.
The next day, Joan introduced us to her wild collection of natural materials. Other than the reeds, which are native to Asia, Joan harvests all her own materials, plucking wild rush from the lake in her canoe, making alliances with tree fallers for sustainable cedar bark, and twining seagrass by hand.
Here you can see I’ve created a band of twined seagrass and two rows of red cedar bark.
Next I attempted a technique called French Randing, which is a diagonal weave using short, flat reed pieces.
Before I knew it, I had made a beautiful basket which I’ll cherish forever.
Heart and Hands
It’s amazing how mysterious handmaking seems until we put our intention to it and realise that these ancient technologies live in our bodies and, with some gentle guidance, our heart and our hands can be coaxed back into remembering their symbiosis.
I am so deeply grateful for Joan’s teaching, which has returned this language to my fingers. I’ll never look at my autumn garden the same again!