The Way of the Willow

“Did you make all these baskets?” she asked. “Well keep up the good work” as she walked away.
A phrase innocent and well meant but one that makes the bile rise in my gut! Of course I should be more tolerant and I am more tolerant and I understand why people are unable to see the connection between making baskets and making a living; but this is in fact how I pay the rent, and put food on the table for my children and clothe and school them. It is,of course, my choice to make a living this way and the life has many advantages and I am grateful to be able to spend my days being creative but of course these skills will die out if they are not supported and I don’t mean supported just for the sake of it. The challenge for me is to make a product that people want , what people need and what people value too.
What brought me to basketry was the connection between aesthetics and utility. Baskets are supremely useful, versatile and long lasting. My baskets are made with local and natural products and they are a great way to capture and store carbon from the environment. They are also beautiful objects that somehow reflect not just the colours and beauty of nature but also the fabric and nature of the universe that we abide within.
I will of course try and keep up the good work and reflect on patience and tolerance.
May the Willow spirits be with you!

The way of the Willow

March, it seems, is not such a good time to sell baskets but it is a great time to be cutting the willow and making lots of stock.
Log baskets, linen baskets, bike baskets to name a few have all been piling up in my workshop ready for when the public starts thinking about getting out and about and buying baskets once more. I am glad the weather is warmer but i get anxious as I watch buds developing on the willow and hazel and I know time to cut them is getting limited. On my small patch of land where I grow some of my own willow I have developed and planted another bed. It will be 2 or 3 years before I get anything meaningful from this crop. I have also dug a patch to grow some pumpkins. i have planted the seeds at home inside in pots and am hoping they will germinate and turn into seedlings which i can eventually plant out. I aim to have pumpkins for sale on my Norwich Guildhall stall by Halloween.
I also planted a couple of years ago two apple trees:one eating and one cider. Neither has grown much in those two years and no fruit have developed yet. It would give me such pleasure to pick even just one apple this year.

The way of the Willow

Is this the hardest time of year? Spring time brings promise of new life, warmth and longer days but the winter seems to persist. Working on my stall or in my workshop I feel the cold: I feel the nagging wind and long to be released from the tyranny of my thermals. I long to go bare foot again and enjoy the feeling of soft grass between my toes.
I’ve recently been working at a school teaching some pupils to make a celtic frame basket and this has highlighted the therapeutic qualities of basket making. The youngsters spend an hour and a half each week sitting in the sun weaving these baskets and I noticed how absorbed they have become in the activity. Comfortably chatting with each other or working quietly alone: relaxed yet active. In my life prior to basket working i remember the terrible pressure I experienced to “look busy”. It seemed that I had to be looking at my monitor screen even if I didn’t really have much to do at that point in time. Looking at a computer screen signaled that I must be actively employed somehow. Being an employee meant my employer owned me for the hours he employed me.
Working now I am far more productive in much less time and I no longer have the anxiety of looking busy and can experience the joy of being actively absorbed in something creative.
I try to extol the virtues of this active absorption to those who come on my basket workshop. Basket making allows you to leave yourself behind and engage mindfully in the present moment.
More about basketry and the pursuit of mindfulness in my next blog.

Handmade Willow baskets from Norwich