Willow rope coiling

It’s been nine months since I last worked with willow on the City Lit basketry course. We were supposed to have a couple of willow sessions in the summer term, but of course that was cancelled due to coronavirus.

So I thought it was time for a little revision. First was the base – I had to keep referring to my notes, but it started to come back, and my base was pretty neat (and even slightly domed).

willow basket base

Although the piece was intended as revision, I also wanted to try something new, so I decided to make a shallow bowl using rope coiling. This meant that when I inserted the stakes I didn’t bend them sharply upright but just tied them loosely together.

After securing the stakes in position using four-rod waling, I started on the rope coiling. This essentially continues the four-rod waling, but every time you weave in and out you add another weaver. This means you end up weaving with four or five weavers at a time (new weavers are eventually cancelled by the old weavers running out).

rope coiling

The hardest part was shaping the bowl to rise gently upwards – it’s trickier doing a shallow curve than a vertical side!

I finished with a two-rod border, as the stakes were quite far apart by then.

rope coiled bowl

There were a lot of ends to be trimmed off on both sides!

I’d forgotten how tough willow is on the hands, especially dealing with so many weavers at once. And the bowl is slightly wonky and gappy, as it’s also harder to close up big bundles of weavers.

rope coiled willowrope coiled willow

But I love the movement and rhythm of this weave, so it’s something I’d definitely try again.

rope coiled willow dish

Microbasketry workshop with Rita Soto

On Saturday I took part in an online microbasketry workshop with Rita Soto as part of the Selvedge World Fair.

Rita Soto is a Chilean artist who makes jewellery using basketry techniques. She works mainly with horsehair and agave fibre, producing wonderfully organic wearable forms.

Rita Soto brooch
Brooch by Rita Soto

These materials are traditionally used by the Rari community in southern Chile, where the technique has been passed on through generations, mostly via women.

But ecause horsehair is not particularly common here, we used different thicknesses and colours of fishing line (before this workshop I never knew that fishing line comes in different colours, so that’s another thing I’ve learnt!).

As you can imagine, the tiny scale of this technique makes it a bit tricky to demonstrate on a videoconference platform, but we did our best, with a cameraphone focused on Rita’s hands as she worked. We were also immensely helped by some clear written instructions distributed in advance.

In the two-hour workshop we learned how to start, how to weave a flat disc, and two ways of finishing off, as well as how and when to add “stakes” and join weavers. You definitely need good light and eyesight to tackle something like this!

Here’s what I managed to make during the workshop – a piece smaller than my thumbnail!

After the workshop I decided to experiment with using paper yarn for the stakes, or warp, with fishing line as the weaver, or weft. I also curved it into more of a basket shape. This piece was a bit bigger!

I like the delicate reflectiveness of this technique and material. The light plays beautifully across the surface as you move it in your hands, but this is difficult to capture in photos – it looks more like wire.

I’m not sure at the moment whether I will take this any further, but it’s another material to add to my armoury!

Tiny open weave twined baskets

As a break from precise geometric work, I was aching to have a go at something a little less rigid. Then I saw that Christi York, whom I follow on Instagram, had produced some videos on making open weave baskets.

Her baskets were made from peeled, split ivy (she’s also produced videos showing how to do this). However, I had a go at this but totally failed to split the ivy evenly. (I’ve had similar problems with trying to split willow.)

So I thought I would use some cane leftover from making my cane platter. I’m afraid I didn’t take any photos as I went along not enough hands! 😉  Here’s the result – it’s about 10cm (4 inches) high.

cane garlic basket cane garlic basket

I decided to add a handle on one side so it could be hung up – maybe for keys or a couple of bulbs of garlic.

cane garlic basket

As Christi says in the videos, cane is very regular, which makes it easy to use. So I decided to make another one with more irregular material – cordyalis cordyline leaves.

cordyalis leaves

I have a cordyalis cordyline plant in the back garden – I’m not sure where it came from, as it wasn’t there when we moved in and I’m pretty sure I didn’t plant it! But its leaves are very strong for basketry. They fall off naturally, but sometimes I remove them from the trunk when they have gone brown. I soak them for about an hour in warm water and then wrap them in a towel to mellow overnight.

Here’s the cordyalis cordyline version.

cordyalis garlic basket cordyalis garlic basket

This is even smaller than the cane basket – about 7cm (3 inches) high and 6cm (2.5 inches) across. I used the same number of stakes (9) for each.

Here you can see them together.

two garlic baskets

It was very relaxing to make something more freeform – it was also relatively quick!

Edited to say: Got the name of the plant wrong – should be cordyline, not cordyalis. Goodness knows where that even came from!

Excavated dodecahedron – complete

Finally managed to finish the excavated dodecahedron!

First I made another six pentagonal units.

excavated dodecahedron work in progress

Then I stitched them together to form the second half.

excavated dodecahedron work in progress

Then I joined the two halves to form the complete dodecahedron.

complete excavated dodecahedron excavated dodecahedron

It is a little wonky – it was tricky to get all the pentagonal units exactly the same size. And some of the joining could have been neater, though it was tricky making the final joins, as I had no access to the needle on the back side.

But I’m pretty pleased with it as a proof of concept. 🙂

Excavated dodecahedron – work in progress

I started thinking about other ways I could use the coiling and joining technique I used for my tortoise, and it occurred to me that the tortoise shell was essentially half an irregular stellated polyhedron.

A polyhedron is a 3D shape with flat faces, eg a pyramid. In a stellated polyhedron, the faces, rather than being flat, are extended to form new polyhedra – like a pointy star.

So I thought I would try to make a dodecahedron (12 faces – each face is a regular pentagon). The individual elements making up the tortoise shell were a mixture of hexagons and pentagons, so I already knew how to do this shape.

But instead of making a stellated dodecahedron, where the faces point outwards, I thought I would try a concave or excavated dodecahdron, where the faces dip inwards.

Whether it’s stellated or excavated, the individual units are made in exactly the same way – it’s just that the inside is the “right” side for an excavated dodecahedron, while the outside is the right side for a stellated dodecahedron.

I used the same yarn and pattern as for the tortoise shell, as I had quite a lot of yarn! But I had a brief moment of panic when I discovered that the retailer who supplied the copper wire I used for the core was no longer stocking it! However, I round an online supplier, so all was well.

The first sample units I made were quite deep, with steeply sloping sides. But when I joined two together, I concluded that they were probably too deep. To create a dodecahedron, the units have to fold back against each other , and if they are too deep they may not be able to do this.

dodecahedron sample

So I made the units shallower.

excavated dodecahedron 6 units

Then I joined five units together around a central unit.

excavated dodecahedron 6 units joined

Then I joined the sides to create half a dodecahedron.

half an excavated dodecahedron

Now I just need to make the other half and join them together!

 

Coiled Möbius strips

Do you remember making a Möbius strip at school? You take a strip of paper, half twist it once, and then glue the ends together.

paper mobius strip

The resulting loop has only one side and one edge – if you trace a route around the surface or the edge, you will end up back at your starting point.

I started thinking about how to create a Möbius strip by coiling. And I’m afraid I didn’t take any process shots, as I got carried away by the making!

I started by creating a coiled loop, using string and wire as the core and linen yarn for weaving. After joining the loop, I started coiling the next round above the first loop. But I then moved the coiling down across the loop so that I was coiling the next round below the first loop. This produced the equivalent of the half twist.

After that, I just continued coiling as normal. By turning the loop over or upside down, I could continue to coil in the normal orientation. The original single loop became the central loop, and each complete round of coiling produced a loop on either side of the central loop.

coiled mobius loop coiled mobius loop

I then got more ambitious and decided to try a larger loop with three twists. I used the same core but used knitting yarn for the coiling.

This started out as a bangle, but as I added more rounds the hole became smaller. So to make a bangle I need to start with a larger initial loop or coil fewer rounds. Lesson learned!

mobius loop with three twists mobius loop with three twists mobius loop with three twists

Tortoise bottom

After a break to recover from making the tortoise shell, I started thinking about the base (or “tortoise bottom” as ESP referred to it – oh how we laughed 🙄).

The first issue was how high should it be? My original idea was to have the sides of the base quite low, to represent the idea of the tortoise being close to the ground.

But when I made some cardboard moulds of different heights to see how it looked, I felt that the lid rather swamped the lower bases, so I decided to make a higher base of around 5cm.

I also wanted to make a tortoise design on the bottom of the base, which would be revealed only when the lid was removed. I found a fair few coiled turtle designs in African and Native American baskets, though most of these were round and mine had to be oval.

In the end I created a striped pattern to match the lid.

Base in progress

I kept testing the base with the lid as it grew, to check how the proportions were working.

I wanted the sides to be plain black so as not to distract from the lid, but there seemed to be an awful lot of black as the base grew higher. So in the end I added a small border of yellow triangles to match the border on the lid.

And here is the finished piece.

I will always think of this as my Covid piece, as it occupied most of my time during lockdown! And it struck me that it was rather appropriate in so many ways, evoking a tortoise’s ability to withdraw into itself, seeking shelter and protection.

Stay well!