Willow bark basketry with Maggie Smith

I’ve just returned from a three-day workshop on willow bark basketry with the wonderful Maggie Smith. Having worked with neither willow nor bark before, I was slightly worried, but Maggie’s work is fabulous so I couldn’t pass up the chance.

baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith baskets by maggie smith

We started by learning how to strip the bark from willow, with a knife, willow brake or by pounding. Easing the bark off around joints or knots without tearing it can be tricky!

maggie smith stripping willow

But by lunchtime on the first day we had all started to pile up little rolls of bark. The colour of the interior was amazing, ranging from pale yellow to chartreuse green to deep orange. However, this colour does tend to fade as the bark dries.

willow bark stripping willow bark rolls

Maggie told us to discard any preconceived ideas about what we wanted to make and study the bark very carefully to see what was suggested by the marks and texture.

willow bark exterior willow bark interior

I liked the arrangement of holes on one of my pieces of bark so decided to make a pouch consisting of a random weave container wrapped in a whole piece of bark.

The next day we learnt how to cut the bark into even strips, and I started making my random weave piece around a sawdust mould.

willow bark random weave willow bark random weave

Then I cut the whole piece of bark to length, punched holes in it and wrapped the container, stitching on a handle to keep it in position.

willow bark random weave

I left it to dry overnight and the next day managed the tricky task of removing the mould without damaging the bark!

As I had a bit of time left, I also made another coiled piece, using different widths of willow bark strips.

willow bark coiling

Here are the two final finished pieces.

willow bark baskets by Kim Winter

And here are some of the wonderfully diverse and inspiring pieces produced by other students in the class.

willow bark baskets willow bark baskets

Even better, I managed to add willow bark to my cordage collection!

willow bark cordage

 

Lines and Fragments by Tim Johnson

tim johnson little bags

“Understanding particular properties of particular plants during identification, harvest, processing, selection and finally making not only equips ourselves for making tasks in hand but also gives us a deeper connection to place and its complexity.”

The artist and basketmaker Tim Johnson has spent the past 25 years exploring the relationship between place and material, as this exhibition at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham makes clear.

Take the series of 42 little bags simply hung in three rows on the wall (and I would happily take them, every single one). It’s a fascinating display of sampling – the same technique with different materials, or the same materials with different techniques. Each one is absorbing in its details and range of possibilities.

His 2D Lines and Fragments series also incorporates found objects as well as earth pigments, dried herbs and fruit.

tim johnson lines and fragments

And his Curve series moves on with willow and earth pigments to develop the 3D form.

The Cortina works play with light and shadow – I particularly like the use of dried bean pods here.

Another one used yellow plastic coated wire.

My favourite pieces were  the Keeping Time baskets.

I particularly loved the cross sections of the bulrushes when close up.

Tim lives just outside Barcelona with another basketmaker, Monica Guilera, and there were some collaborative pieces on show.

It was also interesting to see some of the sources of his inspiration, including a squashed lampshade found in the road. 🙂

Lines and Fragments runs at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham until 31 August 2019.

Cyanotype workshop

Cyanotype is a photographic printing process made without a camera. Objects are placed on a light-sensitive surface and then exposed to ultraviolet light. The result is a cyan (blue) silhouette – hence the name.

The process was discovered by Sir John Herschel in 1842, but the most famous user was probably the botanist Anna Atkins, who published a series of books of cyanotype prints of algae.

I was intrigued, then, to attend a cyanotype workshop at the weekend with Helen Dixon at Bainbridge Studios, to find out how the process is being used by modern day artists.

We started by preparing our own light-sensitive paper by coating it with a mixture of potassium ferricyanide and ferric ammonium citrate and leaving it to dry in the dark.

coating cyanotype paper

Helen had prepared some paper before the workshop, so we used this to experiment with photos we had sent in advance. The photos had been converted to negatives, and we made a few prints changing the UV light source and the exposure times.

After exposing the negative, the parts of the paper that were exposed to light look much darker. When we washed the paper with water, it turned blue.

rinsing cyanotype

The colour will continue to intensify by itself (rather like indigo oxidising!), but you can speed up the process by spraying with hydrogen peroxide.

spraying cyanotype with hydrogen peroxide

This is the original photo I sent, of a hazelnut cluster. Below it is the negative that was produced.

hazelnut clusterphotographic negative

And here are the results of playing around with resolution, exposure times and light source.

cyanotypes of hazelnut cluster

Unexpectedly, you sometimes get a better image with a lower resolution photo.

We also made marks with pencil and ink on acetates and exposed those.

acetates for cyanotype cyanotypes from acetates

After lunch, we continued experimenting with different objects, but this time we put a sheet of glass on top and put them in the sun to expose them. Even though it was overcast, this worked very well.

exposing cyanotypes

Here are a couple of pieces I made using plant material – on the left are gingko leaves and ferns, on the right is grass.

cyanotype plants

And here are a couple of pieces I made using torn strips of tracing paper.

cyanotype tracing paper

It was a great workshop – and gives me another blue technique to add to my repertoire! 🙂

 

Making a coiled sycamore seed

In a previous post I mentioned a course on coiled basketry I was taking with Polly Pollock at City Lit and described the different samples I had made.

The second half of the course focused on our own personal projects, developing the techniques we had learned to produce a piece or series of samples inspired by the seedpod theme.

My inspiration actually came from a piece of driftwood.

driftwood

It reminded me of a sycamore (US: maple) seed, so I thought I would try to weave something around it to create the “wings”.

At first I tried wrapped linear coiling with paper yarn, but it felt too solid and heavy – this was supposed to represent a floating, spinning seed.

linear coiling

So then I tried a more open weave approach, using blanket stitch with cordage, still with paper yarn. This worked better but was a bit too large.

sycamore seed sample

I tried changing materials, using a thinner cordage and enamelled wire for the blanket stitch. This was much better!

sycamore seed wire sample

There was still more experimenting to be done with varying the tension of the stitch to evoke the marks and form of the seed, but I finally got started.

sycamore seed wip

Finally, the finished piece:

sycamore seed

As ever, it was fascinating to see the very different pieces that everyone produced. I don’t have permission to post photos of others’ work, so you’ll have to take my word for it! But it was a fantastic course and I would highly recommend it.

There is also an exhibition coming up of work by students who are completing the two-year City Lit diploma in basketry. It’s at the Espacio Gallery in London from 23 to 28 July. I’ve seen some of the work on Instagram and it looks well worth a visit!

How long is a piece of string?

As long as you want, if you make it yourself. 🙂

In part of the basketry course I did with Polly Pollock at City Lit, we learnt how to prepare natural materials for weaving, including daffodil leaves.

Earlier this year, after the flowers had finished, I gathered a whole load of daffodil leaves before they started getting slimy and eaten by slugs and snails. I tied them into two bunches and hung them up to dry in the shady back garden.

daffodil leaves drying

After about three weeks they had shrunk considerably and changed colour from mostly green to mostly yellowy brown.

dried daffodil leaves

In class, we sprayed them with water and then rolled them in a damp towel and left them for about 10-15 minutes to soften up, before using them as a core material in coiled basketry – here’s the piece I made.

coiled daffodil leaves

However, one of the other students (thanks Gareth!) also showed me how to make cordage (aka string). This is a video I found on YouTube that demonstrates the method.

So I used the rest of the daffodil leaves to make some cordage. I started with 2-ply, using two leaves in each ply (ie four leaves in total).

2-ply daffodil cordage

It’s difficult to see in the photo, but there is lovely colour variation in the cordage from the different leaves. It also smells lovely, like hay!

There are a few bits sticking out where I joined in a new leaf – I will cut these off later.

I also made slightly thicker 3-ply cordage, using six leaves, two in each ply. Here’s a photo showing the relative thicknesses: the 3-ply is at the top, 2-ply underneath.

3-ply and 2-ply daffodil cordage

Because of the opposing twists, you can stop at any time and the cordage doesn’t unravel – so I can keep on going when I get more leaves!

Other long, thin leaves such as iris can also be used for this. I have a lot of crocosmia in my garden, so I’m looking forward to making more cordage in the autumn!

daffodil cordage

 

Indigo shibori workshop for felters

Last weekend I ran a workshop on indigo shibori dyeing for the London branch of the International Feltmakers Association, of which I am a member. I’ve attended previous IFA workshops on felting and natural dyeing, and the participants are always enthusiastic and engaged, so I knew I was in good hands!

I wanted participants to experience the difference between synthetic and natural indigo, so we began on Saturday by setting up three vats. The first was what is known as a 123 vat, popularised by natural dye guru Michel Garcia – this was made up of 1 part indigo, 2 parts lime and 3 parts fructose. The other two vats were made of synthetic indigo in different concentrations.

To start with we focused on clamping and binding shibori techniques, and soon everyone was having fun with pegs, marbles and lolly sticks, while the more adventurous grappled with some plastic pipes and string to produce arashi shibori.

In the afternoon we moved on to stitching. Because this is more time consuming, it meant that keen students could take their pieces home to finish stitching in the evening so it was ready to dye the next day.

stitching shibori

There was time at the end of the afternoon to undo the first bound and clamped pieces and the makeshift washing line outside soon began to fill up!

shibori washing line

On Sunday the we continued to experiment with different techniques (sometimes combining more than one) or fabrics, learning how the same technique can look very different on different fabrics.

pole wrapped shibori unpicking shibori

We also found a more photogenic place to hang our work. 😉

indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori indigo shibori

At the end of the day everyone had a good collection of samples to take home and seemed very happy!

ifa shibori samplesIFA shibori workshop

Different materials, different result

I seem to be getting more obsessed with basketry at the moment – I’m currently doing an eight-week course (one day a week) on coiled basketry with Polly Pollock at City Lit.

The first four weeks have been spent exploring different ways of starting baskets and working with different materials and stitches. In the second half of the course we are expected to work on our own projects around the theme of seedpods. So as you can imagine, this suits me down to the ground! 🙂

So far I’ve experimented with colour:

raffia coiled with hemp
Raffia coiled with hemp

With softer and harder materials:

fabric coiled with paper yarn
Fabric coiled with paper yarn
seagrass coiled with paper yarn
Seagrass coiled with paper yarn

With additions:

seagrass coiling with hare barley additions
Seagrass coiling with hare barley additions

And combining with felt:

coiling with felt
Coiling with felt

I also tried some “linear” coiling – creating rows rather than spiralling from the centre. The first sample I made with this technique had a thick core, which I wrapped with a stiff paper yarn. As I progressed, the piece began to twist quite spontaneously.

twisted coiled piece
Twisted coiling

I made similar pieces with the same core material but different wrapping fibres, which were all softer than the paper yarn. Some of these pieces twisted a little, others hardly at all.

I also tried making a piece with “ribs” to give a more defined form. I bound five lengths of seagrass together and coiled a thinner piece of green seagrass around them using blanket stitch. Because the seagrass ribs were relatively soft, the tension of the stitching tended to twist them slightly to the right, which made the final piece look a little unbalanced.

As a felter, I am used to shaping a piece while fulling it – the final form can look very different from the original! So I thought I would try reshaping this piece to emphasise the twisting even further. The paper yarn is strong but flexible, so this worked out quite well.

twisted coiled seedpod

This week we were working with natural materials, so I repeated this form using strips of cordyline as the ribs, dried daffodil leaves as the core, and waxed polyester string for stitching.

The cordyline was much stiffer than the seagrass, and I found that if I pulled the ribs together at the top, the coiled sections between the ribs bulged outwards, producing a completely different shape.

coiled daffodil leaves

It’s a useful reminder of how you can achieve completely different results with different materials, and making samples is a very worthwhile exercise. 🙂

Dale Chihuly at Kew Gardens

Glassmaker extraordinaire Dale Chihuly is back at Kew Gardens. Aptly titled “Reflections on Nature”, his 32 artworks are scattered around the gardens, glasshouses and galleries.

So many of the pieces resemble exaggerated natural forms, they look entirely at home among the wonderful lush greenery of Kew.

Alongside his works in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art is a fascinating film where he explains that his work is all about pushing the boundaries of what can be done with blowing glass. There is also some heart stopping footage of him tossing some of his glass pieces into a river!

Pictures in this case definitely speak louder than words.

“Reflections on Nature” runs at Kew Gardens until 27 October 2019.