You may remember this little guy I made over a year ago. It was during the first lockdown in April 2020, and we had just started the coiling module at City Lit, when everything closed down.
However, our tutor Polly Pollock continued to have regular weekly Zoom meetings with the group, giving us advice and feedback on our coiling projects, the theme of which was animal markings. My piece was inspired by the radiated tortoise, a critically endangered species from Madagascar.
Fast forward to April 2021, when our college classes resumed in person. We were all asked to bring in our coiled pieces and sketchbooks for assessment.
A few weeks later I heard that I had been one of two students awarded the Christiane Sand City Lit Award for Coiling.
Christiane Sand first enrolled on the City Lit Creative Basketry course in September 2011. After completing it she was diagnosed with cancer and re-enrolled in 2015 as a therapeutic pursuit alongside her cancer treatments. For her coiling project she made a wolf basket, which she found challenging but ultimately rewarding. This is what led her husband Nigel Grant to set up two awards for students who produce outstanding work in the coiling module.
As you can imagine, I’m well chuffed! The prize is £250 to be spent on a basketry course, which will allow me to keep feeding my habit. 🙂
The big news this month is…drumroll…I have finished the Tetrapak dog!
Any suggestions of what to call him or her? 🙂
I also tried a variation on a theme, making a circular coiled pot with a lid based on my previous tortoise vessels. Because the peaks resemble limpet shells, I’ve called this a limpet pot.
Another construction I’ve been involved in was a bike shed in the front garden. This was not particularly creative – I just mention it because it took a lot of time and effort this month! The very heavy shed arrived in bits and had to be pieced together on a concrete base that we had previously laid.
Much huffing, puffing, and swearing ensued, not to mention a couple of broken drill bits. I also ended up falling into wet concrete at one point – and the local wildlife were determined to leave their marks too!
But now the shed is up, and I am able to get into the house without squeezing past a couple of bikes and associated paraphernalia. We just need to plant a fast-growing shrub to cover up the unattractive exterior.
With restrictions on lockdown slowly lifting, our two-year basketry course at City Lit is due to resume in mid-April, more than a year since it stopped. I’m really looking forward to being back in the classroom, especially now that I’ve had my first coronavirus vaccination.
We are going to be starting on twining, so I thought I might try to get ahead a bit and started on a new experiment. This is very much a Work In Progress! 😉
Hopefully this will be more presentable next month.
As England moves into another lockdown tomorrow, yesterday I took the opportunity to go out while I could to visit the British Museum’s latest exhibition.
Arctic: Culture and Climate examines the creative resilience of the indigenous peoples of the region, using local resources to survive and adapt to their environment over the past 30,000 years. There are more than 40 different ethnic groups, but they share many cultural traits and were trading and communicating with each other long before the “southerners” arrived.
“We’re from the High Arctic”, says Inuit seamstress Regilee Ootoova. “We rely on what’s available to us.” And what’s available to them is largely animals – seals and walrus, reindeer and caribou, fish and whales. They view hunting as the giving and receiving of gifts – that animals will only give themselves up to those who treat them with respect, and that the souls of these animals will be reborn, keeping them infinitely renewable.
But animals are not just hunted for food – almost every scrap of them seems to be used in some way. Here I focus mainly on textile and basketry items, but there are some fine carvings and paintings in the exhibition too.
This bag is made of salmon skin, seal oesophagus and caribou fur. There’s a very good post on the British Museum blog on how fish skin is processed.
Seal gut, being waterproof and breathable, was used to make parkas. The seams of this one incorporate beach grass – if any moisture enters the seam, the grass absorbs it and swells, thus tightening the seam and keeping the wearer dry.
Another bag, this time made of duck feet.
This lovely basket is made of baleen, with a walrus ivory handle.
Baleen, sourced from whales, is flexible and does not freeze, so it was also used for making sieves to scoop away slush from ice fishing holes. The frame of this one is made of reindeer antler.
Certain animal characteristics were often thought to endow the wearer with similar powers. So this visor decorated with sealion whiskers bestowed the animal’s hunting prowess on its wearer – each whisker represented a successful hunt.
Sometimes hunters would mimic animals so they could get closer to them. This ice scratcher, made from seal claws bound to driftwood with sinew, made a noise like a seal sunning itself on ice, lulling the prey back to sleep so a hunter could approach it unawares.
As well as animal products, beach grass was woven into mats, bags and socks.
Wooden fish traps like this were placed into holes cut into frozen rivers.
In north-east Russia the Sakha people hold a summer festival, or yhyakh, asking the gods for good weather and plentiful pastures. As part of the celebrations, large birch bark containers stitched together with horsehair are filled with meat, wheat porridge and berries with whipped cream for serving to everyone.
Integrating traded materials
As Arctic peoples came into contact with “southerners”, they started incorporating their materials into their tools and garments. The first Europeans arriving in the Bering Strait traded beads for furs. This national costume of the Kalaallit, Greenland’s largest Inuit group, incorporates sealskin sewing with the embroidery and beadwork on northern Europe.
In the 19th century, Moravian missionaries encouraged Yupiit basketmakers to make coiled baskets that appealed to collectors and tourists, like this one with a puffin design.
More recently, on Nunavak Island, Alaska, basketmakers have recycled nylon fishing rope washed up on the beach to crochet into colourful bags.
Sadly, as in so many other instances, this contact led to colonisation, forced conversion, imposed migration and forced settlement. And now there’s climate change.
The exhibition ends on a hopeful note, with displays curated by two indigenous organisations explaining how they are transforming their heritage by adapting, innovating, collaborating and resisting to determine their own future.
Arctic: Culture and Climate is due to run at the British Museum until 21 February 2021, although it’s temporarily closed until at least 2 December due to lockdown. Please check the website for updates.
I’m thrilled to announce that I have been awarded the Barbara Maynard Challenge Cup for 2020 by the Basketmakers’ Association.
Every year at its AGM the Basketmakers’ Association holds a competition for members and presents the winner with the Barbara Maynard Challenge Cup. However, because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the AGM was held online this year. So instead the committee decided to award it to a member whose work has really stood out on social media in the past six months. And that turned out to be me!
I feel really honoured to see my name alongside some great basketmakers, including Tim Johnson and one of my tutors at City Lit, John Page.
If you’d like to see the images that led to the award, head over to my Instagram feed. At least now I have a justification when ESP complains about me spending too much time on social media! 😉
My fascination with Möbius strips continues. Although the first triple-twist loop I made was rather small, I have a friend with very slim wrists, so it proved to be the perfect birthday gift!
I then went on to make a slightly larger version, this time wrapping with paper yarn, which produced a much stiffer piece than wrapping with wool.
Some of the yarn I dyed with indigo and onion skins.
What next? Obviously it was time to try interlocking Möbius strips (but with only one twist in each!). 😉
I did a paper mock up of how this might look.
Then I set to work. Previously I had used both wire and paper yarn as the core, but I now decided to try using wire on its own.
However, without the paper yarn, the wire on its own provided less grip for the wrapping, which tended to slip more. The piece also had less body. So I went back to including paper yarn in the core.
I also found that the initial slippier core meant that the parts of the strips that were supposed to be flat started to curl over at the edges. (This was probably also caused by too much tension when wrapping on my part.) Although this was not intentional, I actually liked the increased movement caused by the curling, so I didn’t try to correct it.
As a result, the final piece of interlocking Mobius strips doesn’t look anything like the paper mock up! But I’m OK with that.
And now for something completely different – well, almost
A couple of months ago I signed up for an online course with Australian basketmaker Catriona Pollard. The course was on making sculptural basketry with found wood, as I was really interested in finding out how to incorporate found objects such as wood into my work.
However, finding suitable pieces of wood was a bit tricky in the middle of London in August. There were alternatives I considered, but in the end I just started on the sculptural part, which involves twining.
I soon found out that twining with paper yarn produces a satisfying (for me) twist. So I’ve decided to go ahead without the wood for now and see what happens.
I have no plan for this – I just decided to start with five “arms”, like a starfish, and see how it developed. Sometimes they come together, sometimes they wind over or under each other, depending on how I feel. At the moment it’s fairly symmetrical, though it may not look like that in the photo.
Although twining is a different technique from coiling, I’m enjoying exploring how to achieve similar twisting and interlocking effects. Let’s see how it goes!
There were other familiar names too. Laura Ellen Bacon’s buff willow bench took pride of place in the window.
Diana Scherer grows textiles from plant roots – her work was featured in the V&A’s Fashioned from Nature exhibition a couple of years ago.
Of the artists that were new to me, Naoko Serino stood out for her ethereal felted jute sculptures.
Soojin Kang uses jute too, along with silk and linen, in her wrapped, bound and knotted work.
I also loved Caroline Sharp’s delicate pods made from willow and birch retaining the catkins.
Not technically part of the exhibition but certainly worth a look are a couple of ceramic vessels by Luke Fuller, who makes layered moulds which burn away during firing, leaving textured pieces reminiscent of rock fractures and geological faults.
Last week we finished the first module of the two-year basketry course at City Lit. The subject was plaiting, and the tutor was Polly Pollock. I missed the first week because I was on holiday in Uzbekistan, so as soon as I got back it was straight into a marathon strip-cutting session!
We started off with watercolour paper, as it is strong but flexible. However, we were encouraged to experiment with other materials and also to add overlays (extra elements threaded through after weaving the main basked) to add colour and texture.
The three main techniques we covered were bias plaiting, straight plaiting and skewed forms. We combined these with different borders – zigzag, flat and sandwich and sew.
Here are some of my practice samples made with bias plaiting using khadi paper, an old map, newspaper cordage and vinyl wallpaper.
Here’s a straight plaited vessel made with watercolour paper.
And here’s a skewed vessel, also made with watercolour paper.
For our final module assignment we had to make a series of three related pieces using some or all of these techniques, inspired by the modern architecture of Rotterdam.
I have to admit that this was a bit of a challenge for me, as my inspiration usually comes from natural rather than human-made forms. But even I got drawn in by the weird and wacky architecture of this Dutch city.
Here are the results, all made with watercolour paper, damp proof membrane and flattened corrugated cardboard.
I have to admit that the third piece, of a vessel within a vessel, was actually inspired by another building in London, and its spiky “haircut” was just a piece of whimsy on my part (though I could argue it’s supposed to be a roof garden 😉 ). It’s also not really tall enough, but I ran out of paper and time as it had to be finished for evaluation last week.
I really enjoyed this first module. It was quite intense – and hard work cutting all the strips! – and moved me out of my comfort zone.
This week we move on to willow, which I suspect will also be challenging!