Rush at Warwick University

Clutch baskets woven in Cambridgeshire rush with willow bark details

On 5th-7th July 2019 I will be teaching at Warwick University alongside three other fabulous Rush specialists- John Page, Rosie Farey and Brigitte Graham. the weekend has been organised by Clair Murphy and Ruth Salter both of whom are Basketmakers with a passion for Rush; the former compiling and editing a recently published book “Rush Basketry: Weaving with Eight Makers”. Copies of which can be purchased via the Basketmakers Association and Amazon.

The focus of my course will be creating pattern and texture through twining techniques to create small clutch baskets. We will look at shaping using moulds and stitch tension as well as closures, lids and fastenings. To add to their texture students will be encouraged to add details of fine willow bark and various natural threads. We will also play with plaits to form brooches using a variety of knots that will be stitched to brooch pins with fine hemp.

I cannot wait to spend the weekend immersed in all things of a rush weaving nature and if you are interested please email rushatwarwick@gmail.com for details.

Teaching, teaching and some more teaching

Burkina plait "Humbug" Shoulder bag

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Final rows of weaving with cranked willow rods

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Finished shoulder basket in Cambridgeshire Rush using the Burkina Plait Technique woven by a student

 

 

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The finished platters in various willows, birch & rush

 

It has been a very busy start to the year with lots of teaching one to one as well as  group workshops at Assington Mill in Suffolk and The Museum of Cambridge, formerly the Folk Museum. The latter venues workshop formed part of The Cambridge History Festival and 12 learners made willow platters in a variety of willows, Birch pruning’s and Cambridgeshire Rush that I harvested last Summer. No mean feet as the session was only 3 hours long but the results were fabulous with rope making and 4 strand flat plaiting of the Rushes to create stripes of contrasting colour and texture.

One of my regular students was keen to focus on the Burkina plaiting technique so I spent a day guiding her through the weaving of  a lightweight but strong shoulder basket. After taking time to select, clean and sort the Rushes into groups to be used at specific points within the basket, her  focus was on how to hold the plait correctly with the vessel created upside down. It took about 6 hours to complete with a quick lunch and I think the resulting basket was super.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looped Raffia Bag

Raffia Looped Bag

Looped Raffia Bag Instructions Spring 2016

Please click above for a rather old fashioned experience of a word document with how to make the looped raffia bag. Happy looping or knotless netting.

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Afternoon shadows from Looped shoulder bag.

 

Looped raffia bag February 2016

Interior of Looped bag in exhaust dyed raffia- I had been dying cane in Dylon cold water dyes and I placed hanks of natural raffia in the exhaust so giving soft pastel shades, and the raffia doesn’t soak the dye evenly on all sides so giving a wash effect. 

Nut & Arc Baskets

 

Towards the end of 2015 I began to play with the idea of combining rush and willow where the handle bow is already dried into it’s final shape and the main body of the basket is woven about this. The two baskets featured were the results, one twined in rush and the other more stake and strand in willow, but both worked from a bunched or grouped and bound start at the base. The final overall shape resembling a hazelnut -hence the “Nut” title.

The “Arc” name came from creating a wider version with a definite horizontal at the base between the two ends of the broader handle bow. I created this with a willow rod drilled and ear lashed to the bow and then by attaching rushes folded into hairpins and then “larks head” lashing them to the horizontal.

 This is Nut No2 and shows the handle bow in place with it’s two ends sprung together by a fine willow rod forming a lashing that creates an opening into which the initial rush stakes are fed.

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The stakes are bunched flat as tight as they can be so to close the base of the vessel and negate no additional stakes needed too early once siding has commenced, emphasising the taper.

006A 3 rod wale in very fine weavers began the siding about 1 inch above the lashing and including the willow handle bow as if it were a stake. Care was taken to keep rows of weaving close to each other and to take stakes in order and not let them tangle or overlap.010

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After 6 or so rows the width increases and the need for additional stakes had to be tackled. Rather than them being discreet I wanted to add texture drawing attention to the cell structure at the cut ends so just laid them  in pairs and waled about them as a pair. They were spaced out evenly with one pair centred and the other two either side separated by original stakes. The pairs were opened and treated individually the next time around with the 3 rod wale.

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The weave was kept close and tight by consistent tension and by using the threading tool between each stake and when adding in new weavers to reduce bulking and bulging in the surface new rushes were inserted behind old butt or tip (as you would with a willow join) and NOT A HAIRPIN. This was very effective in hiding the joins and keeping the smoothness of body as the wale was now 4 rod and helping to give a curvier form.

Additional stakes were added on each side  and the whole process repeated  again further up the vessel as it flared. The weight of weavers was increased and flower heads were left on to add texture and colour contrast to the smooth waling. A further 8-10 rows waling  increasing gradually the weight of the weavers  it then felt right to commence a trac border :this was only possible because of planning ahead and having stakes long enough. Folding the stake away and to the right at an angle of 45 degrees from the top wale behind 1, in front of 4, behind 1, in front of 1, finishing on the inside  behind 1 stake and being trimmed to overlap 2 stakes. As the border is executed care was taken to keep the tension even to allow the long sweeping stitch to sit well in relation to it’s neighbour, and to form the top as even as possible and the same measure above the top wale.

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 When starting a trac border I find it’s more effective to begin higher than you actually want to finish so the tension gained as you pull more down into the border sets the correct natural height; it is also easier to thread away into slightly larger spaces and then tighten and pull down the start.

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This is of course the Nut basket in a nutshell and there are many variations on this theme that will appear in the gallery as they happen.

 

Open Studios July 2016

I will be opening my studio to the public as part of Cambridge Open Studios on the 1st & 2nd weekends in July 2016. If you are interested in watching me weave then I will be in action from 11am-6pm Saturday 2nd & Sunday 3rd July and then again on Saturday 9th & Sunday 10th July.

There will be a variety of baskets for sale both large and small in an array of materials and I will also be able to discuss commissions if you have specific ideas and dimensions.

I could be weaving willow on the plank in a traditional stake and strand method to form a fruit picking Blackberry basket or Log basket, or plaiting rushes and stitching them to form a Flaggon basket as used by Fen folk in the 19th and early 20th Centuries to carry their lunch or docky.Prices range from £7-£150

There are two other Open Studios artists in the village of Wardy Hill a potter Tony Pugh and his wife Dorothy a printmaker so it is a great opportunity to watch some ancient and skilful crafts in action. Please do have a look at Cambridge Open Studios website and check our artists pages for details of opening days and times.

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Above-Myself at the start of last years Open Studios-it wasn’t always sunny and hot, but mostly, and at one point I had 12 visitors in my small workspace.

Below- Weaving Pumpkin Log Baskets on the plank in white and Dicky meadows willow at July 2015 Open Studios.

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Gift Vouchers

If you would like to give someone the present of a workshop or baskets to the value of a set amount or even a specific basket, then email me to discuss your present ideas and I will send  a voucher to the lucky person in a small woven item.

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For example a plaited Rush envelope as pictured here that gifted a day long workshop.

Cambridgeshire Baskets

Willow Eel trap typical of the fens of Cambridgeshire

Eel traps & potato cobs
Potato Cob Baskets and Eel Hives

Me(in a home made Fielder dress-Merchant and Mills pattern)and my wares two of which are forming part of the Baskets of the British Isles installation at The New craftsmen in Mayfair.The eel hive that I am holding and a white willow cob used for potato harvesting.

001Rush Flaggon Baskets as carried by these late 19th Century turf cutters from Wicken and Burwell. My modern homage to their beautiful functional docky/lunch baskets. Plaited Cambridgeshire Rushes I harvested close to Ely last year that were then stitched together to form a spiralling vessel with a lid. Leather strap handles were stitched onto the main body of the basket and threaded through the lid to make it secure; useful for keeping insects out if you were carrying your food and drink for the day when out in the fen cutting peat for burning.The name flaggon basket refers to not a measure of ale but I think the flag Iris leaves that these baskets were also sometimes woven in.

Cambridgeshire Pattern Eel Hives


I researched the local to Ely pattern eel traps more than a decade ago because it was important to me as a maker to record a striking looking and historically interesting basket.

Families dwelling in the fens around Ely have supplemented their diets and incomes for hundreds of years by catching eels in baskets called hives.

They are long narrow vessels with two internal chambers each formed with a tight closure of spikes to allow eels in,enticed by bait but not let them out until the bung or plug is removed at the opposite end.


Entrance of the hive/trap

 The internal spikes of the entrance into the first chamber or chair.


The sharp spikes of the second chamber/chair viewed from the exit end of the trap.


The upset being woven in pairing weave and held in place by being lashed to the former/jig.This forms the entrance and the first chamber.I am weaving in whole withies rather than traditional cleaved or split and shaved heavy rods.I wanted a finer finish with contrasts of colour and texture between white and Dark Dicks willow.


The first chamber with the change of stroke from pairing to 2 rod slew and change of colour.


The second chair or set of spikes inserted to the inside of the main structural uprights that give the overall form.


The cinched in waist of the hive that gives the Cambridgeshire traps their distinctive beautiful form.


The top border is a split and shaved rod lashed or stitched by a cranked rod.


The plug detail of my own design so the bung of wood cannot be lost as it is attached to the main body by willow ties,and has a locking hole and stake also.


Detail of the closure and a second trap, woven in cleaved and shaved buff and brown willow.

The trap you see in construction is forming part of the Baskets of the British Isles installation at the New Craftsmen in Mayfair.This has been curated by Hilary Burns and is a fantastic way of promoting and educating about this countries crafting heratige.

Eel traps/hives, cleaved and shaved 7-8 foot rods that form main structure uprights and wood turned Yew former.The horizontal hive was a commission for a customer who visited my Open Studio in July,who is very knowledgable on Ely local history.


Late 19th or early 20th century fenman weaving a hive.

First chamber woven and still on the former.

Willow Platters

I used to weave a variety of willow platters for my stall on the craft market in Cambridge(about a decade ago).I’ve spent the morning making them again for The Eel Catchers Daughter.
The technique is called pulled or drawn work and originates from Poland and Madeira.Like a large scale plait it uses mathematical shapes (equilateral triangles and a hexagon)to produce it’s balanced knot form.

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Cob Basket Update

Cambridgeshire potato cobs

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Well I had good intentions of posting at least once a week to record  my work through 2015, but it just hasn’t happened. Frankly the process of making has been more important than the recording and broadcasting of what I have made or taught people to make; it has been 6 day weeks since New Year.

So on the cusp of the half term holidays and with tools on the shelf for the weekend I am making up for my lack of posts. The first is a follow up to the discussion of the local to Ely potato harvesting basket that I was commissioned to make from analysing remnants of two originals. Here are some super examples that were on display in Ely Cathedral in October 2014 for their Harvest Festival. Complete with waxy dummy arm (no it’s not mine) putting potatoes in the cob. They are made in cane and have wire bases to allow soil to fall out.171