We escape from computers, data, pictures, management and marketing. Instead we have willow wands, secateurs, a hunky bodkin and an arm’s length of string. Add to this the hands, the intention of our minds and expert tuition by Christine Brewster. We walk into a large, crammed studio stashed with willow and willow products. Above us a 5-metre long snake looks down. It could unhinge its jaw and imbibe, a woven fantasy. “The kettle’s just boiled,” says Christine, and our day begins.
Settling to the task one realises that you are following a path that’s been there, not just for centuries, but millennia. The line stretches back in time, but also wraps the world. People have always used woven plant material to make receptacles. They carry things and store things. Through observation, cunning and contrivance, techniques have evolved using the most basic tools and ingenuity. “At one time every village would have had a basket-maker” says Christine. The receptacles are ephemeral utilities, generally discarded and replaced, sometimes they are an art-form.
I settle to make an inverted basket – the handle coming from its bottom, a whacky medium for displaying some air plants. The difference between left and right, under and over, can be daunting.
Terri decides to make a plant support. She works with an intensity that is almost ferocious, her wayward wands periodically slapping me. (There is something here for everyone!) Her structure is like a six-foot waisted vase. Whilst weaving, the vertical supports are mounted on a cardboard fruit box – a free available resource. She spirals strands of willow, fingers working furiously as she pokes in further wands. At the top it doesn’t end in a confining point but opens out. It’s not a constraining corset but an enabling structure that will accommodate the plants’ needs. It looks dynamic.
I work on my little basket. The willow can feel silky and there’s the fascination of texture and tints, even in my crude effort. At the end Christine makes the showpiece handle, a combination of fierce use of the bodkin, dexterity, and working willow threads as though sowing silk. I gape like the snake. Terri finishes her plant support, and, being Terri, makes another.
Terri’s garden now has a new dimension with two wild sculptural eruptions. In the future a cornucopia of blossom will spill from them as they are colonised by rampant growth. I contemplate my curious basket with unexpected satisfaction. My husband stares at it, puzzled, “it’s a new lid for the laundry basket” he concludes.
Thank you Christine, I will see and understand baskets properly now, it’s an added dimension.
Susan A Tindall
Christine’s website: www.stripeybasket.co.uk