In our off grid living experiment, we find ourselves on an evening with hours to fill, as we are in a pocket where there is no mobile network, much to the annoyance of our children. One of the ideas I came up with in order to entertain ourselves was inspired by my recent teaching block.
I, Andrea, currently teach a class of ten year old children, which I supplied during the recent lockdown with teaching material. As we had immersed ourselves in ancient crafts, in order to make today’s manufacturing techniques transparent and fully understandable to the children, I gave them materials on basket weaving.
An old tradition, that does not require sophisticated tools, all you need are materials such as willow, which is widely available and can be found in the nearby countryside, accessible to all. It is quite possible to think that basket weaving was one of the earliest crafts people may have practiced, potentially inspired by numerous examples that can be found in the animal kingdom in forms of e.g. bird’s nests, or the plant kingdom.
The weaving process has also a strong tradition in houses made of wattle and daub, wherein the wattle is referred to as the supporting woven structure.
Many people produced baskets as part of their day to day life, particularly on colder days whilst sitting around the fire of an evening. Not so long ago, woven baskets were indispensable utilitarian items, used as packaging and to transport goods, whether these were fruit, vegetables, eggs, fish, bottles, hats and much more. They would touch on all areas of peoples’ lives. Woven structures accompanied a persons’ life from when they were young and might have lain in a woven cradle, later they might have caught birds in a woven cage and in old age they might have found themselves sitting on a woven chair, seeing the world go by.
Anyhow I easily digress, I felt it would be exhilarating to practice a little of what I teach and offer it to my family members, if they wished to join. My 12 year old son was especially taken with the project of weaving a basket.
We had two hoops of willow, reed, and willow cane. We placed the reed and willow cane in water to soak. When dry, reed and willow cane is brittle and fairly stiff, but what a transformation!!! When it has been placed in water for only a few minutes, it becomes very bendy and pliable.
First we wove the God’s eye, in order to strengthen the horizontal and vertical structure, thus creating the rim and handle of the basket.
Then we started the main weave. We are working on a small section each night, but when it gets too dark to see what the hands are doing, we simply hang the basket and soaked reeds over the fence to dry out. When we want to continue, we just pop the weaving material and basket into water and bob’s – your – uncle `- and on we go. The basket is not yet finished, but Kaspar and I have speculated on how we might use it. In my minds’ eye, I already have ideas of other weaving projects. However, the first one would be to cut the willow and prepare it for use, just as our forefathers might have done. A very exciting project!
To find out more on ancient crafts including basket weaving, the following books by John Seymour, ‘The Forgotten Arts’ (first published in 1984) and The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency’ (first published in 1976) are a real find and well worth a read.