Basketmakers' Association Article July 22

Basketmakers’ Association Article July 22

In time for summer – it was great to be featured along with my campervan in the latest Basketmakers’ Association newsletter.  Have copied the article for you below!


On the road with willow and rush

Sarah Le Breton tells how she used her basketry to customise her campervan

A couple of months ago on Instagram, in response to a post about my campervan being majorly out of action for the first time, I received a wonderful comment: “Apart from the breakdowns – a campervan, willow and the open road: I think you’ve got it sussed!” Not sure that I’m quite there yet, but I am making strides towards “living the dream”!

Three years ago I was in great need of a work van to transport all my equipment and willow, one that I could also sleep in year round when teaching away from home.  I took one look at the T2 Brazilian Bay VW campervan covered in muck and keeling over in a Devon farmyard and impulsively decided to rescue her.

Naming her Nigella (after the well-known cook, thinking that my van might possibly be high maintenance but worth it), I immediately began dreaming of crafting her interior. I convinced myself that this would be a great opportunity to showcase traditional English willow weaving techniques and incorporate heritage baskets.

How could I not begin with the iconic front spare wheel cover? One large white willow underfoot tied slath base later, copied from a traditional laundry basket, and my project had begun! A double decker World War I pigeon basket inspired my food cupboard, updated of course with inbuilt iPhone holder. Then I created a trapezoid-shaped linen basket to nestle in the space left by the absent spare wheel (and yes, the base was shaped like a hollowed out half tyre). White willow speaker covers followed, and then things got really quirky.

Having harvested rush for the first time on the River Isle in Somerset, I decided to explore its potential by creating curtain tiebacks, plaited cabinet trim, sun visors, and a coffee cup holder. It was when I found myself escaping lockdown home schooling by hiding away and gold leafing Nigella’s cabinet tops that I finally realised her renovation was becoming a tad excessive.

If I hadn’t been a basketmaker I doubt I could have coped with her non-power steering. And I definitely hadn’t realised that being an air-cooled VW campervan makes Nigella not only the brightest but also the loudest vehicle on the road.

I’ve realised that over the past few years Nigella and I have, in a sense, restored each other. Her public attention has meant that not only have I rediscovered wearing sunglasses and lipstick, but my faith inhuman kindness has been confirmed while on our UK-wide adventures.

There will always be something more to create. Next on my list are skeined willow cabinet panels and, where once the DVD player used to reside, an Edwardian-like willow tea caddy arrangement.

I can’t imagine my life without Nigella –
it’s certainly never boring. But having now renovated her I do have one slight problem: I wince every time I have to put dirty willow or my old work tools in her!

Sarah Le Breton concentrates on creating work that marries heritage basket forms and English techniques with her unique sculptural twist. She will be showcasing her latest work at the Nourish exhibition (see p12). @sarah_le_breton