The Basketmakers’ Association Newsletter Article from July 2020
Following appearing in both The Daily Telegraph & in The Times newspapers on the same day back in June, I was asked to write about our Somerset rush harvesting experience for the Basketmakers’ Association newsletter. So I did!
It’s not often that you find yourself emblazoned on page 4 of a national newspaper in a wetsuit! Having already spent a couple of wonderful days in June rush harvesting with other Basketmakers’ Association members on the River Isle in Somerset, lovely organiser Brigitte Graham made the great suggestion of bringing my 2 girls, Rosalind age 9 and Nellie age 13 along. Little did I know that my posting a couple of images on Instagram of us having fun in the river would result in a photoshoot and large photos in both The Times and The Daily Telegraph!
Although I’m known for crafting in willow, I’ve been quietly playing with rush…. My mum taught rush and cane seating for about 20 years. A couple of years ago I realised how important it is for me to now learn from my mum, to hold onto her knowledge and hopefully gain her amazing skill. What better way to do this than to begin by go cutting and gathering the raw material and to involve her granddaughters.
Seeing my girls floating with the bundles of rushes down an idyllic river on a beautiful summers day was bliss! It’s been a really tough few months, not only trying to save my livelihood but also having to home school Nellie and Rosalind myself, and as well, just being on my own. I was incredibly grateful at the start of June to receive one of the Heritage Craft Association Covid-19 grants, there to help me create a more sustainable craft business. This has given me a much needed boost, a greater belief that I will succeed in forging new avenues for my work and that I will survive doing what I love. However since March I’ve also faced day after day of my girls staring at screens, having hour after hour of online schooling combined intermittently with my inadequate attempts to help. In my eyes, I’ve been slowly seeing their bright spirits ebb away. The annual Somerset rush harvest was my, and then their, first time of really engaging with life again back out there in the world.
Having first joined all the wonderful rush crafters and harvesters last year, for me rush harvesting became immediately addictive. Rhythmically cutting the rushes, choosing to companionably chat or drift off into solitude, being in the flow of the river for hours on end, immersed in nature, it makes my soul sing! Brigitte’s invitation to my girls was therefore a no brainer. Just seeing Nellie becoming rather adept with a sickle and Rosalind gathering up the rushes into giant ‘rafts’ under each arm then floating off downstream giggling, both of them in the moment, it was wonderful. Amongst such fantastic company, we had such a great time together. So following a call from a news agency, it took no persuasion at all for us to get back out there in the river!
Both newspapers referred to me as “carrying” or “passing” on the tradition of rush harvesting to my children. These words and the advent of Covid-19 has got me thinking more than ever about what kind of a future I do want for my girls. What I do already believe is that out of these uncertain times will come an incredible demand and value for the learning of our craft skills and for our work. So as basketmakers, as craftspeople, what are we each choosing to carry forward? What are we choosing to pass on to these generations to come, and why? I pretty much already know that I’m not going to be able to save my children from great financial burden, but what I think I can do through our craft is enrich their souls, nurture their creative skills, grow their resilience and enable them to live in a more conscious and fulfilling way. If this begins with us three happy in a river, brandishing sickles, and me being splashed across the broadsheets in a wetsuit – well I’m more than ok with that! www.sarahlebreton.co.uk
Main Image from The Times newspaper
Clockwise from top left: The Daily Telegraph photo; rush harvest organiser Brigitte Graham & myself; Nellie cutting rushes; Rosalind gathering rushes. All photos courtesy of Zack at BNPS.