'Awesome Baskets!' My Ulterior Motive for Students Catching the 'Willow Bug' is Working!

I want to tell you about a fantastic Willow Basket Sculpture Day that I taught at Coates English Willow on the 16th February.  Why? Because attending this day were the most amazing bunch of students of whom over half of them had first been taught by me to create willow animals, but who were now back with me making themselves wonderful willow baskets.

But first, a little background…

As each and every one of my Willow Sculpture Day attendees knows, it is my mission to get more of us into making willow baskets.  It is my aim to educate every student about basketry, especially traditional basket making and the willow industry that we have here on the Somerset Levels.

When I introduce any of my Willow Animal Sculpture Days, I begin by saying that though everyone in the room may have thought they were here just to learn how to make a willow animal, I in fact have a far bigger ulterior motive.  My aim is that by the end of the day every person will have a greater appreciation of willow baskets, of the craft form, of our heritage, of the present situation for commercial makers and growers in the UK and become involved in the potential future for our craft form.   Being able to teach at Coates English Willow is incredible, there is no better place to illustrate my mission or educate.  On every Willow Sculpture Day I take my students on a mini tour of Coates; this includes talking about our willow growing heritage, the Coates basket collection and commercial willow processing. I also always introduce the students to the commercial basketmakers in their workshop and showcase their latest work.

My belief is as follows; if I succeed within a Willow Sculpture Day to igniting someones passion for playing with willow, whether it be in making willow animals or sculptural baskets to catch the ‘willow bug’, they will then want to and go on to learn and create more. Through trusting me and my having helped them to find the confidence in themselves to try other willow sculpture or basket making courses, many of my attendees go on and learn from sculptors and basketmakers right across the UK. Time and time again I have seen this happen, and this makes me incredibly fulfilled in what I do, because I know that what I’ve initiated does change lives whether it be in people’s health and wellbeing and/or in their careers. This in turn has also increased teaching and opportunities for other basket making teachers in the UK.

My ultimate goal is that not just myself but other basketmakers and basketry teachers have the opportunity, if they so wish, to not only learn traditional English basketry techniques from highly skilled makers, but also to have the opportunity to become highly proficient in these techniques themselves. If we are able to harness the current resurgence of interest in heritage crafts such as willow basketry, we will be able to increase the demand for basketry courses, increase the demand for more advanced techniques such as those in traditional English basketry to be taught and make sure that we have in the UK a way to take such skills, knowledge and techniques alive into the future.

I’m so pleased that my instinct has been right in that many of those who’ve attended my Willow Animal Sculpture Days have since gone on to make a basket… or several!  Now back to my Willow Basket Sculpture Day on February 16th attended by a lovely group, many of whom who had already caught the ‘willow bug’ from me.  On this particular day I taught my freewoven, stake and strand’esque basket methods and the Zarzo basket making method.  Everyone was in their element, which in turn gave me an absolute boost of confidence to teach (and happily succeed!) in teaching Mel, an absolute beginner basketmaker, a 4 rod behind 2 border at the top of her beautifully woven stake and strand basket.  Afterwards I received the following wonderful email:

“Dear Sarah , Thank you so much for your time , enthusiasm and patience , today was amazing. My basket is awesome,Can’t believe I have made it!! It’s such an amazing skill that you have and share . It’s an escape for a day for me !!! Love it!! Take care Mel xx Oh do you have another basket making course this year ?? I have another friend who would love it !! M xx”

Over the next week I’ll be teaching a Zarzo Basket Willow Sculpture Day at Coates and two Zarzo basket making workshops for the RHS at Rosemoor.  Both workshops at Rosemoor are fully booked and on speaking to River Cottage I’ve heard that the new basket making workshop that I will be teaching in July and September, for which I’ve exclusively created a new basket, is booking up fast.

How brilliant is this!