Thursday, 12 December 2013

Woven decorations

So, Made and Found was a huge success, and enormous thanks if you came along to say hello!

I have a few willow and rush decorations left over, and I have put the postable ones in my Etsy shop today. I very rarely do this, and it feels a bit odd to be saying it, but if you are in the UK and looking for some willowy goodness, maybe you'd like to take a quick peek?

Normal service will be resumed soon ;-)

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Made and Found

It's been a busy few weeks here in Dottycookie-land. It may look as if I've been sitting idly by, but if you follow me on twitter, you'll be aware that I am getting ready to take part in a very exciting event this weekend - the first Made and Found sale will be taking part in North London this Saturday, Dec 7th, and I am very honoured to be part of a small group of designer makers. There will be some truly gorgeous handmade items on sale, and tea and cakes to boot!

My house and garden have been overflowing with gorgeous, supple, fragrant willow for weeks now, in all colours from warm brown through soft green to vibrant reds to nearly black. It has been a joy to have a reason to use some of my most precious stocks. I'd love to share the results with you.

If you are in the area and have an hour or two to spare, we can guarantee a warm welcome - and the chance to buy some individual Christmas presents for special people - including perhaps a treat or two for yourself.

The details are on the flier above, and links to the various craftspeople are below. It would be lovely to meet you!

Emma Mitchell: Exquisite, wonderfully wearable jewellery

Linda Bloomfield: Ceramicist extraordinaire. Her hand-thrown cake stands and mugs were featured on this season's Great British Bakeoff.

Celia Hart: Beautiful prints inspired by nature 

Karen Boatwright: the very cutest knitted animals, warm sleeping bags, and paintings

Lilli Wicks: Stunning knitwear

Claire Knight: Delicate paper cuts

Tracy Dowling: Beautiful modern quilted homewares

SkeinQueen (Debora Orr): Dangerously covetable hand dyed yarns

Higgledy Garden The best cut flower seeds I've ever tried


Friday, 18 October 2013

Variations on a theme


Most of the time the pieces I weave are based on lessons learned back when I started, or extensions from the workshops I've attended more recently. I'll see a basket in real life, or a picture and it will set my mind churning along. My plant supports very much tell me how they want to be woven, unless, of course, I've been asked for something specific.

Occasionally I'll come across a project in a book that captures my imagination; and a recent purchase, Weiden flechten by Birgit Ostergaard-Jensen, had an idea for a woven lantern that absolutely captivated me. The limited instructions are in German, translated from Danish - neither of which I speak - and the resultant lantern is a bit unfinished at the top for my tastes. So, I put the book away and set out to make my own version. Emma Silverpebble came over to try the first version - which turned out very well. A simple single spiral, a basic rod border and a Bonne Maman jar completed it.

First attempts
I couldn't stop there. The single spiral didn't really do it for me balance wise, and next I tried a zigzag weave with the hope that it would add stability without stopping the light too much. It did work, but still wasn't quite what I was after. A double spiral maybe? Ah yes, that's more like it.

Double spiral

I thought about those old fashioned Guy Fawkes type lanterns , with windows and doors - and inspired by this, my next version was much more pleasing. I also fiddled about with making a hanging attachment and I think it worked very well indeed.

Hanging lantern
Of course, the final test is the way they look when darkness falls and the candles are lit ...

Night falls

I'm ridiculously pleased with these. And having tested them and being happy that they're not about to burst into flames (though I would only use them outside and as with any candles, wouldn't leave them unattended), I've decided to put them on Etsy in case you'd like one too. Battery operated tealights would mean they could be hung up inside when it's too cold to venture out to light them.

I'm thinking these will be just as lovely in the winter as in the warmer evenings - but what about you? Do candles say autumn/winter snuggling up, or warm summer evenings sitting out with a glass of wine?

Monday, 23 September 2013

A haaaaandbag?!

Posing outside Debbie's enviable studio
I've made a lot of baskets over the years, big ones, small ones, all shapes and sizes. Mostly they have been in rattan (cane), some have been coloured with natural dyes, others with terrifyingly lurid chemical concoctions, but none of them come close to the glorious colours of good old English willow. I don't have space to grow my own (to my husband's everlasting relief) so rely on local growers to supply obscure varieties, and on the internet for the rest. 

Base before trimming

One of the people who sells the loveliest varieties is Debbie Hall, of Salix Arts, which is about a 20 minute drive from me. She is also a very talented artist and a wonderful teacher, so when I saw her offering a day course to make her new handbag basket design, I leaped at the chance. A few weekends back, on a very sunny Saturday a group of us gathered and worked together to produce a variety of interpretations of her design.

This oval shaped basket is a bit more complicated to set up than a round basket but actually ended up producing wonderful results, possibly because we were all expecting it to be tricky and thus concentrated extra hard on each stage.

Looking more like a basket now
One of the best parts of weaving for me is how using different colours and different weaves produces very different baskets. Mine is clearly related to Debbie's original and to the others produced on the day, but it isn't the same shape or size as any of them. And initially that bothered me, and I felt a little disappointed with myself - but now I have used it more I realise that while it's too big to be a handbag, it is an incredibly useful shopper/picnic basket. And I love the fact that the while the handle on the original is firmly fixed in place, my handle swings jauntily. 

Just the right size!
I will make this style again, and I'll definitely use a branch handle again, but I think I can guarantee it won't look exactly like this first one - and that's just fine with me!

I must admit, I cook in much the same way - but what about you? Do you like to put your own stamp on projects? Or do you only feel you've succeeded if you reproduce an item exactly according to the instructions? I'd love to hear!

Friday, 20 September 2013

Hiding behind the sofa

It has been a busy old summer, full of holiday excitement (the girls' first time on  a plane!), outdoor theatre, days out, gardening, meeting up with friends and, and, and ...

Excitement reaching fever pitch just before the first rider!
Now we're back to school, and for Tall Small, it's secondary school. Which means she isn't actually Small any more so what am I going to call her now? Miss Terribly Grownup All Of A Sudden? I shall think of something.

That's an Olympic fence, that is!
Anyway. Most of what I'm doing at the moment is sorting out the house. I have stacked logs and ordered oil ready for the inevitable chills to come, and am trying all sorts of new calendar techniques to keep on top of what everyone is supposed to be doing. None of this is blogworthy; but we did have a brilliant day out to the Burghley Horse Trials where we gasped and covered our eyes - you know that childhood habit of watching Dr. Who from behind a cushion? If I could have, I would have.

Cottesmore Leap. Never gets any smaller.
We walked for miles, and feasted on toffee vodka and potatoes roasted in duckfat.

And realised that weaving gets everywhere - this was next to one of the fences and how on earth the horses didn't freak out completely, I have no idea. I could have it in my garden though, if I could bend low enough to get through the door!

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Making memories

The last few weeks have fairly flown by in a whirl of school trips, reports, leavers' parties and end of year productions - where Tiny Small played a woman taking in evacuees and Tall Small played the part of one of those lonely children, singing her solo song so beautifully she reduced fully half the audience to tears.

But long before that, in the dim darkness of late winter when summer seemed an impossible dream, we cheered ourselves up by booking tickets for the Cambridge Folk Festival. We went for a single day last year and had a whale of a time so this year we decided to go for the full festival as it falls in the first week of school holidays.

As the website announced more and more names who'd be playing - Bellowhead! KT Tunstall!  - excitement levels grew to fever pitch until finally, finally the day arrived. Last Thursday we all piled into the car and set off for four days of sun, music, dancing and OK, a little bit of rain but we had waterproofs so didn't really care. Tiny Small was so inspired by Heidi Talbot she spent her pocket money on a purple ukulele and queued up shyly to have her music book signed and her photo taken with her heroine, and floated away on a happy little cloud afterwards.

It was wonderful. Start to finish fabulous, and as a result this Monday felt a bit like the day after Christmas. I couldn't bear to throw away my wristband and thought about turning it into a bracelet but decide I'd never actually wear it. So instead, I've turned it into a keyring and one day, when I have my own shed for pottering about in, it will be attached to the key for that. I made one for Tall Small from her wristband too - hers is destined to be an ID tag for her schoolbag.

My henna bracelet is fading but we have lots of memories - and lots of new music on our ipods. Roll on next July!

Friday, 7 June 2013

Unexpected inspiration

I've written before about our enthusiasm for visiting gardens that open under the NGS scheme. Recently we had the chance to visit Rotherfield Park, a fascinating estate in Hampshire that we had been to years and years ago to support a friend who was  competing in horse trials there. Apparently it was used as one of the locations in Four Weddings and a Funeral though whether that was inside or outside, I'm not sure.

Anyway, it's a fascinating place, full or turrets and towers and follies and hills. We met the owner on the way in and she told my girls that she hoped they would make full use of the potential for trolling down all the hills and banks. Which of course they did.

The gardens. Oh. The gardens. Stunning planting, lots of tulips and topiary and formal and informal parts, and everywhere we went, evidence that the gardener had both a sense of humour and a passion for weaving.

There was an ancient willow throne. 

There was a maze woven from hedging plants (I want to say beech but I am not sure). I have no idea how you'd mow it to keep the weeds down; the girls loved it even if they did have to bend double in places.

There were living hazel supports for beans and peas in the vegetable garden, forming corners to the beds.

There were amazing ways of training fruit bushes so they formed their own obelisks.

And there was the most imaginative training of rambling roses I've ever seen - each shoot allowed to form an arch that is then woven down into the rim of a huge rose "bowl". In summer these must be festooned with blooms, and I wish we could go back to see them!

And there were also large expanses of lawn for giving your dad a big hug after he has spun you round and round and round.

Monday, 20 May 2013

Wedding Bells

No, not for me - for my father-in-law and new mother-in-law (so happy to be able to type that!)

A couple of weekends ago we headed down to Surrey to celebrate with Mr DC's dad and his fiancee -  a lovely, very emotional ceremony, followed by lunch at a local pub and then a garden party. Which makes it sound so much less extraordinary than it was.

My little girls were bridesmaids; they spent the week beforehand practising walking in their pretty wedding shoes and having their hair fiddled with. On the day Mr DC lent a hand with curling their hair when we realised we were cutting it a bit fine to deliver the groom to the registry office in time - he is quietly very proud of the compliments their hairstyles received.

They took the walk up the aisle terribly seriously, and posed for lots of photographs. At lunchtime they made very grown up conversation but I think they were secretly glad to change into their ordinary clothes and head into the garden for an afternoon of tree climbing and hammock swinging.

The happy couple are away on a walking honeymoon - because they are far more active than we are and when they're not gardening, they're off with the Ramblers.

At the heart of the weekend was much laughter, and fond memories of beloved relatives who are no longer with us but were never far from our thoughts - and the excitement at the thought of lots and lots and LOTS of extra cousins and aunts and ... I have no idea how the relationships now officially work but there were about thirty people in the "immediate family" photo!

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Evolution of a basket

A couple of weeks back, the girls and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to a willow growing farm just over the border into Bedfordshire. Wasseldine is a farm set on a gentle hillside, populated by glorious red poll cattle and with a wonderful view. And a big shed full of freshly harvested willow in astonishing colours. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter (I'd love to see you!) will have already seen this, one of my favourite photos. Yum.

So even though it's still a bit green, I have been weaving with some of this. Willow shrinks as it dries, so basketmakers often work with dried and soaked material that has already done all of its shrinking. If you've ever had a basket that ended up a bit rattly and loose after a year or two, that's because it's dried out a bit since weaving.

Anyway, I had no soaked willow to hand, so green willow it was. I started as I usually do, with a straightforward round split spoke base, and I put a dome on it - this is an important part of making the basket sit flat on its rim later - wobbly baskets, unless designed that way, are generally not a good thing!

At this point I thought the basket was going to be shallow and a bit like a tray. I trimmed the base and put in the side spokes and then did the fabulously named process of upsetting - bending up the side spokes without breaking them (always a tense moment) and locking them in place with a row or two of very firm four rod coil.

I had planned to try a method where you add one weaver per spoke and the basket builds quickly, but it got very, very out of hand so I changed plan and went with a more regular chasing weave. The basket started to flare nicely. "I know," I thought, "I'll make a plant holder."

Pretty soon the basket was getting too big for a plant pot and really started to look like a bucket. At one point Mr DC came and asked whether it was supposed to be octagonal. What a nerve!

After a while I decided to put a border on and call it done. This went in smoothly and after a bit of a trim looked as neat as I could have hoped for.

 And then I realised that what I had actually made was a lovely round stripy wastepaper basket. And jolly useful it is too! The two willows I used are called Black Maul and Dicky Meadows - for me the names are almost as gorgeous as the colours.

Wednesday, 17 April 2013


That's the sound of spring having sprung - well, it seem to have finally arrived here - and not a minute too soon. I was beginning to think we had entered another Ice Age.

The weather forecasters promised that Sunday was going to be warm and sunny, so we decided to believe them and head off to a (new to us) English Heritage property *without coats*. Daring. I know, but there it is.

Wrest Park is about 45 minutes drive from us and is so impressive and beautiful I am slightly baffled as to why we haven't been before. The house is gorgeous, and the grounds are vast - so much so it took us well over an hour to wander around them. There are statues and follies hidden all over the place and our girls had a lot of fun map reading and directing us the the next point of interest. The house and gardens  are being extensively restored and the facilities for visitors are excellent. Sometimes I think English Heritage try a little bit harder than the National Trust - at least around these parts.

In the grounds stands the ultimate party house  - a stunning round pavilion complete with guest rooms, tiny servants bedrooms and a vast cellar kitchen. There are tiny narrow staircases and astonishingly paintings on the walls. Talk about glamping!

Friday, 5 April 2013

Filling our days - and our tummies

School holidays can be a juggling act. A balance between encouraging the Smalls to entertain themselves and wanting to limit the amount of time they spend staring at screens. Between spending cash on days out and spending time on home based activities. The greyness this week has deterred us from doing very much outside, and so when we saw a couple of glorious baking ideas on ThePinkWhisk (thanks to Gina for testing the recipe first!) and we had my lovely niece around as well, we decided to get stuck in.

First up, blossom biscuits. Lots of fun, very tasty. Though my favourite design was the one Tall Small made when she was fed up with rolling rosebuds. I can see these being made again. Or possibly putting in an appearance as a party activity - the dough is remarkably forgiving, like edible play dough!

Then the best use for Creme Eggs I've seen in ages.

I am never going to be able to bring myself to eat these.
Yes, the ingredients were a bit of an outlay but the hoots of laughter more than made up for that. And we have enough fondant icing and food colouring to last through several more sessions if it keeps on sleeting.

We all watched the Great British Sewing Bee together and now Tiny Small wants to spend next week making herself a dress. Woohoo!