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!