Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Baskets for foragers

Tiny Dickie Meadowes frame basket
 The very first basket I ever made was yellow and purple and is now thankfully lost. But the construction method remains one of my favourites  - it was a frame basket, a very old style that has many alternative names and which  was traditionally made by ordinary people as opposed to trained basketmakers, using the most basic weaving techniques. They apparently originated in Europe and from there the style spread to the New World with early settlers. More complex and accomplished variations are now extremely popular amongst North American basketmakers - which is where I learned to make my first one, and was told it was called an egg basket. 

Black maul
The shape is determined both by the shape of the rim, be it round, oval, or square-ish; and by the length of the various ribs that are inserted by the basketmaker for weaving around - if they're all of a similar length the basket will have a rounded feel.

Dickie Meadowes

A weaving teacher once told me these were called bodgers' baskets; bodgers are very skilled in working with greenwood, often using pole lathes to turn bowls and chair legs and so on. Although I can't find any record in my various weaving  books of these baskets being given that name, it's easy to imagine that years ago these workers would have used materials they'd found in hedgerows to make baskets. Perhaps that's a fanciful notion, but they certainly are ideal for weaving while sitting with a bunch of greenwood workers on a sunny afternoon, breathing in woodsmoke and drinking tea from an enamel mug - which is exactly how I spent last Sunday.

Starting a basket, with all the ribs inserted ready for weaving.

What is clear is that they were traditionally made as working baskets for fruit picking or fishing, and usually by the workers themselves or by gypsies who would sell them as they travelled. Local materials would have been used green, and while I use willow for mine, hedgerow materials would work very well. 

Detail showing rib placement and weaving

I like to call these foragers baskets, as they're ideal for hooking over your arm while you go blackberrying or searching for elderflowers or similar.They are light and strong, and one of my favourite baskets both to make and to teach. I've listed a couple in my etsy shop, and am always happy to take commissions. Alternatively, if you're local (ish) to Cambridge and fancy having a go yourself, drop me an email and we can work out some details!