Rabbit holes. Round, inviting, enticing. What’s down there really? I’ll just have a peak. Ooh, this looks interesting, I’ll go just a tiny bit longer. Ooh, this looks even more interesting, i’ll just… Well, I guess you know how this continues. I have found myself a new rabbit hole in wild basketry. Spoiler alert: This post contains no spinning whatsoever.
Lately I have been slightly obsessed with baskets. There are so many and they are so beautiful. I don’t see them much here in Stockholm, so I become the child in a candy store when I see them on Swedish eBay.
I have also found a very special niche of basket making, using foraged materials. Instagram profiles like Jeanette Gray and Suzie Grieve are truly inspiring, as is Sally Pointer with her excellent YouTube videos where she goes “hedge bothering”, looking for suitable fiber plants. They all make the most exquisite baskets of materials I have never heard of before in a basketry context – cattail/reed mace, dandelion stalks, daffodil leaves, ivy, hops and honeysuckle just to name a few. Just the thought of using weeds and garden plants for weaving makes my heart sing (again).
Since I have no basket making skills whatsoever I have been foraging some of these plants and practiced making cordage. It is a good start for getting to know the fibers and how they behave. So far I have played with dandelion stalks, rhubarb skin, spider plant and crocus leaves. Making the cordage is magical. They spiral down from my hands in all shades of brown and green, changing as they dry. All the materials feel and behave differently and it is such a joy to be a beginner in this beautiful world.
Making cordage is fun, easy and doesn’t take up much space. It is also a lovely way to get to know a fiber and its characteristics as basket and cordage material. I loved making the rhubarb cordage. It was so flexible when rehydrated, but as it dried again it got all loose. I learned that I need to give it more twist or thickness, or mix it with another fiber. Note the colour timeline of the rhubarb – the leftmost was from our very first rhubarb harvest, the middle from the second and the freshly peeled skin from the fourth.
I wanted to learn more, though. About what plants to look for, when to harvest and techniques for basket weaving. I found a Swedish basket weaving forum on Facebook. I presented the talented wild weavers I link to above and asked if anybody in Sweden did the same kind of weaving and if there were any courses available. A lot of people replied, but only to admire the work of the wild basket weavers I referred to. One person, Susanna Jacobson, said she used similar techniques and plants. As it turned out, she lives five kilometers from my home. She is a gardener by trade and grows 32 different kinds of willow at her summer house.
I asked if she would teach me and my friend Cecilia about the plants, their superpowers, when to harvest them and basket weaving techniques. She was happy to. When I asked her about the price of the course she suggested a trade: “I I really want to learn how to spin, will you teach me?”. Well, twist my arm!
So, last weekend Cecilia and I skipped to Susanna’s house full of anticipation. And we got plenty. Susanna was so generous with her garden, plants and skills. We learned how to strip willow and bramble bark and how to dissect and find the fibers in stinging nettle. She showed us her favorite fiber plants for basket weaving and how to find and identify them.
After some theory we got to work with out baskets. We chose cattail/reed mace for the base and an array of plants for the weavers – Siberian iris, yellow flag iris, dandelion , cattail and juncus (sibirisk iris, gul svärdslilja, maskros, kaveldun och veketåg).
We worked with cattail/reed mace for both frame and weavers. It was such an interesting plant! It looked slim and nothing special. but it turned out to have channels on the inside, carrying the gooiest of goo. Eventhough the plants had been dried we needed to press out a lot of goo to be able to weave somewhat comfortably. Through the channels the material still stayed chunky like… well, like muppet skin, cardboard or styrofoam. I still go to my basket every now and then just to make sure it hasn’t lost its muppet chunkiness.
The superpowers of crafting
As in all crafting classes I have attended and taught, silence fell a few minutes after we had started weaving. The crafting silence, or, if you will, crafting devotion. The focus on the material and the making. And, after a while, a warm and soulful conversation about what really matters in the world. A precious moment of peace of mind, the knowledge of the hand and the natural materials.
After eight hours of fiber and wild basketry joy Cecilia and I had finished our baskets. Row by row of wild plants to build up our unique first wild baskets. As always, the mistakes of the basket form a map of what I have learned – make slimmer joins, push the weavers down to prevent holes once they dry and don’t rush. With mistakes and all, though, they are beautiful and unique. And they make me want to weave a lot more wild baskets.
I have new glasses now, fiber plant glasses. Whenever I walk in nature I look out for interesting plants and take mental notes of species, location and development. It is a lovely way to follow the seasons. Lately I have been looking for dandelions. They need to have seeded and be as tall as possible. They don’t really smell like raspberry pie when I dry and later rehydrate them, but they make fantastic cordage and basket material.
There is a spot right next to our house all covered in long ivy stems, some of which have made their way to one of our curtain rods for drying (we don’t use many curtains anyway). I have got permission from the local authorities to harvest willow sticks nearby. I strip the bark and plan to use it for baskets. Next in line will be stinging nettles, perhaps a week or two after midsummer.
At the allotment we have plenty of honeysuckle and hops which I look forward to harvesting. We also bought some carex and day lilies to add to our basket plant collection. This new rabbit hole has lots of passages that I will discover headfirst and wholeheartedly.
As the days go by I will continue collecting basket and cordage material. Just as when I go to the lake for my swim every day it will give me a new appreciation of nature and the turn of the seasons.
Towards the autumn I will teach Susanna the basics of spinning. I hope I can give as generously in a private spinning class as she gave Cecilia and me in the wild basketry class. There are a lot of rabbit holes in the spinning world I can lure her in to, wouldn’t you agree? Welcome to class, Susanna, I can’t wait!
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