I live and work on the Hebridean island of Great Bernera, having moved to the islands in 1990. Basketmaking came into my life in 1999 and soon became a passion that has brought me to my own business, and the delight of passing on this addiction to others in workshops around the islands and on mainland Britain. I am very interested in the baskets people used here in the past and have learnt to make Hebridean style creels and the round curved baskets that were used by the women cleaning herring at Stornoway Harbour at the time of the herring industry.
In the last few years I have been involved with the Woven Communities project researching Scotland’s traditional baskets including the people who made and used them. I was especially interested in the ciosan, a marram grass basket made by coiling the grass and stitching it into place. The project decided to try and recreate this lost basket. First we needed to establish what the baskets were originally stitched with. There are some of these baskets in historical society collections on Lewis. None seemed to know what the material was. Eventually one of the team discovered a booklet ‘The Basket-makers of Newstead and Ness’ by William Thomson. This was published in the 1920s and describes the making of ciosans with marram grass and the sewing material being the marram roots split down.
The booklet also confirmed what we knew as to their later use as a container for the barley meal. I am not an expert in this technique but I did manage to split down enough marram root for the project and to complete the basket. So, this is the story of this rather special and one off basket.
I have been taught and inspired by many basketmakers along the way, both here on the islands and on the mainland. But like any skill it takes lots and lots of practice to learn the ways of the willow and to develop the sense of how to create form both in traditional basket designs and in my more sculptural work.
Growing willow has become another passion and I currently grow around 56 varieties on the croft where I live. I use this for my own baskets along with willow grown by others on the islands. Seeing the willow growing from cuttings to weaving it into baskets and sculptures is a very satisfying and nourishing process.
Basketmaker at Hebridean Baskets
Visit http://www.hebrideanbaskets.co.uk/ to find out more about Hebridean Baskets, and http://wovencommunities.org/ to find out more about the Woven Communities project.