Every year (pandemics permitting) the Basketmakers’ Association organises Spring School, a residential session with five or six different basketry tutors. Members who sign up receive four full days’ tuition with the tutor of their choice. The tutors also give talks in the evening that everyone can attend, so you get to hear about the work of other tutors too.

Spring School this year was very popular – all places were sold out within 40 minutes of booking opening. I was lucky enough to get a place on the course with Tim Johnson, so last week I trundled up to Harrogate Ladies College wondering what was in store.

I needn’t have worried. The advantage of booking something like this is that everyone has at least one interest in common: in this case basketry! It was great to put faces to names that I’d previously only known via email or Zoom. And even strangers didn’t remain so for long, as we ate together in the refectory or browsed the secondhand books and tools.

Learning about looping

Tim’s course was on looping, and he’d brought lots of interesting samples. Some were made by him, others were from around the world, like these bags.

The Spring School workshop was also a chance to try working with materials new to us. Tim had brought cyperus grass and esparto from Spain, where he lives. The esparto did have a certain goaty whiff – visitors to our classroom occasionally commented on the farmyard odour!

The other material, chair seating rush, was more familiar, so we started with this. Tim showed us how to split the rush into quarters, and then we used it in a bundle to try looping with an extra twist. This is more stable than simple looping.

We then had a go at making cordage in various ways: with and without a G clamp, and rolling between the palms. I have to say I found the palm rolling tricky. Some of it may be due to lack of technique, but I also think that hand size (mine are quite small) plays a part! I definitely found it easier with finer bundles of fibre.

Having mastered that (or not!) we moved on to camel looping – a technique that uses two bundles or pieces of cordage. By this stage (Wednesday morning) I had three samples I had started and wondered if I would get any of them finished by the end of the course. Looping is quite slow!

Clockwise from top: looping with extra twist in rush; camel looping in two colours of esparto; camel looping with cyperus cordage

Friday exhibition

However, we forged ahead after that (with short diversions into borders and handles) and managed to come up with a fine display of work on Friday morning for the mini-exhibition of group work.

I managed to complete two pieces. The first was a camel looped vessel in two colours of esparto. The chasing added an extra challenge when it came to the border.

The other piece was really a design accident. I started off with camel looping using cyperus cordage, but then ran out of cyperus. So I switched to looping with a twist using green esparto. I thought I would try to make a moon jar or ginger jar form, but the switch to different materials and looping meant that the form wanted to curve inwards. In the end I gave up fighting and let it, creating a vessel with a longer neck instead. I then ran out of green esparto so had to change to black. And rather than threading the ends away I left them long.

It was really interesting seeing the work of other groups too: fishing creels, nansa technique, chair seating, and Welsh frame baskets.

All in all, a very enjoyable and productive week. Roll on next year!

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