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30 March 2023

Slow Art Day 2023


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06 September 2022

 Learning from the collection at  Adams Heritage Centre, Littleport

Earlier in the year I was invited by Jenny Stevens to be part of the Queen Drawers at Adams Heritage centre, Littleport Celebrations for the Queens Platinum Jubilee in June 2022.

Along with other artists, I spent some time looking round the shop, which I had been very familiar with as our local hardware shop for many years, but not with the collection that had been stored in cupboards and hidden for so long.

The transformation into a heritage centre for Littleport has been great to see and be a small part of, both as artist and participant in events.


In a dark corner of Adams Heritage Centre there was an old stoneware flagon with a basket container, presumably to prevent breakages when carrying it on a horse and cart.

The willow had been eaten by woodworm and rotted in places, but it still looked fascinating. I was given permission to take it to my workshop and find out whether I could replace the original. I began to learn a lot, both about the techniques and making process, the people involved and the history behind the item.


I had noticed the base was not made as I usually start them and it would be interesting to learn; like industrial archaeology I took it apart carefully and kept as much as possible of the original to copy the techniques.

The centre of the base is made from 4 sticks, the 4th is also the first weaver for the base, this makes a sturdy base and is very efficient on time and materials, an essential consideration when hand making anything. The maker was obviously a careful person, very likely a man because most basketmakers were men until relatively recently. He would be able to make about 8 of these flagon baskets in a day, an order for the pub or coaching inn would be 3 or 4 days work.


The top of the orginal basket had to be cut off, which told me it was made round the bottle, not separately. This is harder than making an ordinary basket as you can’t get inside to trim or hold the work in progress.

The border of the basket holds the flagon tight and goes onto the angled edge, so it cannot slip out. Ask any basketmaker and they will tell you borders are tricky, so making one that fits so well takes a bit of time to learn. I had three attempts before it worked well enough for me to show anyone the finished piece.

I couldn’t tell whether there had been a carrying handle for the basket, but it is likely there was one. Handles break sooner than any other part of a basket because of everyday use.


The story behind the flagon and it’s basket is still not told, it has the name The Bell Hotel, Ely and number 25 stamped on the top. Maybe it was part of a farmer’s regular order for field workers or used by a coachmen who used the Bell Hotel, we will probably never know. At some time it came to Adams and Sons, in Littleport, and has been there a long time.


Before I started to make the replacements basket I cleaned the flagon, as I washed it out there was what looked like fluff and cobwebs floating to the top. It turned out that there were the bodies of 10 mice, desiccated and long dead! Perhaps they went in to get the dregs of beer, or maybe it was a set trap with grain or poison in.

Adams sold chicken food and grain, there were mice and rats in the shop taking advantage of the food source and there are still signs of them in the floorboards, which have been carefully restored to show more than a hundred years of the building’s history.

The restored flagon and basket is now back in Adams Heritage Centre, sharing it’s story along with all the other items in the collection.

I took three attempts and 1.5 hours to make the finished one, so I would not be able to make 8 in a day. I would not earn enough to feed a family, basket makers have never been rich!


I have learned from experience it takes a lot of energy, time and the right skills to have enough willow to make baskets and sculpture throughout the year.

Preparation of willow includes maintaining and growing willow, grading into the right size for the jobs in hand and soaking to make it pliable for working with as each order or commission comes in.

Each basketmaker working full time needs approximately 2 acres of willow a year, it is harvested in winter. This would have been part of the seasonal life of basketmakers and would need two or three families working together.

In the past willow copses were a familiar and essential part of most farms, providing material for baskets and hurdle fencing used as temporary fencing for cattle and sheep on the farm and in markets.

Since the 1970’s growers have developed into large farms providing willow for makers, who can have their order of willow delivered or go to the farms to collect their supplies.

The farms also grow willow for wonderful drawing charcoal, made by baking in large ovens and supplied to schools, colleges and artists round the world.

I continue to learn and listen to the stories of makers I can never meet, they tell me their stories through the pieces they made.

31 July 2022

Reflecting on work and life habits

After the longest gap between posting for the blog, this might be the beginning of regular writing. Reflective practice, not just doing admin.

Part of the process is seeing older work and maybe recycling it, maybe renewing it, sometimes removing it althogether.

This summer has been the busiest for over a year. Meeting more people and travelling further than I have for over three years, the process of going back to 'normality' was very interesting. I think choices need to be made, not always habits returned to.

Completing commissions, delivering commissions, and training sessions face to face feels much more challenging than when it was a 'normal' habit.

Considerations include how to choose priorities, Who, where and what to work with.

I made the choice of limiting the number and frequency of willow workshops, this enables me to spend time in the workshop refining my own making practice. The advantage for students is that they benefit from my more considered approach to making, using better-selected materials and more precise techniques.

03 May 2021

Updating and meeting people!

Tomorrow will be the first full day of working on-site with more than 6 students for over a year, a big step from working alone for so long.

It feels like a huge adventure and I am excited to be doing a training day for Learning Through Landscapes at Huntingdon Primary School.

The weather might be challenging, it's promising to be the first wet day for at least 4 weeks! But that is good practice for teachers learning how to provide a school curriculum outdoors.

I will report back with photos!

03 November 2020

Concentrating, reading, drawing and less skimming

This time has been so strange. My habits of skim reading and 3 minute concentration time had taken over. 
It has happened over a period of 5 or 6 years, distracted by the demands and expectations of a faster paced world and people who attract or need my attention.

Strange that my inclination has always been to take more time in the studio, to enjoy remoteness, not be distracted and now I find it so hard to be in the studio without distractions from and by people and events in remote places. 

Now it seems I cannot manage without them, and was privileged to be part of an amazing group of thinkers, artist, writers and academics international community, and this could only happen with the help of the strange world of Zoom.
Shelley Sacks led us through a piece of Social Sculpture practice, and started it with the wonderful reflective  time of looking at the world outside our doors.
Everyone’s experiences were so different, the whole world's times and seasons, night and day, city and country, garden and apartments.

Beauty was re-imagined through the eyes of participants, and shared in the democratic process of a Social Sculpture exchange.

The habits of skim reading and beginning to become disturbed and I could hear and see in a different way.

Tracing a pathway through this time, through uncertainty, fragile pathways of encounters with communities redeveloping social networks I began to draw again. Not the drawing from memory or habit that I had developed in recent years, but the drawing that is making a mark when understanding or interpretation of what I see is processed.

I have recently been reading Tim Ingold's book 'Making' which is so good to find out more about how to be intentional and reflective while drawing. 

06 April 2020

Slowing Down, taking time

Saturday was Slow Art Day, so I slowed down, again.

I started writing about Slow Making in 2006, for several years I have not had time or been in the right place to concentrate on ideas or writing. Now seems the right time to revisit and refine the thinking. On Slow Art Day I have been looking at some of my studio stock in a different light. 

Slowing down, again to revisit and review what matters in the world just now, I spent about two hours just sitting and looking at the work of Bernat Klein. 
I do not own any of his art work or have any of his clothes, textiles or printed material so most of the time was spent online. 
What I do own are yarns which were developed as prototypes in the workshops of The Scottish College of Textiles. I have memories of lecturers and technicians at the college being somewhat surprised and dismissive of the yearn developed in the workshops. Bernat was not really interested in the traditional techniques and machinery used to produce yarns. Bernart was far more focussed on fibres for their texture than useful properties. Where technicians like to make sure things work and will be long lasting, his priority was always the appearance and effect on the garment. The yarns were sometimes fragile and unstable as a result, but were fabulous colours and combinations of fibre and textures.
Bernat Klein had also worked with The Dovecot studios, with amazingly skillful weavers who collaborated on his designs for tapestries. A result of doing this little bit of research into the work has highlighted a lot of wonderful reference material, including panel discussions at the Dovecot in 2015, when a retrospective "A Life in Colour" was staged there. 

I met him and visited 'High Sunderland', the wonderful commissioned house and studio in the 1970's as a post graduate student at the Scottish College of Textiles. I wanted to understand more about the development processes and techniques of making, much more interested in that than selling work or being famous. 
He was a delightful man, but even then I realised he could be somewhat annoying to those who had to live with him. Passionate and prolific about his work, he had become very successful working with famous fashion and textile designers and architects. 
When I met him he had become a skilful painter, using colour in ways others did not seem to achieve. He did not seem limited by the need to portray realism, his passion was purely about colour and atmosphere.

In Eye for Colour he says 'I visualised colours in their multitudes to remain an amorphous, cloudy hint of tints, of softened and endless possibilities...I dreamt of cloth vibrant with colour. I wanted reds that were redder and blues that were bluer than anything I had ever seen before' 

I have memories of lecturers and technicians at the college being somewhat surprised and dismissive of his yarns designed and developed in the workshops. Bernat was not really interested in the traditional techniques and machinery used to produce yarns. He was far more focussed on fibres for their texture than useful properties. Technicians like to make sure things work, their priority was how will it be for the weaver or knitter or how long lasting in the garment. His was always appearance, how the colours were enhanced and effect on handling and wearing the garment. The yarns were frequently fragile and unstable as a result, but always looked stunning!

In looking into Bernat Kleins work I happened upon references to my own work as a post graduate student at the Scottish College of Textiles, Slow Making indeed! I developed a range of 40 colours in the dye workshops, for a range of weaving and knitting yarns. I was 22 years old and wanted to learn everything and experience all that the textile world had to offer. I loved Scotland and the potential life had for me. Only now do I realise how much I achieved and how much I still make use of what I learned there. 

For a few weeks my weaving was very influenced by Bernat Klein. amples from upholstery cloth, Donegal yarn. Woven in 1978 

If I should have acknowledged anyone and have failed to I apologise
Here are some references you may like to follow

01 April 2020

Slow Art Day

Saturday April 4th is Slow Art Day
Take time to slow down, this is the perfect opportunity. This is a day for galleries, museums and individuals all over the world to invite others to share the art that is precious to them. Spend time contemplating and appreciating skills, materials and techniques.

This year is different, we can’t meet up and share the art in the same physical place, or enjoy a chat with coffee and cake afterwards. But we can share in different ways. Maybe send an image of your favourite piece, or one you would love to see again and share it via a phone message, have a conversation and share time thinking about that piece. You could of course have a chat with coffee, or the drink of choice, and cake as well!

This does not have to be looking at old pieces, it can be any art of your choice. Make sure you spend at least 5 minutes to appreciate the work, think about how long it might have taken to make, who made it, where the ideas may have come from.

You could follow up time spent looking with researching your chosen artist, maybe there is something about the person and the way they live that would encourage you to develop a different life style. We have the unusual experience of having time to think!

I still haven't decided what my Slow Art choice will be, I seem to take longer to make decisions, but that's ok too!
Here is the website for Slow Art Day

31 March 2020

Life has changed, the world feels different

With all that is going on just now I can say I am truly grateful for many things. Including family, friends and clients and of course my health.

Even in this season of uncertainty I am thankful for creativity and the ability to escape into the the unlimited possibilities of imagination and creativity. I hope you are finding time and opportunities to do the things that really bring you joy.

I seem to move from pure joy in the unexpected extra time to slow down, really connect with what matters, to times of light anxiety about what the future holds and wondering when we will be able to meet family and enjoy their company, digital communication is fine but you don't get the hugs!

These are such uncertain times, I think we need to be kind to ourselves and others. I can't remember when we last had time to think and just be, so try to take advantage of this time. Allow yourself to feel whatever it is you feel, do whatever you feel like doing or not doing. Just sit and watch the natural world, trust that all will be well, all is well, and hard as it is at this moment, I am sure there will be good and creative times ahead.
We are making good use of extra time working from home, which for us is not unusual but we are restricted from visiting family, going to galleries and out for meals with friends. Performances, presentations, meetings and all workshops have been postponed or cancelled until further notice.

So far I have cleared my little allotment copse, keeping it clear of some weeds and making good use of the early nettles to make salads, soups and pesto, with the wild garlic growing alongside it makes a wonderful early salad! I have also been cutting the holes in the plastic bigger for the plants that were planted several years ago. Over time, as the willow stems grow bigger, the plastic does not expand any further, so they need cutting to enable future growth. I am also pulling all the briars from the older willow beds, they are just budding at the moment and I hope will produce better harvest for being cared for.
I am really thankful for the community of makers, student s and colleagues, it is always a pleasure to run workshops and collaborate. I will be holding everyone in mind, if there is anything I can help do get in touch. I am here.

I have also had spent some time to refine skills in the workshop and studio, developing some new pieces of work and reading all the books that are either left half read, or unread because of other demands on my time. I trust the results of this will be seen in the work that you see or the workshops you take part in future.

To see what is happening in my world of making, with recycled materials, willow and planned online workshops and sales go to the news page on the workshops website.

Stay safe and well, keep on making, weaving and being creative!

02 December 2019

Making to brighten dark days

Making decorations is always a combination of the very familiar and a little bit new.
It seems that I am one of several basketmakers this year who have been enjoying new ways to make the familiar shapes, stars, trees and angels. The benefits of being able to communicate through internet has changed the traditional craft techniques. In the past it was possible to tell which village or area an item was made by technique, material or character. Maybe in future it will become almost impossible to tell where items are made, that could be interesting for archaeologists of the future.
My regular workshops at WWT Welney are always a pleasure to run, this year the visitor centre has been updated and it is great to be in a refreshed setting. 
Daylight in winter is very precious, we have short hours of daylight and dark afternoons and when cloudy the whole day can be very grey in the fens so making items that brighten up the day, or the mind, is always good to do.

06 November 2019

New shapes for this season

I have been making frame baskets, they are a bit more flexible and less structured than traditional round or oval ones but of course there is still a need to make neat and pleasing shapes. I have been realising, a bit late I know, the benefits of batch making, repeating the stages of making with about 6 baskets on the go at one time. The making becomes more refined and I remember the technique better, or learn to adapt it better. Each element is prepared in advance, with the handles and frame set so they are easier to work with when weaving.
The value of learning specific and repeatable techniques means I am able to make more elegant shapes when making a sculpture and improvise better to create new pieces.

If you have plans for a special event or a gift for someone either for Christmas or any other celebration I can provide gift tokens, they will be available on the FrostArt website soon.