The Sustainable Art of Willow Weaving

Basket weaving it one of the oldest and widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, but it is very difficult to state exactly how old the craft is, because natural materials such as wood and grass decay naturally and constantly.  It is worth having a brief look at the history behind this very traditional art.

The oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old.  These were discovered in Faiyum in Upper Egypt.  During the Industrial Revolution in the UK, baskets were used in factories and also for packaging and for delivering goods.  Wicker furniture became very fashionable in Victorian society and this led to the development of various different uses for it, other than industrial use, such as aesthetically pleasing items – ornamental baskets and sculptures.

Basketry is made from a variety of fibrous, or pliable materials.  Basically any material that will bend and form a shape.  It is usually classified into four types:

– ‘Coiled’ basketry – using grasses and rushes

-‘Plaiting’ basketry – making braids using plams, yucca or New Zealand flax

– ‘Twining’ basketry – material from roots and tree bark.  This actually refers to a weaving process, or technique whereby two or more flexible materials cross each other as they weave through some stiffer upright spokes.

-‘Wicker’ and ‘Splint’ basketry – using reed, cane, willow, oak and ash

It is this latter process that has been adopted and developed by the Creative Green  tutor and environmental artist, Dave Gosling. Dave uses a variety of materials to create his sculptures, but when

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

Willow Sculpture of Man Standing by Dave Gosling

teaching newcomers to the art, he uses willow.  Mainly because it is much easier to manipulate.  We have sourced the willow that we are using through Musgrove Willows.  For almost a hundred years the Musgrove Family have been growing willow on the Somerset Levels.  It is a renewable and sustainable crop, annually harvested from a stump in withy beds.  It is the ultimate green product, absorbing carbon from the atmosphere as it grows.

Dave has developed his work from a weaving background to one that weaves itself into the the natural landscape.  This is much in evidence in a lot of his work, including the more permanent pieces.  Dave insists that ‘impressive structures can be achieved in a day’ for even a beginner.  He has been commissioned by many Local Authorities to bring the natural environment into urban town centres by using his sculptures in either wire, or willow.

We are hoping that some amazing sculptures will take place at our Al Fresco Willow Sculpture Event at Clue Hill Farm on Friday 3rd July, under the expert guidance of Dave Gosling and Tony Davies.  The willow is currently soaking in our pond, for at least 10 days (the pond is fed by natural springs, so the water should be really pure) – this is what Dave has advised us to do.  So everything is ready and waiting for the sun to come out and then we can begin!

 

Flowers are good for your Health

Flower arrangements created during the floristry workshop at Clue Hill Farm, Brill, during the summer of 2014.

Hand-held arrangements from a Creative Green Flower Workshop

Floral design, or floral arts is the art of creating flower arrangements in vases, bowls, baskets or other containers.  It may also include the making of bouquets and compositions from cut flowers. People have been using flowers to lift their spirits for hundreds of years.  Studies have show that even the view of a flower, or tree can lift the mood and help an ailing body recover.  There are definitely benefits to health by just being near to them.

There have been studies at Rutgers University (USA) where they found that flowers had an immediate impact on levels of happiness, in all age groups. Flowers have a long-term positive effect on moods. In particular, the study participants reported feeling less depressed, anxious and agitated after receiving flowers and demonstrated a higher sense of enjoyment and life satisfaction.  Flowers can also allow intimate connections.  The presence and use of flowers led to increased contact with family and friends.

‘Flowers bring about positive emotional feelings in those who enter a room’ said Dr. Haviland-Jones. ‘They make the space more welcoming and create a sharing atmosphere’.  This is applicable to homes, offices, hospitals or anywhere where people tend to gather.  This may also be applied to outdoor spaces, but in this instance we have our native wild flowers with their abundance of colour and natural beauty to enjoy.

In the hay fields and surrounding woods and paths at Clue Hill Farm we have an abundance of wild flowers.  This is primarily due to the fact that there have been no chemicals used there for the past 28 years and that the sheep are our wonderfully efficient natural lawn movers during the winter months, which prepares the hay fields so that they can burst into an amazing pallet of colours as they mature and grow during the months of May and June.  There has been an amazing crop of buttercups this year, which looks stunning in the sunshine.

We have the following wild flowers on natural display at the moment: buttercup, wood anemone, bee orchid, red campion, red clover, rosebay willow herb, dandelion, bird’s foot trefoil, yellow iris, yellow archangel, bugle, yellow rattle to name but a few.

Wild flowers do not really last when brought indoors and also, should not really be picked.  They are better left in the natural environment, for us to enjoy and for bees and insects to make use of.  For floral arrangements, the use of natural materials such as mosses, lichens, bark and small branches can really enhance a few garden flowers giving that back-to-nature feel.

Our Gift Flowers and Floristry Techniques Workshop is specifically designed to make use of these natural materials that can be harvested sustainably from Clue Hill Farm.  Caroline Wilson  and Hazel Harmanour workshop tutors, are passionate about the use of nature’s fruits and have both had many years in the floristry trade where they have practiced this art.

Summer flower arrangement

Creative Green Floral Arrangement using Natural Materials

Some of the floristry tips that are being offered at this workshop are:

– ensure that your flowers are as fresh as possible when you get them.  Even after they are in the vase, the freshest flowers will continue to open up and live fully until the end of their lifespan.

– whilst growing, flowers need water and sunlight, but after they are cut that’s not entirely the case – sunlight plays a vital role in growth, not necessarily in lifespan.  In fact, too much heat will restrict the absorption of water, so a hot windowsill in the midday sun may not be such a good idea.  Equally, avoid putting them near radiators or fires, or even microwaves.  Overnight it is a good idea to put your flowers in the coolest part of the house to ensure that they do not get too warm.  It is also crucial not to place them in a draught, or near a door.

– to maximise water absorption, put your flowers in warm water, not cold when they arrive.  Warm water is easier to absorb and will ensure that the flowers stay fresh.  Be vary of adding too much water – flowers only absorb through the bottom of the stem, so only an inch or two needs to be submerged.  Ideally, cut your stems across and keep them as short as you can.  Shorter stems means the water does not have as far to travel and will make a difference in lifespan.

‘A successful person is not necessarily someone with a lot of money and material goods, but rather someone who is in tune with people and knows how to touch their hearts.  I can think of no other item besides flowers that evokes such positive feelings and perceptions for both the giver and the recipient’ M.J. Ryan author of the Random Acts of Kindness books series.