We grow a small amount of willow on our March Street site, particularly in the bottom field where the soil is moist. If grown in the wrong area it can quickly get out of hand and it’s roots can drain moisture out of the surrounding soil in an aggressive manner. At the bottom of our site, where there remains water-logging issues, this is not a problem.
We are growing willow as it’s an incredibly useful plant to make things from. A fishing net made from willow dates back to 8300 BC, it’s use has continued ever since; the Romans cultivated willow for their baskets, as have we.
The craft of basketry gave rise to pottery making because baskets were used as moulds for some of the earliest pots. Every basket has a character that is largely determined by the kind of fibre used to make it. This became apparent when the ladies we work with started doing a day long weaving session. Many had anticipated it would be easy to make baskets because some of these ladies have done weaving with bamboo before, in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
When they started they managed to do the hoops very quickly, seeing their skill in weaving was fascinating. One of the woman who attends our sessions is 87 years old, she enjoys coming and gets quite involved. She also has a lot of experience in Bamboo weaving. She showed her techniques and explained to everyone how she used to weave with Bamboo.
This project had bought memories back to the ladies; one of the ladies had mentioned she hasn’t done any weaving in the last 45 years. When the ladies completed the session Julie, the session leader, was really interested to see how the ladies would start their weaving from the conversations they had. Two of the ladies set up two baskets and explained how they would start their baskets and how they would slice the Bamboo into thin shreds with a tool known as ‘dha’ (hooked knife) in Bangladesh. The ladies were very proud of the end result.
I personally feel this was a very productive and therapeutic session, which has helped myself and the ladies enhance their knowledge in weaving. Learning this skill will help them get creative with the willow we have on site and so start making other items such as; trellis, animals, and structured baskets. These sessions are helping the ladies social interaction and their bonding is getting stronger as a result.
Throughout the craft project they have shared their knowledge and have been singing various songs. This is quite a contrast as when the ladies started coming they were quite reserved and would only speak to certain members of staff. Now I see most of these ladies trying to communicate and interact with each other and a lot of our staff. Their confidence level is growing and I am starting to see more diversity around me, as well as beautifully crafted results.