An intriguing and unexpected result of working with Annemarie O’Sullivan on my last project, weaving a large scale outdoor sculpture which floated on a lake for 6 months (see Revolution and Resonance 2017 blog) is that I am now learning all manner of construction techniques which have been used over centuries and even millennia. I feel like a very small fish in a very large pond.

Over coming my own prejudice and discovering what a bad image basketry has had is shocking. I only had to look at objects in the British Museum to find that basketry, once a crucial skill which provided means of shelter, clothing, measuring, spiritual and ancestral knowledge, working and trade, also charts identity very closely as each individual place or basket was made of local plants and had a set purpose and this was ubiquitous around the world. After the discovery of new technologies and manufacturing materials that left basketry behind (though it is still the case that every basket made is done by hand) with cheaper mass production it has latterly gained a reputation in this country for its therapeutic mental health benefits. I grew up with big old blackened stone buildings in Yorkshire that had been used as mills and asylums, where patients more recently – often women – would be given weaving tasks to do as a way of occupational therapy, I haven’t researched this history yet but on the face of it, basketry, once a skill so integral to daily life on all levels has now been down graded to a hobby sold as kits in craft shops for children with the attitude you can learn what apprentices used to do for months in just a few minutes … well I am proving this not to be the case anyway – I can tell you it’s harder than it looks!

So my approach to basketry is one of delight and commitment to learning new skills. I have found an area in which allows me to learn construction tecniques that involve using continuous line without complicated machinery and jointing, one that uses materials that are from the landscape around us and one that allows a lot of experimentation and intuitive adjustment as a form is being made.

Rush acorns.

I want to use basketry in my work continuing my exploration of dependency and relationship.

So far I have learned some basic twining with rush and jute.


the last term on our course covered plaiting, none of us had realised just how much you can hate cutting up strips of bockingford paper into straight 1.5cm lengths but that is exactly how we started, so it could only get better.

using architecture as a starting point I wanted to develop this with form in mind rather than surface pattern.

As well as looking at buildings

I looked at an old favourite, the Bauhaus, and tried working their three basic forms the circle or sphere, a square and a triangle or pyramid.

each form was a challenge in different materials but I like trying to make something do a job it might not typically do so i made various experiments which I was pretty happy with.

the pyramid proved the most challenging form to create so I began weaving a flat mat in paper and then mesh and using origami to fold it into a pyramid, I tried two different folding methods.

I’m still working on the pyramid it looks straight forward but each time I try it foxes me…





Weaving with willow is like speaking another language. The timing and emphasis is one of its own, you cannot help but become involved in the process of growing, cutting, storing, soaking then selecting and weaving.
It feels different to anything else, it smells different to any other material.
It connects me to history and civilisations as early as I can imagine.


For our coiling module we had the theme ‘animal’. Not a theme I was ecstatic about! But then coiling was not a basketry skill I warmed to when I read it on the syllabus. Until I tried it and then green eggs and ham I love coiling I do! I have been addicted to it ever since the first session.

Why? It is immensely satisfying – the process of wrapping fibres –  and appeals to my more experimental and materials based practice. This was an enormous module to undertake in just 4 weeks. For those of us that enjoyed it this was just the beginning; you can coil so many materials in so many different ways it is literally endless.

I began by gathering resources, collecting materials and objects that reflected the colour or textures of the animals I had in mind, fox, raven/crow, horse, goat and sheep. To start with I focussed on the fox and wanted to get some rusty metal or wire on the go but realised this would take a while as I need to ‘find’ the right pieces, I tried using some new wire which would then rust later but it wasn’t pliable enough, I need iron wire and could try that or use it on a much larger scale outdoors at some point.  I visited the Handweavers studio in London where they sell strange things like balls of spun horse hair and goat hair, this is beautiful stuff and so I looked at the characteristics of those animals.

The fox

This became a small basket made of brush bristles and sisal with black hemp stitching, fragile but tough and slightly tamed but wild. The hunter and the hunted.

The goat

I wanted to reflect a sense of being nimble and light, and its markings down the face, goats are valuable as gritty survivors good at living on hostile ground eating anything enabling community’s survival in harsh environments so I wanted to reference their value and status using the horn. I want to form a horn from silver but for now it’s armature wire.

The horse

I found a horse shoe and made a hoof basket. I like the weight of the horse shoe and it is slightly rusty metal sheen and worked and worn look. Horses are immense, beautiful beasts and their feet are critical to everything they do whether its working or racing. Like human shoes I think horse shoes and hoofs carry a history.

The sheep

I want to make work using particular breeds of sheep, looking a little into wool and fleece I discover it is a huge area of great variation which also carries a ton of history like baskets which is indigenous to the geography and even each animal too. So looking on my doorstep I have started with Romney sheep one of the oldest breeds in England producing a very versatile fleece good for clothing and furnishing, soft, strong and durable. This is also the start of a new project idea that I will develop over the next few months.

For my college project sheep basket I used a combination of Romney wool for the main basket and a Wendsleydale/Jacob cross.

All of my basket ideas work better for me when I consider them in relationship with another material, I want to use stone, slate, flint, chalk and metal to create a balance between the subject and its context.

I made a few experiments and loads of samples and my shed is chock full of materials!

And now I am making mats and beachcombing.

Next term its willow.


‘working with a new material’  sounds obvious doesn’t it?  Every time I tackle a new material I think, ‘this is going to be a creative adventure, and I’m excited’ – what I forget is the strange one step forwards two steps backwards feeling I have when learning something new, with something new – perhaps it’s because it’s a part time course and I already cram too much into a busy life, perhaps its because as an adult I have more of a perfectionist nature than I am prepared to fully admit to or perhaps it’s just that I rush everything and still need to slow down.

So as I wasn’t busy enough already this term I had raised the stakes and agreed to give a Pecha Kucha 20×20 (that’s 20 images and 20 seconds per image) presentation at the De La Warr Pavilion on International Women’s day. This created the perfect storm and I have been spending much time upset, (spot the basketry puns) having what a friend laughingly suggested was an existential crisis ever since.

As an artist it’s kinda necessary to be able to say what I do even though artists usually prefer to let the work do the talking. Getting used to saying I am an artist has been difficult enough; there is no employer to back this up, no wages and no clear career structure. But repeatedly artists are expected to be able to summarise in a neat little sound bite what it is that we do. As someone who wants to maintain a professional art practice I feel obligated to do this and also recognise it helps to think this through every now and again. The trouble is my work is an ever changing thing as my practice moves forward. I recently read ‘The mark on the wall’ by Virginia Woolf and for me, like the ‘mark’  every time I squint at my practice it seems to change…

‘in certain lights that mark on the wall seems actually to project from the wall….it seems to cast a perceptible shadow’ wrote Virginia Woolf

I recognise in some ways I am in a state of transition so it’s only to be expected that I am slightly discombobulated by the prospect of telling people what I do succinctly and in a language we all can understand.

For Pecha Kucha I realised I was trying to be many things. Funny, informative, cool, professional, concise, accessible, relevant etc…argh


I am the only person putting this pressure on myself – so after several failed attempts at choosing 20 images (out of hundreds) and choosing different angles on which to base the presentation I reverted back to what was relevant to me.

I mused about even stopping calling myself an artist, like Ai Wei Wei because I have found adjusting to the challenge of returning to education for the strict purpose of learning very specific and repetitive skills, was throwing my status quo of process and philosophy right off centre.

As far as pechakucha was concerned it dragged me through a tangle of self examination laced with the irony of finding a statement I wrote in 2012 saying exactly the same thing that I had concluded after all this soul searching..(I am consistent after all if a trifle forgetful!) note to self ‘take more notice of yourself and less of others’

Learning a craft (with a very skilled and patient teacher, John Page) is actually a brilliant experience as it is flagging up exactly where it is in the process that I tend to bolt at being told what to do. For example making the final rush basket with handles, I wanted to control how it looked without much regard to its purpose. But to learn how to make a good functional basket one needs to learn about strength, proportion, materials and techniques.

But when it came to the handles, which gave it a distinct character, I was not prepared to add handles that made it look twee there’s no other way for me to describe this (unless it was going to be an ironic statement) so I made handles that spanned one end to the other slightly more architectural in my mind…although that does sound really quite pompous.

I enjoyed returning to using rush and felt better about handling it. I learned how to damp it properly and have no idea how it might feature in future work yet. I want to focus on dualities as they are a very common recurring theme in my practice. Rush as a material has many attributes, it’s incredibly strong yet soft, (sounds like a toilet roll ad!) pliable yet can hold form, it’s inner core is like natural polystyrene and basically in its raw state looks like the most unlikely pile of dirty plant stalks you’ve ever seen …until you learn how to use it that is…


Who would have thought a cane module of 6 weeks – our brief : ‘from the air’ – could be an emotional rollercoaster…perhaps sky diving is a better analogy!

It was the term up to Christmas so rammed with other commitments and learning a whole new set of skills, patterns and rules to implement was a challenge. Polly Pollock our tutor set the bar high and we tried our best to keep up.

Learning about rattan and the very intensive processes it undergoes before we get our inexperienced hands on centre cane is complex, it’s harvested by people using ancient skills from rainforests often in pretty dangerous conditions as they pull at the plants stretching metres up into the trees, then it is treated and processed to refine it for all sorts of use using the bark and the centre stripped out. We were using centre cane a round section in 3 gauges. there are a lot of numbers involved and it’s essential to think ahead…(not my strong point). Each gauge has a number and we have to separate out a batch of it then re wind it all. Then sort it into which gauge will be used for stakes, weavers and borders. Then we count and measure lengths, we do this a LOT!

Next we dyed it. This is messy fun and produces some amazing rainbows of colour shades just from using primary colour dyes. We did some colour theory alongside this to help us understand complimentary colours and how they look together.

So my response (being a monochrome kind of gal is one of just how black can we get this cane to go?)  I had done some rain water drawing with ink blots. puddles, mud and winter and wanted to use this as a starting point for my platter. Translating a photograph or an idea into a circular disc with lines going broadly speaking in concentric circles was an interesting challenge. The only way to get this nailed was to do it and try it and see what happened.   The circular disk of the platter was a form I could identify with strongly from my previous work with Revolution and Resonance

To get going with this strange new material I started with getting colours and a palette that I liked,  which involved trying Indian drawing ink as a dye.

The cane platter project really highlighted the tension between an idea or intellectual concept which runs through my practice and the craft skills of rule bound ‘ making’ who’s origins usually now lie with design rather than a fine art premise. Some artists believe there is no difference between artists and crafts people (artisans?) Caroline Achaintre makes work as an artist but uses craft techniques to execute them, I rather think it’s all in the intention. If the piece is made purely for practical, functional use to a set pattern it is a beautiful piece of craft still to be admired but different to a piece made to express an idea or to develop an investigation from the basis of a question.

Frank Gehry’s loose drawings suggest to me this architect used creative ideas as a starting point for his designs (Bilbao, Gugenheim Art Museum) like Chermeyef (De La Warr Pavilion) they require you to use your imagination to fill in the gaps but convey an overall concept. Perhaps this is always the first stage even with an entirely functional object, hidden by need for speed and lack of value for this stage in the process. perhaps its how much we value this stage which determines whether we see ourselves as artists in an intellectual, emotional, responsive or intuitive sense.

Fishermen made baskets and nets to catch carry and weigh fish. End of. However these were highly skilled tasks and the baskets and nets they made could be said to be aesthetically appealing (especially now as fashion has begun to value their inherent qualities) old baskets now become artefact – valued for their story/narrative and social history and the fact they have endured, the materials have aged and mellowed their use has added to their character. But this does not necessarily make them art works.