I had been looking forward to my time at summer school for weeks. I'd prepared enough food to last Mike the week, written instructions on what to feed the animals/problems to watch for with the horses, listed all the phone numbers he might need in an emergency etc.
Mike helped me pack and Barney wondered if he could fit in my case!
Willow weaving is something I've always wanted to try but never got round to actually doing so I was very excited. I'd been collecting photos, magazine cuttings and website details for ideas for ages and was raring to go. Jackie had phoned all of us a couple of weeks beforehand to find out our level of experience and what we wanted to achieve. I wanted to learn to weave a basic basket and make something for the garden, other than that I was totally open to anything.
After arriving at West Dean, I just had time to unpack and settle into my room before we gathered in the Great Hall to meet our respective tutors then adjourn for lunch before our first class. There were lots of other courses going on - metalwork sculpture for the garden, Watercolour painting, photography, enamelling, wood carving to name but a few.
There were 9 of us doing the course, 6 beginners and 3 more advanced which made for a nice mix. First of all Jackie read back over her notes to check that what she'd written about us was actually correct. This was a great ice-breaker and saved all the usual embarrassment of introducing yourself to the group. Then it was straight into basket-making for us beginners whilst the more experienced ladies embarked upon their own projects.
Jackie cut 6 rods of a similar thickness to the same length.
She showed us how to use a bodkin to split the willow in the centre of 3 rods then inserted 3 more rods through them to form a cross shape which was the start of the base.
Next we made a sort of foundation binding around the middle for 2 rounds. This helped hold them in place ready to start the weaving.
Then we started weaving the base. At first it felt really strange as I didn't know what sort of pressure to use, how to bend it etc but I soon got into the swing of it and started to enjoy the rhythm. Jackie said it helped you concentrate if you said out loud exactly what you were doing eg "over 1, behind 1" and she was quite right. At this stage we were working with just 2 weavers but later on we'd be using 3 and you really needed to pay attention to what you were doing! It was interesting watching the shape form as when you started weaving it forced the foundation rods apart into a star shape.
When the base was the size I wanted I selected the rods to go up the sides of the basket, slyped the thick ends and inserted them into the base. It looks like some sort of starfish! Each of the upright rods then had to be nicked with a craft knife, twisted and bent upwards.
Next it was time to start the process of 'upsetting' where 'waling', which is weaving done with 3 or more weavers, is used to begin the sides of the basket. Waling can also be used at intervals to strengthen the basket.
I added a couple of different coloured weavers for a bit of variety and wove in some short sticks at different angles to give a nice texture. I was quite pleased with the effect they created. There seemed little point in producing something plain as you can buy imported baskets for very little expense so I wanted something unique.
I knew I wanted to create a rounded shape and Jackie said that it would look nicely balanced if the rim at the top was smaller than the base. She was right. The weave around the top was complicated and I really had to concentrate and repeat the sequence out loud so I didn't get confused. In the background you can see Kate, on the left, and Margot on the right.
Finally Jackie helped me make the handle which was rather complicated. The cable ties are to hold it in place temporarily whilst it dries.
Barney was quick to investigate the basket when I brought it home. He went in head first and there was a rather undignified struggle to reposition himself like this. Sadly I wasn't quick enough getting the camera so I missed it!
I'd taken my running shoes so that I didn't get too far behind with my schedule. The grounds were lovely to run in early in the morning. I found a pleasant 3.5 mile route around the arboretum which I used as a base. Some days I did 3 circuits and others I ventured into different parts of the gardens. I often saw a red deer disappearing into the undergrowth. The paths up into the arboretum were covered in flints and sometimes chalk so I managed to gather a few that I thought I could wrap in willow as decorations. The one shown alone is shaped like a heart and I just had to make something for Mike using it.
Here they are all wrapped up neatly! Mike's heart looks great and he has hung it on the wall in his office. The 2 dangly things are little copper diamond shapes that I enamelled. During the summer school we were given the opportunity to have a 'taster' session on one of the other courses and I chose enamelling (as did several others from the willow course).
I'd wanted to make a sort of giant spiral hanging sculpture to hang from a tree in the garden but despite many attempts at it I just couldn't make the concept work using the willow. Undefeated, I decided to make several smaller pieces of spiraling pyramid shapes and join them together using cable ties. I made them in 3 different colours; green, buff and red. My idea is to hang them at different lengths in part of the orchard.
I really liked this ball shape that Jackie had made. She'd threaded shells onto the willow but I decided I wanted to make shapes using different coloured willow instead.
I started by making 2 large circles from long lengths of brown willow. Before you can bend the willow like this you have to 'take the spite' out of the rods by gently flexing along their length so they don't just snap. The 2 circles are then tied together using cable ties stained the same colour as the willow so they'd blend in. Then it was a case of making swirly shapes and weaving them in and out until I got the desired effect.
Here's the finished ball suspended from a branch on a holly tree in our garden. It catches the morning sun beautifully and creates wonderful shadows. If you click on the photo to enlarge it you can see the different colours of willow which really give it depth.
Jackie had brought some beautiful white willow along and it just called out to me and inspired me to create this 'doodle'. I've christened it a 'doodle' because it looks as if a child has just scribbled on paper with a crayon! It was formed with a ring for the base and then 6 interlocking rings around the edge to form a sort of bowl shape. Then I just doodled with the willow until the pattern looked interesting enough. It looks really effective against the polished black granite of my kitchen and there are some wonderful shadows reflected.
I made 3 platters using the different willows and was really pleased with the results. They were quite quick to make and I liked the two-tone effect which was achieved by weaving green willow from one side and buff from the other. The hardest part was finishing off as there was little room to thread the willow through.
The 2 smaller platters took no time at all to make. I think they'd make good pot stands. The one on the left has a green willow frame and rods with buff weavers whilst the one on the right has a white willow frame, black willow rods (it has the most gorgeous smell!) and is woven with buff and white.
Here they are displayed up in the rafters at home. The room is yet undecorated and they look quite nice against the bare plaster.
On the Wednesday we had a free afternoon in which we could visit some local places of interest, continue working in the studio or just chill out in the beautiful grounds. Candace and I chose to visit the Goodwood Sculpture Park which was only a few miles away. I took loads of photos but don't want to clog up my blog so will just show a few here. Some of the sculptures had movement and I especially liked this one which consisted of a glass tube in which a column of water swirled up and down.
This one is entitled 'Paparazzi' and is really effective. You could see your reflection in the lens of the camera which was quite unnerving.
Candace took this one of me standing next to an enormous metal sculpture. She called it a fish and I called it a tadpole! I loved the shape of it and what was really interesting was that it reflected the surrounding area which gave it a whole new dimension.
I had to include this one as it inspired Kate to create a wonderfully surreal headdress (see below).
There now follow some photos in which we all look rather silly! On our penultimate evening there was a party, the theme of which was "Surrealism" as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Edward James, founder of West Dean College and a great supporter of the surrealist movement. You can read more about him here We were all asked to add a surrealist element to our outfit for the evening, preferably using something associated with our coursework. That is why I have a wicker spiral on my head with my half-finished (still!!!) glove attached to it and 2 balls of wool dangling. Very fetching, don't you think?
Jackie decided to make herself a crown of willow and attached teabags and coffee sachets, with a teapot on her head to complete the look. Della's husband chose some rather fetching glasses.
Sorry boys, I don't know who she is! I just snapped her because her drink matched her dress so well.
Here we have Kate, normally a very sensible Head Teacher who revealed her inner silliness! I loved her hat. Inspired by the photo from the sculpture park she made a willow bicycle and attached a metal fish (made by the metalwork teacher) to it, making reference to the quote A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle
She completed her outfit with a lovely Allium Christophii seed head. I thought hers was the wittiest head-dress and think she should have won a prize. My favourite was a man who'd put his suit on backwards, including his tie. Now that was surreal. I didn't get a photo though.
Candace made herself a willow crown and then attached an apple to it. I think she looks like a lady from the roaring twenties! Dave gets into the shot again and Della's head makes an appearance too.
Here we all are, except Candace who made herself scarce during the group photo. From left to right, standing: Theresa, me, Margo, Kate, Liz, Jackie. Seated; Della, Katie and Sue.
Later that evening some of us went back to the classroom to finish off our projects. Jackie took the opportunity to weigh some of our work in order to calculate how much we owed (willow is sold by weight).
Here is Candace working on her beautiful fox. She really captured the spirit of him and gave him a wonderful stance.
Here he is peeping round a tree.
Here's a selection of our pieces displayed outside. It was really exciting to see the diversity of items we all made.
Theresa made these magnificent screens which she intended to take home on the roof rack. They were so large I suspect she needed a Police escort!
Last, but certainly not least, we have the 3 hedgehogs made by Sue, Della and Margot. They are gorgeous and so full of character.
I've brought some buff willow home with me to have a go at making a smaller basket on my own. I know this is something I will definitely want to continue with and and can't wait to attend another course. Thankfully, Jackie is only about 2 hours drive away and holds day courses so I should be able to get over to see her.
I couldn't end without sharing a photo of the surrealist tree that Edward James commissioned for part of the garden. From a distance it looks just like an ordinary tree but perhaps a bit greyer.
However, when you get close up you can see that it's made out of fibreglass. Very effective and great fun.