Where there’s a willow there’s a way

For this year’s spring creative workshop, we ventured to the beautifully scenic Cool Contours, just outside of Chipping Warden. It’s a familiar location, as we also did our photography session here. This time, however, we were trying something a bit different…

Willow weaving

We arrived at Cool Contours to a delicious lunch from the hosts: slow-cooked chicken rendang, chocolate brownies, shortbread, buttery flapjacks (Andy had 5), and obviously, given our wellbeing priorities, lots of fruit. We even got a bit of sun too.

Our tutors for the afternoon were Richard and Sue Kerwood from Windrush Willow, who have been working with willow since 1998 and grow 140+ varieties.

After the brief safety recap from Richard, about not chopping off digits with secateurs or piercing feet with bodkins, we decided on our team names:

Only Fools Rushin
Tom, Dan, Jade, Clo
Mole, Toad, Ratty & Badger
Meg, Zoe, Andy, Laura
Josh, Russ, Shannon
All The Single Weavers
Fran, Anna, Em B
Green Fingers
Steve, David, Han
The Three Degrees
Marianne, Nic, Debs

Each of the tasks that we were to complete would be judged by Sue and Richard with points given to the team who were judged to have exceeded the task at hand. The willow champions would win glory, bragging rights, and a bottle of champagne.

First, a ‘simple’ bird feeder

After watching Richard demonstrate the folding technique for making a bird feeder, we all got stuck in. We quickly realised that it was a little harder than Richard had made it look, but cracked on under the patient guidance of Sue.

While half the group was busy weaving the bird feeder structure, Richard took the other half of the group out to have a go at making the handle for the feeder. This was created by forming ply rope from rushes. Then, the two groups swapped over.

Once both components were completed, Richard and Sue helped us put the two parts together to form the completed bird feeder. Resulting in a diverse array of bird feeders, with some looking a little closer to Richard’s example than others…

There’s always a competitive edge

What is a mark-making* outing without a bit of competitiveness?

The next task was to see which team could make the longest rope (using our newly learnt technique with the rushes) in 15 minutes.

Some of the ‘ropes’ were questionable in terms of structural integrity but we were only being judged on the length. Green Fingers won with a whopping [how long – 1.3m?], but kudos for quality went to All The Single Weavers.

Bin there, weaved that

After such a competitive activity, we wound down by learning how to build up the sides of a wastepaper basket using an English rand weave. Mark-makers Debs and Fran enjoyed this activity so much that they actually finished off the two baskets. These impressive bins can now be found in the mm* office.

Kim’s game

Next, a member from each team was nominated to try and remember as many basket weaving tools as they could, with only one minute to memorise them all. During the 60 seconds, individuals studied the layout in silence, no note-taking or photography was allowed. They rushed back to write down as many items as they could recall.

Lord of the (dragon)Flies

Our final task was to learn how to weave dragonflies. As with the preparation of the willow, dragonflies mature in water and then, when ready, take flight (which by the end of the session most of our dragonflies were just about structurally sound enough to do).

And the winner is…

For us office workers, the constant shaping and bending of the willow started to take its toll on our delicate hands. So it was time to announce which team had accumulated the most points and won the coveted bottle of champagne…

The team that managed to accrue the most points was:

Green fingers

Steve, David, and Han

Big thanks

The weather held out, and we all had a fantastic day. Shout-out to the organisers Fran, David, Marianne, Anna, and Steve. Also, thank you to mark-making* for the opportunity to do this creative workshop.

A big thanks go to our tutors Richard and Sue, not forgetting our hosts at Cool contours.

Weave only gone and done it

We left at the end of the day – with bird feeders, dragonflies, and bins in hand – as certified basket cases.

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