Yesterday was cold.  It rained, and there was occasional driving rain, along with a cold, gusty wind.  Against all the odds (it’s March – surely Spring must spring sometime?), today was even colder.  It was ridiculous.  It snowed, the white stuff gusted everywhere, the wind was arctic, and icicles formed.  The module’s title was “Willow Structures”, but really it was just a selection of techniques that we employed, with varying degrees of success, as a distraction from the cold.

Finishing the hurdle

Carefully remove hurdle rods from bale

Carefully remove hurdle rods from bale

We warmed up with a short bout of speed weaving.  The target was to complete the unfinished hurdle from yesterday.  A good bit of teamwork helped to finish it off – Paul selected the rods and the colours, and I practised my pairing.  More teamwork helped to extract the hurdle from the hay bale.  A few pairs of hands pull all the stakes out at the same time.  The final stage was the Krypton-factor challenge of fitting the hurdles into our vehicles.

Verdict:  4/5 distraction success

Willow tunnel – Living Willow Structure

Willow tunnel

Willow tunnel

Working outside wasn’t possible today, so we decamped to the greenhouse for the living willow structure construction.  The snow even drifted down inside the greenhouse – this was a little distracting from the task in hand.  The weather stopped us harvesting our own fresh willow for the living structure too, so we used dried poles, just as a demonstration.  These weren’t as flexible as the fresh rods would be, and there wasn’t much space.  Within these limitations, we tried to learn the basics.

The basics

  • Construct a living willow structure while the willow is dormant – late March at the latest.
  • Use biomass rods that have just been cut.
  • Each butt end must be planted into the ground.
  • The length of the rod determines the height/size of the arch.  Don’t push the limits or the ends won’t be long enough to weave together properly, and the structure will be less rigid.
  • Weave four horizontal lines along the sides of the arches.  Plant the butts of each line alongside the base of an arch.  Offset the planted butts.  The two rods used for each line are paired around each arch.
  • The front arch will be less rigid, so use more paired rods to tie them in.
  • Make the arches by bending the two sides together, twisting them and paired weaving them around the vertical lines.
  • Strengthen the structure by planting rods to weave diagonally.  Ideally these diagonal rods are long enough to go right over the arch (on a diagonal).
  • Reinforce the top of the arch by adding a paired weave along the length of the structure.  Be careful not to leave butt ends protruding into the tunnel.
  • Free-style is fine – the aim is to pair a weave into every gap that presents itself.
  • God’s eyes are used to finish the joints.

Verdict: 3/5 distraction success

Decoding baskets

Throughout the day, we encountered baskets.  Each basket gave us the opportunity to stop and to admire.

French randing basket

decoding a basket

Decoding a basket

This weave starts with the butt of the rods starting at the base of the sides.  The weave starts with a rod placed between each stake.

French randing basket

French randing basket

The rods are randed around the sides, forming a spiral with the weave rods decreasing in width up the sides.  It’s more complicated than this, and there is much more detail to know, but we enjoyed examining the basket and attempting to decode it.

Wooden basket base

Wooden basket base

Wooden based basket

A solid wooden base leads to a sturdy basket.  A solid wooden base also means that bits don’t fall through the bottom.

Verdict: 5/5 distraction success.  Decoding the baskets requires intense concentration – excluding thoughts of the cold.  The high score was further assisted by the location of many of the baskets inside the (warm) farmhouse.

Bean supports

Finished bean supports

Finished bean supports

We made these in the barn structure; a structure packed with wood and hay bales.  Sadly, the barn was under provided for with walls, leading to quite a draughty workplace.  It was much better than outside though. Because we weren’t outside, we made the supports in hay bales rather than the earth.

six rods in a circle

Six rods in a circle

The basics

  • Start with six straight rods.
  • Trim off any bent ends.
  • Plant the sticks in a circle, around 14 inches diameter.
  • Spiral the rods and lash the tops together (around 3 inches from the ends).
  • Bend a whippy rod in half and fit it around an upright.
  • Use a paired weave, plus extra twists to weave around the base.

    Tip-to-tip join

    Tip-to-tip join

  • Tip-to-tip join – twist tips together and continue the weave
  • Butt-to-butt join – finish with a butt tucked against the inside of a vertical.  Thread another butt end around and in the previous weave.
  • After three (or so) rounds of weave, start to spiral up, and then form another round.
  • Use whippier rods towards the top, as the poles get closer together.
  • Lose the last whippy ends up the middle lashing.

Verdict: 2/5 distraction success.  I didn’t find it easy to get these looking good.  Perhaps my fingers were too cold to manipulate the rods successfully.  Perhaps I just don’t know what a bean support should look like.  I was assured that the beans would be indifferent to the neatness of their support, but I was still dissatisfied.  The low distraction score is a reflection of this.

A long, warming and wonderful lunch

A long, warming and wonderful lunch

Lunch

Lunch was a definite highlight of the day.  We were all welcomed into the warm haven of the farmhouse.

Firebox in the wood-fired range

Firebox in the wood-fired range

A wood-fired range (along with Graham) provided bacon and sausages.  There was home-made soup keeping warm on a massive wood-burning stove.  As well as the soup, bacon and sausages, we ate fresh bread, homemade chutney, and a variety of jams.  There was plentiful tea and coffee, books to browse and conversations to share.  The only surprise is that we ever went back outside.

Verdict: 4.5/5 distraction success.  The farmhouse also gave a view to the outside.  Seeing more snow swirling down was a constant reminder that this warm interlude would most definitely end…

Finding an insulated spot

Finding an insulated spot

Hay bales

Hay bales are useful.  Guinea pigs need hay for bedding.  We used the bales for basing our hurdles in, and our bean supports too.

Finding a warm space in the hay

Finding a warm space in the hay

As time went on, they also looked more and more inviting.  We’d all heard stories about using hay for insulation… sleeping in the hay… surely hay was WARM?  Further investigation was definitely required.

Verdict:  4.5/5 distraction success.  Hay is much warmer to stand on than concrete, and they are excellent protection from wind and snow.

Small Willow structures

As a treat, we learnt how to make some small willow structures.  Fun, fun, fun!

Willow whatsit

Willow whatsit

Willow whatsits

These are a bit like corn dollies.  They are all unique, with the size and shape dictated by the vagaries of the material selection, the tightness of the weave, the coldness of the fingers.  They can be made with a space to put a ball inside, as a rattle, or with a loop to hang as a decoration.

Lash together five butts

Lash together five butts

The basics

  • Start with five really nice matching thin rods (material selection is EVERYTHING!)
  • Trim the butts and lash the butt ends together tightly with some flexible binding willow.  Use a discarded piece of willow as a spacer to pull the tip end of the lashing through.
  • Thumb-crease each rod (trimming thumb nail if necessary).

    North, East, South, West and weave the spare

    North, East, South, West and weave the spare

  • Lay the bundle onto a block, with the five rods radiating out:  North, East, South, West and spare.
  • Weave the spare rod over the two next rods (N and E) so that it is in line with the second rod (E).
  • The “just crossed rod” (E) is now the weave rod.  Bend it out and behind the first rod, then cross it over this rod and the next rod.
  • Once the pattern is established, flare the shape outwards by keeping the weave rod to the outside of the last-crossed rod.

    control the flare

    Control the flare in – or out – with the overlap on the corners

  • Reduce the flare (bring the shape back inwards) in good time so that you don’t run out of length on the willow rods.
  • Keep repeating the pattern to form a tail.
  • Lash the tail ends together.
Willow whatsit with plaited loop

Willow whatsit with plaited loop

Variation – plaited loop

To make a shape with a plaited loop hanger, choose long lengths, and finish making the shape with plenty of length left in the rods.  Use one rod to lash the tails together, and then plait three of the remaining rods together.  Plait a long enough length to make a loop.  Undo the first lashing, and trim the rod back.  Use the last rod to lash the plaited end to form a loop.

Pole over shoulder, whippy ends facing opposite direction

Pole over shoulder, whippy ends facing opposite direction

Bulrushes

  • Start with five really nice matching thin rods (material selection is EVERYTHING!)
  • Trim the tips.
  • Choose a rod to form the central stem – about 3-4 foot long.
  • With the central stem over your shoulder, and the butts of the thin rods in front of you (on the floor), lash the tips around the central stem.
  • Starting the bulrush – whippy ends

    Make a bend in each rod, and radiate them outwards (NESW), as with the “whatsits” about.  They flop about a bit, because it’s the tip ends that are lashed together.

  • Repeat the same weave as for the “whatsits”.  Cross the spare over two rods, then bend the “just crossed” rod over the spare and the next.
  • Adjust the flare so that there is a bit of a gap between the central stem and the weaving rods.
  • Continue the weave until you reach the butt ends.
  • Last end needs to be cut

    Last end needs to be cut

    Bend the last weave rod up and over the next two rods (as usual).  Then trim the end so that it can just poke down into the corner diagonally opposite the bend.

  • Push the end down into the weave, and lock it between the two previous rods.
  • Trim all the other ends.
bulrushes complete

Bulrushes complete

Verdict:  5/5 distraction success.  I loved weaving the whatsits and the bulrushes.  Even though I knew it was still snowing, and that I was definitely cold, I enjoyed making these so much that the weather really didn’t matter (much).