After watching a documentary on willow coffins, around five years before ever having tried weaving, I found the idea so inspiring that it stuck with me over the years that followed and I held on to the belief that one day I would learn this craft and become a willow coffin weaver.
During these years I was living in Dundee, I had moved to the city in 2002 to study Illustration & Printmaking at Art School and liked the city so much I decided to stay. Like many graduates the lure of a regular wage drew me in and I took a job with a bank and somehow I managed to stay there for 8 years!! It’s funny how life works out.
Luckily, they offered voluntary redundancy and I saw my escape. I traveled to New Zealand and spent six weeks there, loving every second. It was whilst I was out there that I realized that this was my chance to follow my heart and find my passion. I knew I wanted to work with my hands, I’m practical and methodical as well as being creative so I began to look at our heritage crafts. Basketry immediately stood out to me as I remembered my little dream, I started to imagine my self in a workshop, and I looked around my flat and realized that I already had a large collection of woven things!! I’ve loved it all along and never even knew! But it is willow that has really captured my imagination, everything about it appeals to me, it’s renewable, diverse, fabulous for the landscape and a habitat for wildlife, it’s a true wonder crop …but I won’t bore you with it.
On my return from New Zealand, not really knowing where to begin, I searched online, using Craft Scotland and Creative Scotland to find out who was practicing nearby and what courses I could join. From there I did a three-day course with Jane Wilkinson and she was very inspiring and encouraging. I joined the Scottish Basketry Circle and wrote a letter to be published in their quarterly newsletter asking for help and advice. In response I got a call from Karen Collins who invited me up for a week and taught me how to weave a coffin, it was then that she informed me about her apprenticeship scheme and offered me that chance. To begin with I volunteered for one month solely concentrating on coffins, then, I did one months apprenticeship in basketry skills and by that stage there was no getting rid of me! Both Woody (my dog) and I had fallen for the lifestyle. Marcassie farm, Forres and the surrounding countryside and inhabitants felt completely like home and family.
Willow weaving has been such a pleasure for me, I’ve always been a pattern maker, going back to my days of Illustration and printmaking and I love simple line drawing and to me there is a wonderful correlation between this and my new found love of weaving. Satisfying my creative urges as well as my desire to roll my sleeves up and make!!
Willow coffins are a unique, personal and beautiful tribute to a person, not only that but they are eco-friendly, sustainable and becoming an increasingly popular choice in our time of minimizing our impact on the environment and ‘green burials’. With this in mind and the ever increasing preference to ‘Buy local’, I believe this is a viable way to diversify from the traditional basketry wares and keep the craft relevant as well as bringing in the much needed cash flow to bolster other weaving ventures.
There is nothing like the sense of achievement you feel after a days work, doing something you love, particularly when you can stand back with pride and say ‘I made that’.