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’.
I’ve had a passion for both the outdoors and using my hands to make things from a very young age, and being Home schooled from the age of 8 I was able to delve into my sea of interests early on. Those interests range from bushcraft, survival and wilderness living skills, to spoon carving, green woodwork, weaving and much much more! I have three Border Collie Dogs who are my best friends and I’m happiest when out with them enjoying nature, be it canoeing, carving or just walking and taking in all that nature has to offer.
Growing up in the Cotswolds in England gave me access to beautiful countryside full of wildlife and inspiration. But I soon outgrew the small rolling hills and longed for something wilder and more spacious. So with my Dad and our four dogs we set off, first to Wales and then to Scotland in search of those wilder open spaces.
I met Karen of Naturally Useful when volunteering with a charity up here in Moray, when we were out for a day of willow basket weaving. That was the first time a had tried willow weaving and from that point on I was hooked! The following few years were spent learning and honing that new craft, building on my skill set in the world of wilderness living skills and working on getting my NCFE Level 4 Bushcraft, Survival and Wilderness Living Skills Instructors and Mentors Qualification.
There is something about having the ability to go out into nature knowing that you understand what is going on around you to the extent that you can live there comfortably, that is incredibly empowering but in a humbling way. Humbling because you realise you are part of something much bigger, and that something bigger is what can keep you alive, but it can also test you like nothing else!
This understanding of wild edible and medicinal plants, of wildlife and of the skills that are in your head and hands would literally have been the way of life for the people of history and pre history. Yet in just a few hundred years most of us have lost those innately important skills that would have kept us alive on a day to day basis for basically all of the 200,000 years we’ve been on this earth.
So over the years I’ve been focusing on getting back these lost skills and to master and refine them so I can share them with others. That moment when you share a piece of information with someone and you see the light of interest and excitement in their eyes as they gain understanding is an incredibly beautiful and motivating thing. So that’s key for me, sharing the skills and keeping them alive for the generations to follow.
Thank you for reading a bit about me and I’ll hopefully see you in the woods sometime. F
I originally come from York in North Yorkshire, where my father worked as a sheet metal worker for the railway before setting up his own blacksmithing business. He worked from the garage at our home and so I grew up listening to the sound of his hammer beating red hot metal into beautiful flowing forms mostly for use as gates but also candelabras and other useful objects.
Following the birth of myself and my two brothers, my mother developed a keen interest in Anthroposophy and the work of Rudolf Steiner and helped to establish the York Steiner School which is still going strong some forty years later. My brothers and I were among the first group of pupils at the school which was run from a disused hospital building in those days with open fires in the classrooms and a strong emphasis on storytelling and artistic education. There was a great pioneering spirit in the school at that time and I was extremely lucky to have been taught by some very inspiring individuals.
I later attended the Edinburgh Steiner school for the last few years of my education which was a very established and ‘traditional ‘ Steiner school even back then, but where ,again, I came into contact with radical individuals who had visions of a more experiential type of education based around the land and the strengthening of the will through craft and nature based activities.
After leaving school and travelling for a year, I studied architecture at Liverpool John Moores University, where I met my husband to be, and graduated with a first-class baby, our eldest son, Jordan.
We went on to have two more children and all three of our children attended various Steiner schools in England before we finally arrived in Moray four years ago where our youngest son now attends the Drumduan School (formally the Moray Steiner school). I was attracted to the Moray school because of its emphasis on a more practical and non-exam-based form of education and because of the beauty and wildness of the natural landscape here.
Over the years, while I was mostly at home caring for the children, I did continue to study and follow my various interests all of them nature or craft and building related:
I undertook a training with Barbara Jones and the school of natural building where I learned on live building projects all the processes involved in building strawbale structures .Barbara is an inspiring force who has been leading the way for strawbale building in the UK, and for women in the construction industry ,for the last forty years.
I worked with glass as a craft material for a number of years and taught adolescents with severe learning disabilities, Autism and Asperger’s syndrome , at the Glasshouse collage in Stourbridge in the west midlands when my children were young .The Ruskin mill Trust ,of which the glasshouse collage is a part, are really paving the way for the therapeutic potential of craft and nature based learning and working with them really got me fired up to want to find a way to bring the benefits of this kind of education to as many people as possible and not only to those with special needs.
I always had a keen interests in plants and alternative medicine and studied the Bach Flower Essences with Julian Bernard of healing herbs, and the Bush Flower and White Light Essences with Ian white .These essences have a special place in my heart and are much more effective even with physical disorders than is commonly realised.
I also studied homeopathy for a year before deciding that wasn’t my calling, and then went on to complete two years of training in Ayurvedic medicine at the Ayurvedic Institute in East Croydon with Dr Deepika Rodrigo , the first person to really bring in-depth education in Ayurveda to the UK.
Since coming to work at Naturally Useful with Karen and the team, I have learned new skills in felting and using plant dyes.
We are expanding our dye garden here and my real passion at present is making paints and inks from plant sources.
I am hoping to bring all my skills and interests into a synthesis together with the talents and experience of the others in the Naturally Useful team for the creation of our new Gap Year Immersion in Craft and Survival skills.
I hope we can continue to develop this type of education and make it available and accessible to as many people as possible.
In the meantime, I’m making lovely cosy rugs for sale!