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’.
Having grown up on the shores of Loch Long and Loch Fyne I became at home with the wild outdoors as a child, making daisy chains, collecting shells and going for adventures exploring the surrounding countryside. It was hardly a surprise then that when I went to Glasgow School of Art to study textile design, my inspirations were always from nature and using natural materials. I specialised in weaving, creating art wall hangings inspired by looking closely at plant structures and incorporating yarns made from things like sweetcorn leaves, pine needles and artichoke seeds.
I was then incredibly lucky to find an opportunity to volunteer for a year in a Camphill Community. I learnt a great deal whilst there, not just about living and working with those who have additional needs, which I found out I loved to do, but also about many traditional crafts and the importance of the connection between head, heart and hands. The warm and caring colleagues I met there enthusiastically shared their knowledge and skills with me. It was an amazing foundation for me and my aim in life since then has been to emulate those colleagues by creating workshops which provide the space, time, tools and facilitation needed for students to be able to reach their full potential, just as I had experienced that year.
For several years I worked as a freelance Workshop Tutor and Artist and travelled the length and breadth of Scotland offering workshops to schools, museums, festivals, art groups, charities, and the general public. My own art was made using pressed leaves and flowers collected from both private and botanical gardens where I exhibited my canvases, lighting, cast glass and mobiles. I wanted to share with others how beautiful the humble leaf can be when seen very closely in a new context.
Before starting with Naturally Useful I trained and worked as an Art Therapist and later as a Forest School leader and have worked in many different places, all having in common the theme of working together with people, being creative and using natural materials. Over the years, many of my happiest memories come from when I was a Weaving Workshop Leader, working with children and adults who have additional support needs. Some of my favourite craft techniques to teach include Batik, Shibori, natural dyeing, papermaking, flax weaving tapestry weaving, felting, screen printing, rag rugging and lino printing. I look forward to sharing my skills and experience with others while continuing to learn new crafts and techniques at Naturally Useful.