Friday, 12 April 2013


A big welcome to new follower Dominika!

Clear blue April skies reflected in the wildlife pond at Devonshire Road Nature Reserve.  Can't wait to catch my first newt.

Spring did indeed come to south east London down at Devonshire Road Nature Reserve last weekend (see previous post) with sunshine, blue skies and a gentle breeze - all a welcome change to the leaden gloom and arctic sleet we thought would never end. The frogs were spawning in the wildlife ponds and the honey bees in their nearby apiary were having a buzzy day spring cleaning the hives of winter debris. 

Jake, who'd organised the basketry workshop I was running there, had rigged up a fine impromptu willow soaking tank from an old packing case lined with plastic sheeting.  It worked a treat and the brown willow was beautifully conditioned after a few days soaking and mellowing under wraps in the green oak shelter.
The students, all beginners to basketry, were an enthusiastic bunch and it felt like the spring air lifted the spirits and gave everyone that bit of extra creative oomph.  As the workshop progressed I certainly got a good feeling about what they would produce.
Buff willow gathering basket with bands of colourful 3-rod waling illustrated in Practical Basketry Techniques. 
The recipe du jour (instructions for making baskets were traditionally referred to as recipes), similar to the one illustrated in Practical Basketry Techniques, was to be a round gathering basket using French randing as the basic side weave.  This is an attractive and economical weave that I think is pretty straightforward for most beginners.  It does require a fair bit of space though so it's not such a good choice in cramped surroundings.
Here though we had the luxury of a spacious but cosy crafting space where everyone could spread out - as Jake demonstrated with his 3 metre wide spider of a staked up base.  Not the sort of scary wild life you'd like to come across on the nature reserve - the spider that is, Jake's not really scary at all! 
Lunch on Saturday was a chance to relax with a glass of wine and discuss recipes of the foodie kind.  Pasta Verde from Liguria made with spinach, eggs, Parmesan, and rice accompanied by artichoke hearts, sun dried tomatoes, pickled mushrooms and olives.  The antipasto was from the local supermarket deli but the olives were from the tree in Jake's front garden.  Now there's a bonus of global warming - ripe olives in south-east London!
The clay pizza oven on the nature reserve
After a hard morning upsetting, 3-rod waling and French randing Sunday lunch on day two was home made pizza with Pinot Grigio.  Basketry has a long association with the gathering, storing, preparation and sharing of food - a fundamental part of the gift of life itself - and the development of our social nature. 
Fortified by a good lunch and relaxed as newts three of the basketeers were keen to try a spot of slewing and reversed French randing - not something normally tackled by beginners. (Next time we'll try reversed slewed French randing - trying saying that after a few bevvies!)
Maggie though stuck with the plain French randing interspersed with strengthening bands of 3-rod waling and concentrated instead on controlling the flow of her side stakes - so beautifully spaced, all ready for the top wale and a three-rod border to finish.
And here they are all finished in time for tea.  All different, all saying something about the individual hands that made them.  Jake's large and generous, Kate's tall and quirky, Maggie's strong and considered, Debbie's practical with a colourful streak.
I thought they were all brilliant and went home tired but happy.  I put it down to the spring air, I don't think the wine had anything to do with it at all ... (hic!)

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

SPRING TIME - making time

I'm still not convinced Spring really has come to South-east London but the daffs are out and the willow is in the soaking tank ready for a weekend of basket making at the Devonshire Road Nature Reserve in Forest Hill.  Tucked away behind a road of suburban semis is this nine acre hidden gem of native woodland, wildlife ponds and nature walks.  Complete with a spacious but cosy crafting space, fire pit and a green roofed, oak shelter it's perfect for spring basketry. 

If you'd like to join us please contact the organiser Jake Twyford.  No previous experience necessary, all materials and tools provided and Jake will be cooking the lunches on site over the weekend - so that you can relax into the weave and forget for a while whatever's happening in the world outside.  Take home a basket to gather fruit and veggies or just to gather your creative thoughts for the coming season.

Thursday, 28 February 2013


Our friend Carole S. Farrow died a year ago today but her generosity and creativity will long be remembered.  Not least of all by her friends, former colleagues and pupils at Edmund Waller School in New Cross, South East London where last year children created wall tiles and a ceramic plaque in memory of the work she'd done over the years helping them celebrate the richness and diversity of their school community. 

Here's one they made earlier
Not one to do anything by halves, the scale of Carole's creativity was matched only by the levels of skill, confidence and aspiration she inspired in the children.  She believed in their abilities and their achievement was enormous.
Larger than life-size animals 
After a project with children of Somali descent in 2005 others followed celebrating the art and culture of Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, Turkish and African communities. 

A flowering of love and respect for all that will not fade.

Friday, 22 February 2013


Oh joy! woke up the other week to the sound of chain-saws.  Music to my ears as here in south-east London it's one of the harbingers of Spring as tree surgeons come out to finish off the winter pruning before bud-break.  But it wasn't street trees overhanging bus routes they were pollarding - it was a cause for much greater rejoicing.   My neighbour's 60 foot Eucalyptus - the bane of my gardening life - was being felled. 

Let there be light!  No longer would that monstrous weed overshadow my back garden stealing the light and sucking all the moisture from the soil, and as the last branch toppled I realised I could truly look forward to Spring this year - perhaps even to some new plantings.

Then last Saturday16th February I celebrated the one year publication date of Practical Basketry Techniques by taking my own loppers for a day of cutting at retired basket-maker Olivia Elton Barratt's willow bed in Hertfordshire.  It was almost a year to the day that I went with members of Hertfordshire Basketry to cut willow for our Olympic Willow Winners project at Stockwood Discovery Centre. 

9-12 foot rods of Salix viminalis will provide excellent stuff for bark stripping
This time the idea was to cut some of the thicker two and three year old growth that we'd left standing last year in preparation for a bark stripping workshop later on this year.  The rods will be left in water until May by which time roots roots will have sprouted and the sap begun to rise. 

There was also plenty of fine one year-old growth for us to take away for our own basketry projects. It was a gloriously sunny day and with around 14 willing hands we made short work of the beds before lunch. 

I had my eye on some of the flaming orangey-red Salix Britsensis.  Now that the Eucalyptus is gone I thought I might try planting a couple of stems myself having been inspired by the way Olivia has kept hers in check by pollarding it at about a metre high and cutting it close to the stumps each year.

Spaced about 1.5 metres apart and pollarded at one metre high Salix Britsensis makes a vibrant boundary to Olivia's willow plot.

I don't mind its branching habit - great for texture in sculptural pieces - and it keeps its colour well as a contrast to the greens and browns of other varieties.

I used a colourful combination of Olivia's willow last year to practise borders but couldn't bear to cut off all those exuberant flying tips.  Suspended from a tree in a front garden during the Dulwich Festival last May it made a spectacular sun-burst - welcoming visitors to our Open House basketry display.
This year for the whole month of May I'll be down in Hove for the Brighton Festival and Artists Open Houses - showing with ceramist Tessa Wolfe Murray and painter Martin Ward amongst others.  But for now I'm off to stick a few cuttings in my own patch to celebrate the cycle of re-growth and the return of sunlight to my basketry garden.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013


                                                     Silver Birch (Betula pendula)

One of my favourite trees - the Silver birch - ethereal in the dead of winter, finely drawn against the fading light.  As a native of the British Isles much ancient folklore attaches to it. Silver birch is associated with Venus - both the planet and the goddess of love and fertility - and is often referred to as 'the Lady of the woods'.  Bundles of birch twigs were used to drive out evil spirits and to purify the body.  It's fine branches were also bound and made into brooms (the archetypal witches broomsticks) known as 'besoms' - a term which became associated with upstart or stroppy women.  Maybe that's why I love the silver birch! 

Over the past few years I've been snipping the drooping  twigs from urban street trees to incorporate into my painted wall pieces using a random interlacing technique.

                                                    Stella Harding, CLOSURE, 2007

                                                     Stella Harding, WHITE NOISE, 2007

Stella Harding TRUE NATURE (side 2) 2011 Photo: Trevor Springett
Recently though I was lucky enough to come across a tree in a church garden that had just been pruned and the many fine twigs still lay scattered on the ground.  I gathered armfuls and I thought I'd have enough to make an actual basket for a change. I was keen to try out samples for my forthoming hedgerow basketry workshops - see my website for details.  Many people plant silver birches - their graceful, upright habit, striking white bark and dainty, fluttering leaves make them a popular choice for small gardens. 
They don't like to be heavily underplanted but a scattering of snowdrops or spring bulbs would be perfect - as here in the grounds of West Dean College near Chichester.
                                        Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #1 2012
                                            Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #2 2012
Stella Harding - silver birch and rattan #2 (base)
I was amazed at how much material these small baskets used.  It will be a few years before the little seedling birch I've planted in my own garden will provide enough for a basket - until then I'll have to look elsewhere. 
This coming Sunday 3rd February 2013 I'm taking part in SILVER ACTION a work of performance art, conceived by US artist Suzanne Lacey, in the Tanks at the Tate Modern, London.  Over 400 hundred older women will engage in conversations - telling stories of personal and political activism that has changed the social and cultural landscape over the last 60 years.
'Silver Action' February 3rd 2013 the Tanks, Tate Modern, London
Oh, and I've got my eye on those famous Tate Modern silver birch groves ............. 

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

WORKSHOP TIME - Basketry from the garden

Hedgerow Basket by Stella Harding - Silver birch and rattan.
For dates and details of my hedgerow basketry and other workshops 2013 please see my website
WHISPER 2007 by Stella Harding Coiled grass - Deschampsia Cespitosa
Hedgerow basket 2011 by Stella Harding - willow, dogwood, lime, blackthorn - illustrated in Practical Basketry Techniques by Stella Harding and Shane Waltener, A&C BLACK 2012

Tuesday, 8 January 2013


It's been a pretty 'dreak' wintertime here in London.  That's my thrifty Scottish gardening friend's way of saying dark, dreary and bleak - but why use three words when just one will do!  A lot of  grey skies, rainy days and sodden ground.  Not great for gardening but perfect for a winter basketry project!  One to brighten the gloom and lift the spirits.  What I long for at this time of year is a bit of flower power.

I need as much vibrant colour in my life as I can get so I'm taking inspiration from some of my favourite planting combinations from sunnier days.  I love the way nature mixes it all up sometimes.  No such thing as clashing colours - just a joyful free-for-all.  These opium poppies came up unbidden amongst the stately golden Verbascums in a newly dug flower bed.  You couldn't plan it better - the cool glaucous greens and silvery greys of the poppy and verbascum foliage are a perfect foil for the riot of purples, pinks, magentas, reds and yellows.

It's almost a text book tutorial in complementary colours - in other words the way that the three primary colours red, yellow and blue tend to associate well with the three secondary colours green, purple and orange: i.e. red with green, purple with yellow, blue with orange.  Of course that's the theory and not everyone may agree in practise.  But just look at the way the pale greeny-yellow poppy seed head is off-set by the deep magenta-purple stain at the base of the petals - stunning!. 

This wild flower nectar bar is a pastoral symphony of soft pastels with pink corn poppies (Papaver rhoeas) and steely blue viper's bugloss (Echiums).  Fo me that golden Californian Poppy just peps the whole thing up a bit.

Though dreamy pastels from the cutting garden can also combine well against their own deep green foliage.

One bleak January my cousin and I went to Madeira where we almost overdosed on exotic blooms.

The local willow wild life was pretty exotic too! if not quite what I had in mind for a winter project.
Though I did have a go at making willow reindeer at the Hertfordshire Basketry Xmas workshop.  That's mine on the far left, the one with the big ears.  They are each made from a single willow rod and based on similar animal stick figures found in caves in the US dating back 5000 years.  Nice to know our ancient ancestors occasionally got time off from hunting and gathering for a spot of crafting.
Covered core coiling in 'figure of eight' stitch illustrated in 'Practical Basketry Techniques' by Stella Harding and Shane Waltener, A&C Black 2012
What I had in mind was the colourful coiling project from 'Practical Basketry Techniques'.  Covered core coiling such as this can be time consuming but that's perfect for long winter evenings. It's simple to pick up and put down whenever you've a spare moment and a good way of using up odds and ends of yarn.
It has proved a popular project with readers too.  Here's an image of her coiled basket sent to me by Celia Darbyshire.  Her colour palette was inspired by a particularly beautiful dawn sky.  She has a lovely blog too!
So I'm off to my stash of tapestry wools to begin coiling my next flower inspired coiled basket. 
The cutting garden at Restoration House, Rochester UK
Orange Tulipa Ballerina at Great Dixter, UK - they actually smell of fresh oranges!
Can't decide.  Tulips from posh borders?
Or wild flowers from a derelict council estate?
If you're inspired to try some basketry projects please follow the link on the home page of my website for details of my latest programme of BASKETRY WORKSHOPS