Sunday, 5 September 2010

Buff Basket Making

For the last five days I have been camping in a forest of maritime pines a short walk from the sea enjoying the wildness, natural beauty and pure escapism that is the Aquitaine coast. This particular camp site is slightly unusual in that one of the house rules is to "vivez nu" whenever the weather allows, and if you get bored with the beach there are lots of "animations " provided in July and August that you can participate in such as surfing, archery,photography, boules and basket making!

Usually my sojourn there is too late in the season to meet the person who teaches basket making, (I go there in September deliberately to avoid animation and because at 11€ a day it is amazing value) but this year I finally had a chance to meet Agnes Gaillut who has taught cane and willow basket making there from the 1st July to the first weekend in September for the last 18 years. Agnes comes from Marne in North East France and told me that she teaches for pleasure rather than as a profession and over this summer season she had taught 200 children and 30 adults to make baskets and she could have taken double the number if she had had the space in the workshop and someone to help. She is a true champion for the craft! On the day I was in the workshop she had two men making willow baskets, a woman making a willow platter, a boy of about 13 weaving a willow base for a round basket and a girl of about 12 weaving cane on a wooden base and all were obviously totally absorbed by their activity. If you have ever made a willow basket you will know that it usually involves knives and pointed implements so you might think it could be a dangerous activity for naked bodies but Agnes had thought of that and had 'aprons' i.e. strips of inner tube from truck tyres which provided the necessary protection.

That so many people had wanted to make baskets for pleasure was a delight to hear but I couldn't help wondering how many of them would ever make one again once they returned home because the effort involved in sourcing and ordering cane or willow would probably be sufficient a deterrant to stop most people from bothering, added to which most willow suppliers in France do not deal in quantities of less than a bolt which if you just want to make a small basket is far too much.

The maritime pine has long needles that carpet the ground in

the camp site and the beach can usually supply ropes and cords so it seems to me to be a lost opportunity not use them for coiled basket making. I asked Agnes if she had ever considered using the pine needles but she did not know it
was possible to make baskets from them so we arranged a mini coiling workshop after her class and she seemed genuinely pleased to have learnt something new to offer and promised to show me what transpires next year.

For me this is a not just a question of the dubious sustainability of imported centre cane or commercially grown willows but it is also, and maybe more importantly about empowerment. The child who learns that they can pick up the materials that are lying at their feet and make something useful from them has learnt far more than just techniques and will be able to repeat the exercise whenever it finds appropriate materials to hand, without needing any help financially or organisationally from an adult. For hard pressed parents this could also be a big attraction!

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