Friday 13 July 2012

Woven Home

Recently, due to a shortage of commissioned  work,  I have been  having fun  making things for myself and my home.  They all had specific design criteria,  in terms of their function, ultimate location and materials, as well as my usual self imposed rules i.e. no materials purchased and basket making techniques employed wherever possible.

Shower Basket 
The previous shower basket/ hold all thing -I have no idea what they are called- was a purchased one made of white plastic coated steel. With time the plastic had cracked (as you can see in the picture above), and the rusting steel began dripping dark stains on the tiles, so it had to go.  An electrician supplies me his off cuts, short pieces of cable which are plastic coated copper which, of course, does not rust, so that  was the chosen material. The looping technique works well with this and provides the open structure the basket needs  to allow water to drain through.  The tricky bit was getting the flexible looped structure stiff enough to support the lower tray for the soap without it flopping forward, but woven  densely enough  it works. I made it very quickly without much planning and although it works very well I will probably do another one, one day,  in order to hone some details.

Fire Screen
The fire screen has been needed for a long time to prevent sparks burning the wooden floor or setting light to the willow sofa,  but also to hide the ugly  black hole in the summer. The problem here was that the fireplace is large so most screens available in the shops or at bric a bracs  are  not big enough.  I live in a modest single storey village house with a cow barn at one end  but it is also a house with pretensions because, oddly,  it has a fireplace fit for a chateau. We think a stone mason lived here once  because the masons symbol was carved into the lintel over a doorway on an outbuilding, and that he built this extraordinary fireplace to show off his handiwork to prospective customers.

Some yellow and black aluminium beer cans were chosen  for the task because they are reasonably fire proof and  the colours seemed appropriate for the room.   Cut down vertically, but still attached to the bases of the tins, the strips were spread out and interwoven.

This structure was then stitched with copper wire to some galvanised mesh left over from a 'grown home' installation. The most difficult part was finding the right material to make the structure self supporting without having a heavy frame around it and I tried many different ways of doing it. In the end I used some rectangular section galvanised strips that are normally used for holding up sheets of plasterboard when lining walls.  I had to cut them in half lengthwise by hand and  the noise was excruciating. The final combination of thin galvanised angle for the frame and  the addition of feet has made it both rigid and very lightweight. It has been named 'Firework'.

Beach Bag
This needed to be big enough  to take all the usual junk for a day at the beach; towels, hats, books, iris leaves, etc, and be easy to carry on the walk from the car to the sand. Milk cartons seemed an appropriate material, being semi -waterproof, but I didn't want to weave them because the resulting weave could never be tight enough to keep the sand out, so in the end I stitched them together. The handles are made from electric cable that I pulled the wires out of  so that they are soft and flexible and easy on the shoulder. Now all we need is some good weather so it can be properly tested.

The brief to myself was; a bag  to use in the summer, light in colour, to  be worn  across my body to free up my hands and arms,  not too big, just for phone, camera and purse. Initially I was tempted to replicate the juice carton bag I made for Paul Smith in 1997 ( there is picture of it in this post ). At his request it  was a 'Kelly Bag'  and though I like the design very much, I  didn't want  a bag with a handle that I have to hold on to for my own use. The last time I went out with one like this  I left it in a park! Since designing the Paul Smith version I have  learnt  that double wall tetra pak is a lot  more  robust, so double wall plaiting was the chosen technique. The edges are reinforced  with bailer twine and I then added a magnetic catch and a brass plug chain (both left over from the Paul Smith sample making),  as well as a crown cap for the 'button' on the front. It functions very well and does everything I ask of it, but after using it for a couple of weeks I am not absolutely sure that the colour of the stitching is right and I may change it, or make another bag!

Now I am working on a log basket whilst thinking about a cupboard. If the so called 'financial crisis' doesn't
come to an end soon  I will have to start working on outdoor projects  because  I am in danger of  filling the house with my weavings.

Sunday 1 July 2012

Survival Strategies - Third Time Around

This is the third time in my adult life that there has been a so called ‘financial crisis’. This is a strange description that somehow implies it is nobodies fault and is something we must all take responsibility for, ‘tighten belts’ give up things etc,  and  they come round regularly, just like Christmas… They are always caused by some people wanting more of the available cash than they have a right to and it is always the poorest strata of society that suffers most. The averagely honest person just trying to get on with life finds they have had their pensions and savings stolen by financial institutions of one sort or another and are told that the only way out of this mess is to spend more money whilst simultaneously making more sacrifices!  Perhaps we are stupid to let them persuade us to give them our money in the first place, but we are usually lured with the prospect of it preserving its value in the face of inflation and usually we are bombarded with marketing that works extremely hard to persuade us that by giving them our money we are doing the best thing for our families. We never seem to learn that there are very persuasive institutionalised forces at work whose only goal is to part us from our earnings for their own benefit!

You may be wondering what all this has to do with basket making but I have noticed in each of these, so called, 'crises' that as people lose faith in a mutually beneficial society they start to think about self sufficiency and view learning a new craft skill as a way of avoiding spending the money that they have managed to hang on to. So, artists and craftspeople who have skills to teach usually find they lose out on commissions and sales but get more teaching work. Most of the artists/ craftspeople I know live in a perpetual financial crisis anyway so for them it is often only a change of the source of their income! This time, however  it is proving a bit harder because many institutions in Europe now have little funding to subsidise courses with, consequently  the fees are higher making it more difficult to get enough students!

Studio classes - Maggie and Francoise
We all have our own finely tuned strategies for coping at these times,  mine is to teach in my studio and make things for my personal use or for my home. So, over the last few months I have been teaching open classes with no formal theme. Most of the students are total beginners they come with some idea of what they would like to make and I teach them how to do it, and if they don’t have any ideas I offer a choice of skills to learn. There is a selection of pictures below of some of the students and their work. Everyone brings something to share at lunch and there has been a wide range of basketry items made, laughter shared and good food eaten by this multi national group. If you are in the Poitou Charente area and would like to join us email me for details.

For my home I have made a looped wire basket for the shower to hold soaps etc, a fire screen using beer tins, a tetra pak bag to take to the beach and a for myself a milk carton handbag.  I am now tackling a large mixed material cupboard  as this particular crisis looks like running and running!
Katie and card wastepaper bin

Maggies willow bark bridesmaids basket
Diane and willow plant support
Mick and willow /hazel frame basket
Lindas pine needle and ash  tray

Bernard and x-ray lampshade, Linda with pine needles 

Caroline and mixed material coiled pot