Last weekend, I did a basket-making course with Ciaran Hogan in his studio at the Spiddal Craft & Design Studios. When I arrived at the workshop - a pretty little yellow building overlooking Galway Bay - one other course participant was there before me and Ciaran already had a fire roaring in the wood-burning stove. With the class group limited to just seven, it wasn't long before we were all sitting around drinking tea and getting to know one another. It turns out that people had travelled from all over the country to learn from Ciaran, with the participants that weekend coming from Louth, Dublin, Sligo, Wicklow, and Cork. Having driven an hour to get there, I found that I was the only local!
With introductions made, we got started. The goal for day one was to make a little bread basket. We started with six base sticks, splitting three of them so that the remaining three sticks could be pushed through.
After securing them, we began forming the circle for the base.
I was excited that we were given the opportunity to add decorative touches on our first day, like this ring of buff willow in the base of our bread basket.
And, yes, somewhere in the middle of that, we had time for more tea!
With the base completed, we took a break for lunch. Afterwards, we added the upright rods to form the sides.
Then we learned a different type of weave - a three rod wale - to work up the sides of the basket before forming this decorative rim at the top.
I had been so engrossed in what I was doing all day that this was the first time I looked up from what I was doing to appreciate the lovely, creative atmosphere of the workshop!
Before we left, we carefully trimmed off any loose ends to reveal the finished piece. For my first basket, I'm pretty pleased with this!
If you would like the see the process in more detail, here is a lovely video of Ciaran in action.
Day two of the workshop started by making a base similar to that we had made the day before, but modified slightly to accommodate a taller basket. This time we learned a new type of weave - randing - and worked a spiralling stripe in a contrasting colour up the side of the basket.
We also learned about rod selection (which is not as simple as it sounds) and refined what we learned the day before; making a taller basket adds quite a bit of challenge in terms of manipulating the materials to form a consistent shape.
The top rim was finished in the same way as the bread basket, but then I got to put a "foot" on the bottom. Before this, I didn't even know baskets had a foot! The foot creates a sturdier base for the basket to rest on and adds a nice decorative flourish too.
The finished product!
I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and highly recommend it to anyone else interested in learning this fun and practical craft. Ciaran is a brilliant teacher, with an uncanny knack for being with each person in the class at the precise moment he is needed. Although the atmosphere was very laid-back, we learned a lot of technique as well as an appreciation of the history of basket-making in Ireland and the growing of willow used to make baskets. I was thrilled with the two baskets I made during the weekend and, what’s more, I came away with everything I need to know to do it all again on my own ... as well as a hunger to learn even more!