I spent a week at Woodland Pioneers with Ruth Pybus and David Brown learning an ancient and almost lost art of splitting strips of hazel from a rod and then weaving them into a frame basket.
Ruth and David have spent the last few years researching and trying to find out how these traditional baskets were made. No one seemed to know and there were very few photos or references explaining the process. They knew how to weave a framed basket (made with a hoop and ribs, and weavers filling in the gaps) but struggled at first on how the actually ribbons of hazel were made. They spoke to people who remembered in days gone by their grandparents making them but still no one really knew how it was done. After experimenting with hazel rods of different ages, locations, shapes and sizes they worked out a way to do it. Then they came across a short film from the 1980s where a Welsh grandpa showed his young grandson how it was done. All their work was justified as this elderly gentleman was doing exactly what Ruth and David had worked out.
The strips are the outer growth ring of the wood. Once one strip is removed you can take a strip from the other side, and continue around the rod removing the entire layer. Once the outer layer is removed, and if the rod is thick enough, you can remove the next layer too.
Once the outer, and sometimes secondary, growth rings are removed the rod can be tidied up with a knife to smooth the surface. This inner core has an extremely flexible nature and is perfect for making hoops and ribs, so nothing gets wasted!
The different colours are from using different strips – the central tan coloured strips are the wood just after the bark was peeled away, the dark strips are with the bark left on and the whiter strips are taken from the inner growth rings.
If you ever get the opportunity to go on one of Ruth and David’s courses then I highly recommend it. They are fantastic teachers, full of fascinating knowledge. More details can be found on Ruth’s website framebaskets.co.uk.