I’m just back from Cumbria where I was invited to teach a scything course for some of the gardening team at CGP Publishing. The company is housed in an amazing house and formal garden just outside Broughton in south Cumbria. Most of the grounds are mown regularly my machine but there are many areas where access is more difficult or they are leaving the grass to grow into a wildflower meadow. These are perfect conditions for using a scythe.
The team already had some Austrian scythes and wanted proper training on how to set them up and mow effectively. The mowing areas were mostly on slopes with tall grasses and wildflowers. Theses are difficult to learn on but everyone did really well and we cleared a large area while the team chatted and worked.
I teach scything courses around the UK and can come to teach you either as an individual or in a group at your own venue. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details
I’ve been working on a few ash splint pack baskets lately, which has been great to keep me busy during lockdown. In preparation for them, I always like to make some smaller baskets which has resulted in a couple of these harvest baskets being available for sale.
These are a classic square-to-round construction starting from a checkerboard base which flares up to the handle. I’m really pleased with how they swell and the continuation of those curves into the bale handle. The handle is jointed and lashed to the basket along with the rim.
Each basket is 18cm approx high to the rim, 35cm high overall, 26cm diameter at the rim and currently available for sale in my Etsy shop with more photos there.
If you’re interested in learning how to work with ash splint and make your own baskets, I teach a number of workshops each year at venues around the UK. Please visit my greenwood courses page for details or sign up to my newsletter for updates on courses and dates.
The top handle of my pack baskets is a steam piece of ash which is fun to make and surprisingly quick once you’ve got used to them. It’s all small scale with the centre section just 6mm thick so care is needed to make it even so it will bend sweetly. The jig has been through a few iterations as I’ve refined the shape over the years. The curves were good but I wanted to adjust the width so simply inserted different pieces between the two halves to get what I wanted. Twenty minutes in the steam and they’re ready to go. They set almost straight away and can come off the former ready to do the next.
Ash splint basketry requires slow grown timber whereas these need to be faster grown stock for strength.
My scything season has been very disrupted by the current global situation so it was fantastic to be able to get out and teach a socially distanced workshop at a private venue in the Yorkshire Dales.
Mike and Aelred were brilliant company for the day and we managed to arrange the course so everyone felt safe while also having plenty of fun. The scythe is a tool that naturally encourages safe distancing! The wildflower meadow they are planning to manage with the scythes is already in great shape and made for lovely mowing in gorgeous weather.
Here’s some feedback from them both
Thanks for a great day today- we really enjoyed your enthusiasm for scything. Your instruction was excellent- very patient and thorough and I think you have 2 more converts to the cause.
I love cycling around the city and using my bike to explore the countryside around me. Thankfully, I don’t go through so many inner tubes but my local bike shop clearly does and was very happy to provide me with an armful I upcycled into this robust and weatherproof stool seat. It’s very comfortable and an idea I’ll be working with more in the future.
From time to time, it’s important to make something that allows you to play with ideas. Meeting up with friends to carve wooden spoons is one of these times for me when, rather than make familiar spoons from my standard designs, I enjoy making something unknown.
It’s a useful practise for many reasons. I like to challenge my skills, which includes the use of the tools but also the accuracy of my eyes in judging balance, shape and design. The process is more like sculpture, cutting carefully and slowly to search for the unfamiliar shape in the wood. It reminds me what it’s like to be a beginner which is invaluable in my main work of teaching spoon carving and other craft courses.
Often these sessions produce nothing more than a useful experience and an underwhelming spoon but sometimes things come together really well as in this serving strainer I carved from some lovely rowan wood. I added the strainer holes with my friend John Mullaney while we were demonstrating at a show together.
The bowl shape was partly influenced by the wood I had but I deliberately wanted to get some double curves into the bowl and I love how it came out. That became the star of the show so I kept the handle fairly simple in shape but decided, since this was turning into a special piece, that I would add some chip carved decoration along it.
Finally, I baked the spoon in the oven to darken the wood and bring out the grain pattern. It gives the wood a sort of instant patina and highlights the chip carving.
I’m happy to say that this spoon now lives in the home of a very good friend of mine but I sort of wish I’d had a little longer to enjoy it and maybe even make a copy. It’s definitely something I’ll revisit, maybe on another sunny play day.
Here’s a terrific interview with Lisa Hammond who set up Maze Hill Pottery and makes salt glazed pottery. I bought one of her mugs 15 years ago and it became a firm favourite up until the time it was dropped by a housemate and smashed. Although it was a shame to lose it, I was very happy to have had such a lot of daily use from it over the years. Craft is meant to be used and that involves a risk but far better to break something while enjoying it that to lock it away.
What handmade items do you use everyday? Which should you get off the display shelf and start using more?
Learn to Scythe courses are currently on hold as the UK deals with the coronavirus. I’m fully supportive of the measures but at the same time can’t wait to be back out in the meadows with a group of new scythers learning to mow and the joy of scything.
If you’re like me then the first coffee of the day is a bit of a special occasion. I use it to punctuate my morning and the process of making it (cafetiere in my house) is a relaxing ritual to go through which adds to the pleasure.
Like with all rituals, the items you use are important. I store my grounds in a caddy made by a good friend, have my favourite mug and, of course, a wooden scoop. These new scoops are available now in my Etsy store:
These scoops are carved from some lovely local birch wood. I give them a generous bowl for good scoopability and a solid, tactile handle yet all still small enough to store in your coffee caddy where it’s going to develop the most amazing patina over the years.
Of course, I’m British so I also love a proper cup of tea (brew 3mins, milk in last) and these are just as well suited to your loose leaves, in fact anywhere you need a cute little scoop that you can’t resist picking up.
My latest ash splint pack basket is complete and I’m super pleased with it.
All the splints for this were pounded in the UK from sustainably managed english ash (Fraxinus excelsior). They are graded, cut to width and shaved smooth before weaving.
This basket is 18″ high to the rim and 14″ wide at the belly. I weave the back with a slight hollow so it sits comfortably against your back and add a grab handle made from steam-bent ash which is lashed into the rim. Lovely veg-tanned leather straps and solid brass buckles complete the basket.
This basket is currently available, please email me for details.