Weaving Your Way Through Lockdown
Deputy Editor, Richard Ainslie discusses his creative lockdown. Basket weaving is his latest pursuit.
Do you know who are the real victims of this lockdown? No, it’s not the marathon runners, or the bird-watchers, or the parents who have to re-learn how to multiply fractions so they can teach their snot-nosed children. It’s the teachers. And not, as you might think, because they’ve had to adapt to online teaching and marking etc, etc – we’ve all had to adapt to living online. No, I pity the teachers because when they return to school in September and set the compulsory ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ essay, they will have to wade through page after page of the most skull-numbing content since news outlets tried to guess what the phrase ‘Stay Alert’ might mean.
You can see them turning over another sheet of A4 with their red pen clutched in a white-knuckle claw hoping to read something exciting, like the child’s cat was abducted by Labradors. Something juicy. But no, it’s just another ‘and then I stared at my bedroom wall until I began hallucinating a new box-set I could watch’.
Nobody will have good stories to tell come September. Which is why I dread being asked the question ‘did you do anything interesting during lockdown?’ and I will stare at my feet as they shuffle nervously and I mumble ‘I learnt how to basket weave’. Hopefully they mishear me and move on to tell me how they memorised the height and width of every table in their house.
But yes, I have been weaving baskets. And it’s a lot of fun. To give you a rough idea, you start by gathering an armful of fibrous plants. They must be tough but flexible; the classic wicker baskets are made from willow, reed, oak or ash, but you can use grasses, rushes or even pine needles if you are committed.
I started by using brambles, which I now know is probably a bad choice, but I did it because the nice man on the internet told me to. To his credit, they were easy to find and they are pliant and strong, and it was my fault that I ignored his advice to use a towel to scrape off the thorns, and I deserved to lose all the blood that I did.
Bakset weaving is a practice far older than writing, or pottery, or any of our creative endeavours besides finger-painting on cave walls
Once you have your material, you start by making a cross as a frame, then spread out some fibres to use as spokes, then start weaving tight circles in and out of the spokes to form a basket. It‘s amazingly simple. Basket weaving is a practice far older than writing, or pottery, or any of our creative endeavours besides finger-painting on cave walls. I was learning a craft with thousands of years of tradition in every country across the globe. But sitting in my living room with cut hands and a flimsy bramble basket, I didn’t feel like a proud torch-carrier for basket weaving. I felt like someone who showed up at Oktoberfest to drink pints of orange squash.
As I was walking back from the woods with my brambles, I passed one of my neighbours, who asked me what I was doing. When I told her I was basket weaving, she gave me a bemused smile, as if I had told her that I was teaching my cat to speak Spanish. No appreciation for tradition these millennials. But while the word ‘aesthetic’ wouldn’t touch my basket with a bargepole, I am proud to be carrying on an old and noble creative pursuit, even if at a weavers weekend I would be made to weave in a corner where no-one could see me. Who cares? My fruit has never looked so rustically held.