Having trained in London for her City & Guilds qualification, Karen has been a basket maker now for five years and since moving to her beautiful house in Redgrave now runs workshops from her studio. Using traditional basketry methods, Karen makes log baskets, hand baskets and a variety of items generally associated with wickerwork but she is also keen to explore more contemporary aspects of the art. A new contemporary piece, currently in the Museum of English Rural Life in Reading, is soon going be exhibited in the Bodleian Library, Oxford.
My friend, Tessa, and I nearly didn’t make it into the studio as we were met at the gate by Karen’s new Hungarian Vizla puppy, Adela. I think we could have stayed in the garden all day playing with this bundle of fun and the sight of her in the garden every now and then, bouncing around on her gangly legs was met by a chorus of oohs and aahs. Everyone wanted to take her home in their handbag. Well, I did.
The clean and tidy (when we arrived) studio was bright, warm and inviting on a chilly November morning and myself, Tessa and three other excited ladies were welcomed with a fresh cup of coffee and biscuits. After short introductions, Karen showed us some samples of things we would be making and following a brief practical demonstration and a few clear instructions she set us to work.
In between episodes of chatting and laughter, the room became spookily silent as we all become totally immersed in what we were doing, the silence broken by one of us asking a question or by Karen asking if we needed any assistance with our butts or slypes. The instruction “Make sure your butts are sticking up” would have had my nine year old rolling about on the floor with laughter. Karen’s friendly, relaxed manner made asking for help painless and as complete beginners we were made to feel totally at ease.
There were plenty of tools and materials for everyone to use, Karen encouraged and praised and I think we were all really pleased, if not surprised, with our first attempts at making a country style Christmas tree.
The morning passed all too quickly and soon it was time to break for lunch. A homemade and very tasty sweet potato soup was served in Karen’s magnificent kitchen, followed by a similarly good homemade quiche and salad. The lunch, like everything else throughout the day, was very professionally executed but homely and unpretentious.
The afternoon began with full bellies and although it would have been easy to sit and chat happily in the kitchen about the trials and triumphs of bringing up children, we were all raring to get back to work in the studio. We chose what we wanted to make out of a range of Christmassy items. With various colours of willow available, from almost white, neutral, tan and dark brown, as well as rush and cane, it was easy to make something look individual and it was interesting to watch how everyone’s work of art came together.
Even those of a less creative bent would be hard pressed not to enjoy a day of stress-free crafting in such a relaxed atmosphere. There was absolutely no pressure but all the time Karen made sure we were using the correct techniques so the finished products looked like something we could be proud off. The afternoon was punctuated by tea and homemade Victoria Sandwich, which we all ate on the go, determined to finish decorating our trees.
Beginning to regret my rash decision to make an extra large tree, I was still making my trunk whilst all the other ladies had finished and were now choosing the pretty, decorative accessories. Once my outsized tree was finished, I concentrated on decorating the smaller tree I had made in the morning. A basket full of very good quality ribbons, buttons and bows and Christmas themed adornments such as cinnamon sticks and dried orange slices provided another creative outlet and we were all soon frantically wiring and sticking like a group of pre-schoolers, determined to finish by the bell. By the end of the day, the five of us were beaming, we all proudly displayed our festive pieces and I can honestly say they were all amazing for first time efforts. Maybe apart from my very large (what was I thinking!) bare looking tree which I am determined will look fab in time for Christmas. Please take note, visitors will be expected to make suitably favourable comments before before they are offered a mince pie and sherry, so start looking up synonyms for ‘magnificent’ now. I think we felt every one of the creations should be displayed at Christmas with an ‘I Made That’ sticker on so we could be patted on the backs a few times.
The day cost £65, which for me is a luxury and an early Christmas present, but it was well worth the money. Not only was the day very enjoyable but we all felt it was worthwhile. We were really delighted with the pieces we took home, they were not the embarrassing disasters that your children would snigger at, ending up at the back of a dark cupboard, never to be seen again. Mmm …where did that purple hippopotamus money box go?
I can recommend the day to anyone. The only disappointment was not managing to get a wriggling puppy in my bag. There’s always next time …
Karen’s website is currently a project in the pipeline but she can be contacted on 07989 848719. To see more of her work visit the The Basketry Collective website.