I'm just back from an Oak Swill basketry course run by Owen Jones. I've had a fabulous time! It was in a stunning setting in the Lake District & the weather was roasting hot (in a spring kind of way!).
Above is Owens workshop where we made the baskets. I had the sun on my back pretty much the whole time & we were surrounded by birdsong. I'll never mistake the song of a Nuthatch now!
We started off by clefting the large pile of Oak logs on the right of the photo with a froe. Owen rents a woodland from the Lake District National Park where he coppices the Oak that we used. He took us to see it one evening & could show us the exact tree stumps where he had felled our trees the week before! It's fantastic to follow a process from beginning to end.
Once the wood is cleft & sorted into size it's put into the boiler below (the long tank at the back of the workshop. The tank is filled with water from the beck until its about a couple of inches above the Oak. Then a fire is lit underneath the tank & its brought to a rolling boil & left like that for about 6 hours or so.
Once the boiled Oak is ready it's time to split it down even further. This is where I hit myself on the nose with a bit of Oak... I played it cool though!
The shorter cleft Oak is then riven down to make spelks (the ribs of the basket). Each of the spells have their own name (which I can't remember right now!) These then go on the mare (shaving horse) & with a draw knife are roughly thinned & shaped.
The longer pieces of boiled cleft Oak are riven down to make the taws (weavers) & are then dressed by hand using a knife to make them really fine & pliable. That's where I got my lovely big thumb blisters!
The bool (oval rim) of the basket is a coppiced hazel rod that is steamed & then bent into shape on a mould. Here you can see that the main spelks are in position tied on with a couple of taws. With some of the spelks poked in ready to be added later.