I am a craftswoman specialising in woven wooden products. I cut and prepare the wood by hand, managing and restoring coppice woodland in a responsible and renewable way, seeing the whole process from the tree to the finished product. It can be a solitary lifestyle and I enjoy the balance between the heavy outside work in all weathers, weaving oak in my workshop, and meeting customers or sharing my place of work with others.
My products are made using Oak coppiced locally in South Cumbria, where I grew up. Oak is stronger than many materials. There is only so far that wood can be influenced, so you have to work with the material and it plays a part in deciding what I make.
I enjoy honouring the generations of swillers before me by creating baskets in the traditional patterns. However the oak swill and the techniques used to handle it are incredible and deserve celebration, so I also endeavour to design and make contemporary products that show off the unique strength and flexibility of swill.
I like to make practical and utility items, they also happen to be beautiful and tactile. My baskets have a rich heritage, they are based on the traditional baskets from the Furness area of South Cumbria (old Lancashire). Their production cannot be mechanised and so are made using the simple hand tools and techniques used by generations of swillers before me. They are also extremely durable. When I’ve made a basket I want people to use it and pass it down to the next generation, as they have done for generations gone by.
I graduated in 2013 as a coppice apprentice of the Bill Hogarth MBE Memorial Apprenticeship Trust following three years of intensive tuition in coppice woodland management and crafts. BHMAT is an independent charity, to find out more visit their website coppiceapprentice.org.uk
The materials needed to create an Oak Swill basket are obtained from coppiced Oak woodland. Coppicing is an ancient form of woodland management. It encourages trees to grow quickly and once they have been harvested allows light to come pouring in, encouraging diversity of flora and fauna within the woodland. Small, manageable areas of woodland are cut each winter, when the leaves have fallen and the trees are dormant. In Spring these tree 'stools' then all race up towards the light producing tall, straight stems that are extremely useful.
Oak coppice is cut on a 20-30 year rotation when the stems are 4-6 inches in diameter. These stems are cleft into quarters, boiled in a tank overnight and split down further with a series of knives. When the wood is hot the fibres can be torn apart along their grain rather than sawn, making the end material extremely flexible without compromising on strength.
The woodlands of the Furness and South Lakes area were historically largely made up of Oak and swill 'shops were prevalent in the area. These have sadly all closed but fortunately one swiller, Owen Jones, has kept the tradition alive since 1990, and has shared some of his skills and knowledge onto me.
The products I make also adds value back into coppiced woodlands, allowing people to make a living from them; ultimately reconnecting people with our coppiced woodland and with nature.