Willow weaving for Xmas
THE Manx naturalist (not naturist!) legend that is John ‘Dog’ Callister will rejoin Kevin Quayle in bringing basket making and weaving skills to the masses this autumn.
An expert on The Curragh’s, Kirk Michael resident Dog is a real friend of the earth and every year he passes on his knowledge of willow and rushes. The duo’s full-day workshops, which see participants making baskets, bumbee cages, St Bridget Crosses, and Christmas decorations, will resume next month and continue in the lead up to Christmas through to the New Year.
‘The classes are always happy places and every one goes away with a proud smile on their face,’ explained Dog,
‘They all arrive saying I will never be able to make that and go home proudly clutching a very creditable basket for a first attempt.
‘The workshops have always been for adults and each one shows varying abilities, but everyone makes something that they are pleased with. However, we may try to have a parent and child class this year as I have had a number of requests about that type of class.’
He said: ‘The idea is for us to stimulate and give ideas about how to make things from the hedgerows.
‘I make a number of baskets that have willow for the uprights that need to bend to form corners but the rest of the basket can be made from all the different thin whippy branches from any hedgerow tree or bush. I have used sycamore, elm, beech, holly, cherry, oak, hawthorn and garden delights like red and green dogwood. These all give the basket bands of different colours and textures.’
Items made for Christmas include willow wreaths, stars and wands and rush bumbee cages and St Bridget crosses.
Dog said: ‘Kevin has a number of very clever ideas for Christmas decorations! One lady told us that she went home after the Christmas class and made all her friend’s presents of the things she had been shown and she said that they all agreed that these were the best presents that they had ever had.’
Dog has been making rush bumbee cages for more than 40 years having been taught by George Quayle and has since passed on his knowledge to many people. He later began making St Bridget Crosses and has even adapted them into the Three legs of Mann. ‘I think that I may even have invented it,’ he said.
He also makes giant domes and both living and ‘dead’ willow fencing. ‘The dead willow fence is made as a panel of differing widths and heights,’ he explained, ‘and the living willow is poked into the ground and will grow and can be shaped to suit the situation. The growth each season can be woven in to enhance and thicken the fencing. Using the same method I have also created a number of living willow domes and other living sculptures, these too will continue to grow and the season’s growth is woven in to improve the look of them.’
Although he claims he is no expert, he said: ‘Many different types of baskets would have been used in days gone by before plastic etc. The fishing industry would use a number of different baskets. All the fish would be winched from the boats in a basket, the fish would be then placed in different baskets to be carried around. Lobster pots and crab pots were also made from willow. On the island I know of one or two lobster pot “jigs” that were used in their making. The ‘Kinnin’ jig is in the Museum and looks like the tall hat worn by Abe Lincoln.’
He added: ‘Farmers would have a number of willow baskets for different tasks around the farm. And shops and industry would use willow baskets and baskets would hang below balloons to go skyward.
‘I have a couple of baskets down at Cregneash - one is an old type ‘‘spud basket’’.
‘Rushes were used in lots of ways on farms in the past.
‘They would be used to make rush lights before expensive candles. The rushes would be used for temporary and short term thatch, for hay stacks and on the top of ‘‘spud butts’’. They would be used on the floor as a form of carpeting and also to make children’s play things.’
Weekend classes, which take place in the Ebenezer Hall in Kirk Michael between 10am and 4pm, cost £25. For dates and to book contact Dog at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Weather for Isle of Man
Sunday 19 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South east
Temperature: 9 C to 13 C
Wind Speed: 23 mph
Wind direction: North west