Walking into the studio, I am hit by a memory of strolling in the woods. The smell of a room when filled with wet wicker or damp rush is like a forest after rain.
John Page arrives for the day’s teaching by bike, having travelled from his home in the Charing Cross Road with a sheaf of fresh willow wrapped in hessian and strapped to his back. He looks more like he has ridden in from The Shire.
The willow is picked from beds on the somerset levels and has been soaking in water for a some time, ‘about a day per foot’. The reeds are pliable when wet and are gently misted during the day to keep them workable as everyone weaves their creation.
There always seems to be laughter in the studio, which seems to ease learners into producing baskets of the size and shape that delights each maker. We love it when a learner feels adventurous enough to take some reeds home to make a basket alone. At the end of the day, there is often charming little object that John has worked to demonstrate a technique or just amuse.
His light hearted attitude belies his professional expertise; John is a Yeoman of the Worshipful Company of Basket Makers and spoke about historical pigeon baskets at The Basketmakers Association this year.
So few tools are needed to fashion a simple basket in a day. All that is needed are some garden secateurs, a spray bottle, and a pointed awl to open gaps when weaving.
I ask John about his favourite tool. He laughs and gives it some thought. Then he puts his hand into his backpack and takes out a tiny pen knife.
‘So useful’ he says, ‘You never know when you need to cut some string.’