Basket Maker Mandy Weaves her Magic at Ruthin Craft Centre

A talented basket weaver has overcome a shortage of willow – she now grows her own.

Making_Insights_IMG_1808 iconsMandy Coates, 53, will be demonstrating her skill at Ruthin Craft Centre as part of a series of free activities over the summer.

She’ll be giving an insight into her weaving techniques and how she grows and prepares the willow in the open access craft event over the weekend of August 23-25.

The event is one of a series of activities over the summer, climaxing at the Open Doors Weekend on the final weekend of September.

The mother-of-three said she was looking forward to sharing her skills and love of basket weaving with visitors to the craft centre.

The Making Insights open access sessions started in June when performer and costumiere Ceri Rimmer and musician Henry Horrell show off their skills to visitors.

The project was made possible by funding from Cadwyn Clwyd through the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.

Ruthin Craft Centre’s education officer Sioned Phillips explained: “Each weekend features a different applied artist or craft person and will include an open studio experience at the centre. All the sessions are free and are suitable for anyone over the age of four.

“The people taking part in the open access sessions are all locally based so it is real celebration of what we have on our doorstep and also a celebration of the art of making.”

Mandy, who lives on a smallholding near Moelfre, Abergele, explained: “I first got interested in basket weaving when I was living in Cheltenham and had gone to a festival.

“I happened to see a lady making a beautiful basket which really captured my imagination.

“I was fascinated by what she was doing and wanted to learn more.

“I went to a weekend workshop to learn about the craft and have been making ever since.

“The simplicity of the tools and the techniques used for generations appealed to me and the idea of continuing a long tradition using natural sustainable materials.”

About 12 months after attending the weaving workshop Mandy moved to North Wales and continued her love of basket weaving.

She said: “To start with I used materials I gathered from the countryside but soon I actually started growing the willow I needed.

“I was lucky enough to have a piece of land I could use to grow the willow. It is not a huge patch of land but it is enough to grow what I need.”

Growing willow is an all year round process with planting, weeding, harvesting and grading being carried out at specific times of the year.

Preparing the willow for weaving also takes time and expertise.

Mandy said: “There are hundreds of different varieties of Salix – willow – and each one has a different colour of bark and certain varieties are more appropriate for basket making than others.

“Obviously you grow the type which lends itself to what you are planning to do with it.

“I harvest what I need and grade the willow to size and then dry it before storing it.

“When I am ready to use the willow I soak it for about four to five days to make it more supply and pliant.

“My working practices are very much dictated by the season.

“I grow all the willow I use for my own baskets.

“I also teach and I buy in the willow for my teaching workshops from Somerset.

“The Somerset Levels have been growing willow for generations.”

Mandy stages various basket weaving workshops at a variety of venues in North Wales including Ruthin Craft Centre and the Woodland Skills Centre at Bodfari.

She also works with Iard, a group of crafts people who stage craft courses at Glynllifon near Caernarfon.

Much of Mandy’s craftwork is sold through galleries throughout the region while she is also commissioned by customers to create specific pieces.

As well as baskets, she also creates ornamental-style garden sculptures out of willow.

Some of her work is on display in the courtyard at Ruthin Craft Centre.

Mandy says she is looking forward to sharing her expertise of basket weaving at the open access craft event at Ruthin Craft Centre in August.

On August 23 from 11.30am to 12.30pm, accompanied by a slideshow, Mandy will talk through the process of growing, gathering, grading and preparing her home grown willow.

She will talk about her studio practice and her work and demonstrate square willow work.

Mandy will return to the centre on August 24 where from 11am to 3pm she will deliver a hands-on willow weaving session.

She will teach visitors how to make flat square mats using willow and wood lath.

The following day she will be at the centre to chat to visitors and give further demonstrations of her skills.

Mandy said: “I hope people will come along and be inspired by weaving with willow – a wonderful, sustainable natural material.”

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