Wednesday, 21 December 2011


An advance copy of  Practical Basketry Techniques arrived yesterday 20/12/2011.  What a nice set of numbers!  It came in the Christmas post - one of the best presents ever and one I couldn't possibly leave unopened until Christmas day.  Much anticipated but still a surprise as I hadn't been expecting it until January.  It was so exciting to open the package and hold the real, whole thing in my hands after all the loose-leaf proofs.  My partner Robert, the long suffering 'book widow', had a quick glance before departing swiftly for work - leaving me to coo and drool over the new arrival.  I'll spare everyone the cliched childbirth metaphors.  But it's absolutely beautiful and definitely a girl!  Perhaps the guiding star in the previous post led the way. No! no cheesy Christmassy cliches either.

Snowline (detail) 2004 by Stella Harding featured in Practical Basketry Techniques.  Photo by Trevor Springett - apologies to Trevor whose photo credit for this image was omitted from the book.

She may have the 'eyes' of the co-author, who did most of the photography, and the 'hands' of  our co-authorship as we worked together on the 16 step-by-step practical projects covering six major basketry techniques and some of the other co-authorial processes of book construction; proof checking, image selection and contributor information collating, for example.  Nevertheless, my fellow basketmaker Joyce Hicks, who kindly read the final proof three times, assures me she has my 'voice'.  Although, in writing the text, I made every effort to adopt an authorial voice that was as neutral and inclusive as possible, the reality of the rather strict division of labour obviously comes through regardless.  Those hours, and days and weeks and months alone in front of the lap-top do clearly speak volumes to anyone with the wit and understanding to hear and listen carefully. 

This particular telling of the basketry story includes and speaks of numerous others; that is its main narrative purpose - to acknowledge and give voice to the many makers who made it possible, be they unknown, un-named, traditional basket makers from distant times and places or contemporary artists whose innovative work we hoped would inspire readers and future makers.  It also tells, sometimes obliquely, of the co-author and aspects of his own creative practice and personal textual preferences (for alliteration for example!).  These were the easy bits: much easier to write 'the other' than to write directly about ones self.  The gardener part of me was a different story however - it flowed as I drew on years of practical research and hands-on planting passion (enough with the alliteration now - you can overdo things!). I self-edited a lot too.

Catalan platters - one of the stake and strand projects covered in 'Practical Basketry Techniques'

Though not everyone will read the text in detail - this book was always intended as a visual feast (though, for me it's the basketry that should feed the eyes and not what's in it) and the images should excite, inspire and weave their own counterpoint storyline as well as making a close harmony with the words - I'm pleased to have had the opportunity to write it.  I will, doubtless, have to take responsibility for any inaccuracies or omissions but that's the same old story too.

And, if anyone is so vain as to think this song is about them - well, don't, you! I wrote it, but the song is one for many voices and it's about basketry.

Friday, 16 December 2011


BLING 2010, vintage etched steel tape-measure, spun paper and dyed chair cane 50x50 cms,
photo Trevor Springett

It's December and so far this winter has been mild with sunny days and clear blue skies.  This morning though, the first snowflakes fell here in south-east London as I made my way to the dyslexia unit at a local school to deliver a basketry workshop.  It was the last day of term and the kids had brought gifts for the teachers and sweets to share.  There was jingle bell music playing, 'Miss' was wearing flashing light Christmas tree earrings  and everyone was in festive mood.  I came home and decided to send out this image as my seasonal greetings e-card. 

Though it looks like a giant Xmas decoration/snowflake/star - and why not? - I made it as my personal star chart.  STELLA. It's my guiding star; reminding me how to navigate the complexities of this form of interwoven hexagonal plaiting.  Linda Mowat, my plaiting tutor at the City Lit where I did my Parts One and Two City and Guilds Creative Basketry, drew a star chart with a smiley face and an arrow pointing the direction of the weave. I copied it down and periodically I look out the drawing and redo it just to keep my hand in.  Use it or lose it.

Looking now at these close-ups I can see areas where I lost my way a little amongst the lines and the weave doesn't quite interlock.  It's tight enough though to hold together.  And, I'm happy with the way the lines on the chair cane, caused by the shiny side of the bark acting as a resist to the dye, echo the etched lines of measurement on the vintage steel tape.  Likewise, the uneven patchiness of the bark where it has peeled in places, is reflected by the corroded areas on the mild steel.  The white painted spun paper tape, shredded down into individual strands around the edge of the star, reflects the fine gauge of the cane. 

What looks at first sight like a bit of highly-ordered bling is more a study of distress and unravelling - of surfaces attacked by both natural and engineered processes of aging and decay, of an ordered and apparently predictable system evolving into chaos.  Oh, it's just the same old story! 

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


In my contemporary basketry practice I weave together multiple storylines. One of my narrative strands concerns the spiral plait.  I'm fascinated by the natural mathematics underlying and revealed by basketry techniques - especially the intricacies of interwoven geometric space.  I always felt that I was rubbish at maths at school but now find that my hands can grasp what my mind let slip.  Recent work was exhibited in an Art's Council of England (ACE) funded group show 'Portraits in the Making' at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and House in Ealing, London.  Read more from the 17 makers who made up the first cohort of the Craft Council's Hothouse programme for emerging makers at
Photos by Ester Segarra.

This piece is 'Blue Jewel'.  The title was inspired by the 17th century mathematician Johannes Kepler's writings on geometry - pure poetry.  He writes of geometry having two great treasures - one he refers to as a precious jewel.  This and other pieces were displayed in a reproduction Georgian cabinet as a 'collection of curious mathematical gems' - my take on a Cabinet of Curiosities.
A similar piece, 'Dark Jewel' was bought in March 2011 for the Craft Council's Handling collection.

Dark Jewel 2010 - illustrated in the Plaiting Showcase in 'Practical Basketry Techniques' by Stella Harding and Shane Waltener published by A&C Black ,February 2012

Tuesday, 29 November 2011


Desire Lines 2010 by Stella Harding.  Photo Sylvain Deleu.  Stake and strand technique with foraged materials - for more details see 'Practical Basketry Techniques'

DESIRE LINES - this is one of my storylines.  I made this piece in March 2010 and exhibited it later that year at the New Ashgate Gallery in Farnham Surrey.  It's made from painted applewood - stencilled through lace - red dogwood and rattan (centre cane). 

Titles are very important to me, they add an extra strand to the narrative nature of a piece - sometimes an element of intrigue or, as here, a double meaning.  Few people I've spoken to about this piece have heard of the term 'desire lines'.  They are tracks or pathways eroded over time by continuous footfall which mark a short cut or the most direct route between two points.  The term was coined by town planners and desire lines are often seen in urban settings such as parks or public spaces but can be made by either animals or humans in rural locations.

As a child living amongst the smoke and factories in the industrial east end of Sheffield I was often taken out into the country-side of Derbyshire by my grandparents.  There we would follow the desire lines of sheep, rabbits and Sunday ramblers through the heather and wild bilberries over the moors above Foxhouse and Froggatt.  In the 1930s my grandparents had joined a 'mass trespass' on these moors to uphold the right of people from nearby towns to walk freely on public land.

I enjoy working in a free way with open, linear, three dimensional structures using natural materials and contemporary basketry is the perfect medium for this. My desire, though, is to mark my materials and forms with my own storylines.


Work by glass and mixed media artist Helene Uffren (left) and textile artist Claire Moynihan (right)

Patchwork tent by Kathryn Carey and headwear by Emma Yeo (left), work by Heidi Parsons, Sarah Elwick and Rosanna Martin (right), NOVA by Stella Harding (centre)

Heidi Parson's wall mounted, screen printed ceramic plates (left), Sarah Elwick's knitted piece (on mannequin) and Leon Lewis's wood sculpture with Rosanna Martin's thrown porcelain ceramics on shelves in the background.

Patchwork tent by Katherine May (left), hand-knitted upholstered chairs by Rose Sharp Jones.

My 'portrait in the making' NOVA by Stella Harding
6 metres high X 2.75 metres wide

Detail of NOVA (the lighter side) showing painted buff willow and twined sisal

The Darker Side of NOVA (detail)

These images are of some of the Gallery exhibits from 'Portraits in the Making' - an Art's Council of England funded exhibition at Pitzhanger Manor Gallery and House in Ealing, London (Sept-Nov. 2011). Pitzhanger Manor was rebuilt by architect Sir John Soane in the early 19th century to house his collections of contemporary paintings, prints, books and classical fragments.  The 17 artists taking part in the exhibition, all members of the first cohort of the Craft Council's Hothouse development programme for emerging makers, were inspired by Soane's reference to Pitzhanger as a 'sort of portrait'.

All photos by Sylvain Deleu

Monday, 28 November 2011

Forthcoming BOOK 'Practical Basketry Techniques' published by A&C Black, February 16th 2012 (UK) May 8th 2012 (US).

If you are keen to learn more about the exciting, dynamic craft of basketry look out for this new book.  Co-authored by myself and Shane Waltener, with text by Stella, photos by Shane and projects by both, 'Practical Basketry Techniques' gives a wide-ranging introduction to the six main basketry techniques in use around the world today: coiling, twining, stake-and-strand, plaiting, interlacing and assembly. 

Chapters on each of the techniques include fascinating historical details, clearly written technical information and a series of well-illustrated, step-by-step projects ranging from basic to more advanced techniques.

Don't worry if you've never tried basketry before - there's something for everyone with projects designed to appeal to all ages and skill levels.

Whether you live in an urban or rural location a separate chapter on materials provides a seasonal guide to identifying, collecting and preparing suitable materials - many of them freely available in your own back yard.

You can soon be making your own unique creations - as gifts for friends, school projects to share with students or as useful items for your home or garden.

Each chapter concludes with a showcase of innovative and inspirational work by renowned contemporary artists and makers.  We hope these images will encourage you to explore how basketry techniques can help develop your own personal creativity.

Here's a sample of some of the projects illustrated on the front cover: a coiled wool cocktail hat and a twined plastic-coated wire penny pot.  The beautiful peacock-blue pod, bottom right,  is by UK maker Mary Crabb.  We won't give away her special making secrets but there's no reason why you can't aspire to making something equally stunning after reading this book.

Colourful covered core coiling from Practical Basketry Techniques

Twining from Practical Basketry Techniques