BBC Homes and Antiques .. July 2004  

"Woven Worlds"

Willow weaving is an art form in the
hands of basketmaker Lizzie Farey,
the tenth contender in our series
on the country's best

Steadily, and with great concentration, Lizzie Farey weaves a colossal willow sphere, threading each wand whole, from the butt to the tip. The result is amazingly symmetrical. 'I start with a knot and build it up, but I'm very fussy about kinks and ends,' she says by way of explanation. In the old stone barn where she works, she is surrounded by tall bolts of willow in various states of readiness.
Some are drying out, sorted into sizes, while others are being soaked in a cattle trough of cold water so that they are malleable enough to be worked. To Lizzie, these stages of preparation are just as important as the weaving itself. 'It may take me five or six hours to make one piece, but there's months of hard work beforehand.'
But then Lizzie is not your average basketmaker - her form of willow weaving is art, whether she's making a neat, chunky-rimmed egg basket or a sculptural, random-weave bowl. 'Anyone can make a basket in the course of an afternoon, but it's the years of experience that make a difference,' she says. 'It's something to do with the feel of the willow - you know if it's too dry, stiff or wet, too thick or thin - and that leads to quality of design.'
She trained in fine art and stained glass before discovering basket making in the early 1990s. I was living in an isolated cottage on a Scottish estate at the time and had lots of wild, sustainable materials around me. It made sense to turn them into things that were useful and beautiful.' Since then she has won awards for her work and shown at top galleries around the country. Lizzie grows more than 20 types of willow on her Galloway land, in a rainbow of colours - orange, red, purple, green, yellow - and harvests her crop every January, when the sap drops and the bent tips stand upright.
She works 'in the brown', that is with the bark still on, so that she can interlace the vibrant colours. Willow rods are joined by wands of hazel, ash, dogwood, hops, beech and bog myrtle, often with their buds, fruits and seed pods intact. 'I find them in hedgerows and neighbours' compost heaps,' she laughs. She admits that her creations will eventually fade or dry out, but a log basket that has a 50-year life span is far from throwaway. Her beautiful living willow installations are more permanent and she is in the process of making a double lattice hedge for two nearby holiday cottages. 'My work is quiet and natural in a busy world,' she says, tickling a catkin into place.
Make a note ... Each designer-maker featured in 'Talent Around Britain' is eligible to win H&A's new £5,000 bursary, sponsored by John Lewis and awarded in association with the Crafts Council. Readers will be invited to vote for their favourite artist in August. Next month, meet garden potter Mark Pedro de la Torre.