BBC Homes and Antiques .. November 2004  


Willow weaver Lizzie Farey was
astonished to hear she'd won our
£5,000 Talent Around Britain
bursary award, sponsored by John Lewis.
In celebration, 'Homes &Antiques' visits
her Galloway home to see how she
lives and works.

The scent of aromatic woodsmoke wafts through
Lizzie Farey's farm studio, where the whitewashed
stone walls are decorated with a multitude of willow baskets, platters, bowls and sculptures. 'The first
thing I do when I arrive in the morning is collect
up all the willow snippings from the day before
and make them into little bundles of kindling - it
makes the stove go with a roar!' she says.
And in Galloway, where it rains a lot, the stove is
a year-round necessity. This small, thoughtful
habit encapsulates 42-year-old Lizzie's approach
to life. It is holistic, wholehearted and has made
her one of the most admired willow weavers of
our time. In America, her work is snapped up, for
the collectors there know a star when they see one.
She moved to Galloway in the early 1990s, drawn by
its beautiful rolling hills, coastline and sense of peace. For over a century it has been a mecca for artists -
the studio upstairs from Lizzie is occupied by artist
Bea Last - and the community lives happily
alongside the dairy and beef farmers who work in
the surrounding countryside.
Appropriately, Lizzie's studio is an old toolshed at
the heart of an idyllic dairy farm. It's a laid-back kind
of place, where even a lovelorn wren made a nest
last summer. The worktable is strewn with baler
twine and favourite tools. There are baskets filled
with bark, grasses and curly hunks of fleece. Willow,
of course, is everywhere - tall, colourful bolts
with charming names such as Flanders Red,
Britanny Blue, Dicky Meadows and New Kind are
stacked against the walls, waiting to be woven. 'It's
my sample palette,' she explains.
The autumn is a busy time for Lizzie. On crisp
November days she drives out into the misty lanes,
scanning the hedgerows and compost heaps for more
of nature's riches - bog myrtle and larch cones,
contorted hazel and ash, bamboo and birch catkins.
'Hedgerows are the containers of the countryside.
I fill up the boot of the car and when I come back
it's like gold,' she says. The locals, too, appreciate
her passion for 'twigs'. 'The postman popped round
with a load of plum prunings for me the other day -
they were wonderful!' Everything eventually finds
its way into one of Lizzie's pieces.
Come January she will spend two solid weeks
harvesting her willow plots - she grows over 20
varieties. 'I get a group of friends together and we
cut every single stem by hand. It gives me a feeling
of real relish, an earthy pleasure that's especially
satisfying when you spot a beautiful rod.' It's both
the beginning and the end of another inspiring cycle.