Suffolk Rush Workers & Italian Grass Beaters

A couple of short films I found today documenting braiding or plaiting with Rush & Grass in different European traditions.

Rush Weavers of Suffolk 1958

Rush Work at St.Leonards 1933

An Ethnography of Basketry in Central Western Italy 2009

Plus some a London Basketry workshop:

London Basket Workshop  1952




I've just finished building my new shavehorse - I've been meaning to build one for ages - putting off the build till I had all the timber just right. Well you can wait forever doing that and I thought I need one right now - so lets just make do with the timber in hand. So it's a hybrid of split & sawn timber, old & new, recycled and found - and works just fine.

The shavehorse combines Cherry, Hazel, Oak, Pine and Willow.

Froe splitting a Field Maple log ready for work on the Horse.



Scran Bags & Levvers

Here are couple of shots of the basket I was demonstrating at the fantastic Hop Festival & Traditional Skills Fayre at Ventnor Botanic Gardens organised by the West Wight Landscape Partnerships. It's an Isle of Wight Farmer's lunch basket variously called a 'scran bag', 'fraail basket', 'nammet bag' or in this instance as it's stitched and braided Yellow Flag or Iris leaves 'levver basket'. It has pretty good credentials having been documented in W.H.Long's Dictionary of the Isle of Wight Dialect published in 1886.

It took a good two days to make the bag - with a bit of nattering alongside and is now drying out ready for use as my own lunch & tool basket. Do you know anything about this local basket? Any details would be most welcome and will help with my further researches into the Isle of Wight's distinctive basketry tradition. Just off to get my 'dewbit'.............

My display at the Traditional Skills Fayre, September 2010

My 'levver bag' after two days braiding, stitching & chatting...

Them 'levvers'.....


The Great Wooden Bicycle Adventure

This week we wait with baited breath as friend, colleague, inventor and adventurer Dan Roberts readies for the off on his amazing wooden bicycle tour of Spain. Built from scratch with recycled timber and acquired fittings over the past few months, his amazing two man boat like pedal-machine will soon be unveiled.

I have just woven two specially shaped paniers for the front of the machine using willow, pine timber and left over Concorde alloy! Looking forward to seeing your lids Dan!


The Collector, a film by Martin Hampton

"nobody does this" - indeed, watch this wonderful and sincere film about Christian - a collector and hoarder living in a town in Provence, France.   http://vimeo.com/666346


Kingdom of Old

Hi folks - been busy with moving house, children, life, work, the universe - anyhow I've a few things to show you over the next few weeks so why not tune in !

I'm starting a new project on Monday with my mate Chris running at Quay Arts on the Isle of Wight so drop by if your in the area - we promise costume, music & improvised frenetic creations!


Basketry Course on the Isle of Wight

Stop Press : Last few places available on my basketry course coming up at the start of August !

from the brochure :

Exploring the use of plant materials such as grasses, rushes and willow bark, this course with Tim Johnson will look to the outdoors for inspiration. These soft materials will be combined with home-grown willow to create contrast and strength. A variety of techniques will be explored including twining, coiling and plaiting and fitching.
The course is based at a school in Ryde where Tim has been developing the grounds with pupils as an educational resource over the last couple of years. Expect to see a vibrant project full of inspiration and growing sculptures.

Booking and further information here : Quay Arts


Nature unleashed - behind the barriers......

My current ongoing photography project In East Cowes in collaboration with Island 2000 can be found on their blog here.

Quoted from the Island 2000 blog :

As part of the ‘No Barriers’ project we’ve commissioned artist and photographer Tim Johnson to take a look ‘behind the barriers’. Over the past couple of months Tim has been exploring the special qualities of a ‘no go zone’, a large plot of land left behind for nature to re-colonise, before the re-development of East Cowes claims it back.

Tim comments:“I’m fascinated by the way nature is creeping back over the relics and remains of human habitation and industry. Although I’m a resident of Cowes I don’t know the area contained before its transformation - so I’m coming with fresh eyes wondering what the rubble and remains once were. Garden steps up to missing conservatories, park benches with no one to sit and car parks empty of vehicles forever.

Scrambling native brambles collaborate with escaping garden roses against a backdrop of crushed rubble and cracked paving. Wild Carrot and Lamb’s Ears decorate a miniature roundabout - the floral combinations presenting a curious botanical landscape speaking of its own history.”

After working digitally for several years Tim has returned to using film for this project. Using a recently acquired medium format camera Tim is enjoying the slowness of the activitiy and the concentration and focus required.

Tim’s photographs will be presented to the public on the Barriers revealing the hidden contained landscapes.

Here is the location c/o Google Earth



This weeks coincidence celebrates the Alphorn! Always fascinated by unusual instruments I was excited to see that an Alphorn gig is coming up at Bracknell's South Hill Park.

Meanwhile in a local antique shop in Wroxall I found this lovely little Kodak bag from Lenzerheide, Switzerland:

Exploring the delights of my pre-digital OM lense (Zuiko 55mm 1.2) on my digital Olympus E1 (via a OM 4/3rds adapter) I have been continuing my window sill project - today with the addition of my chipcarved Alphornist. The lense is quite soft but providing lovely bokeh.



Green Room Polaroids

Following this mornings children's workshop at Quay Arts it was nice to have a little time watching the light in the Green Room. I took a series of black and white polaroids with my old Polaroid Colourpak 80 (1971 -76 ), here is one of the shots of light crossing the floor - first the whole 'goop sheet' inverted in photoshop, then the 'goop picture' with a little toning and finally the positive flipped laterally to match the composition of the previous two.

Little did I know that this would probably be the last time I would use this camera and this type of film as Polaroid will soon be stopping production.........

Learn about Land Cameras here


four photographs & a drawing, old & new

Found the old drawing in my scanning draw. Took the first photograph as I was scanning the drawing and then continued through the day as the light changed.

Soft and scribbly for a winter's bright day.

1.03pm weds

4.56pm weds

01.31am weds

13.19pm thurs

Olympus E1 with OM4/3 adapter, Sigma 24mm 2.8 macro

Drawing 'copse' pencil, Oil pastel & Ink on paper, A4 approx


Gathered Thoughts - Japanese Basketry Workshop Review

A little while ago I was asked to write a review of some basketry workshops I attended during 2007 as part of the East Weaves West : Basketry in Japan and Britain 'season' for the Japanese basketry newsletter 'Basketry News 74' edited by Kazue Honma.

Exhibition dates :
Hove Museum, 18th January - 27th April 2008
Nationaal Vlechtmuseum in the Netherlands,
9th May - 6th September 2008

Here is my review :

Gathered Thoughts

UK Basketmaker Tim Johnson writes about his experiences attending workshops with Hisako Sekijima, Noriko Takamiya and Kazue Honma alongside the touring East Weaves West exhibition.

Arriving at basketry workshops presents the participant with a heady mix of expectations, hopes, desires and a leap into the unknown hands of your tutor. Perhaps the student should also bring a willingness to let go of their expectations and be open to new experiences. So it was for my most recent trio of basketry workshops, six days under the tutelage of three makers visiting the UK from Japan - Hisako Sekijima, Noriko Takamiya and Kazue Honma, all exhibiting in the inspiring touring exhibition East Weaves West curated by Mary Butcher and Laura Hamilton.

Working as a busy maker and teacher, my own practice is demanding, diverse and all consuming. Why then should I need or desire the diverse inputs of such different makers?

Any chance to learn in whatever context can lead to unknown and desirable creative pathways and new ventures for the imagination. The challenge of course is to give oneself post-workshop time to reflect, absorb and practice what one has learnt. Certainly these workshops were a demanding prospect and no doubt their influence will take some time to absorb and realise its impact on my practice. As time passes what is important becomes evident through our brains filtration - forgetfulness perhaps, but also distillation.

It is with these thoughts in mind that I now, several months later, reflect on the exercises, improvisations and suggestions of these Japanese basketmakers.

Noriko Takamiya’s presentation of traditional ways with Rice straw excited me greatly. While already familiar with a wide range of grasses, rush and straw native to the British Isles, I was quite unfamiliar with what at first seemed a quite unforgiving and tough material. Vigorous straw beating followed on the streets of Glasgow and must have presented a fascinating diversion for bemused passing pedestrians!

Through a variety of projects including cordage making and the twisting up of little creatures and figures Noriko revealed some of the subtle complexities and possibilities of ply. Dividing cordage elements to ply separately then recombine, lead us to the more complex rice harvesting knife sheath. This was a pleasing project and had me transpose its complexities to shiny sweet smelling willow bark at 6am the following morning as my homework!

Participants made such a variety of objects over the two-day course including slippers, temple decorations and silkworm nesting ropes. I was most intrigued with the implications of working with a cordage’s ply in different ways to lead me in new directions and the extra details of tightening and burnishing cordage that my own practice and experimentation had not yet discovered.

Hisako Sekijima’s workshop presented a different array of challenges to Noriko’s – and perhaps as I am a maker rather than a writer - challenges and thought processes difficult to translate from practice to writing! Hisako’s approach was less to do with specifics of material, technique and tradition, and more concerned with experimentation, thought and analysis.

Working through a process of mould making and then constructing a form around a mould, we focussed our attention more on the negative or interior space rather than the made form itself. This relationship between structure and its contained space is fascinating, and one that encourages us to be aware of the entire space occupied by our makings. Having practiced painting and drawing as part of my Fine Art training, positive and negative space are far from alien concepts, however to foreground them as a primary concern in basketmaking is certainly instructive.

One of the exciting features of this workshop was the variety of materials employed by the different students – willow rods, skeins and bark, paper, buttons, thread, plastic band, mono filament and wire. As Hisako made no demand on what we used, students were free to bring materials already familiar to each individual makers practice, these materials could then be creatively used and re-evaluated using new processes. The relationships and scales of these differing materials made huge implications on the final products.

Through the relatively simple process of making around a mould, Hisako enabled students to develop possibilities and move on to personally innovative projects. The workshop stimulated thoughtfulness and calm that could benefit our future work as basketmakers during our planning, making and analysis.

My own experiments with Hisako involved the twisting up or cranking of stripped white willow and plying this around itself and thus enveloping the mould, an interesting and difficult application of this willow technique. Combining split bamboo with willow provided inspiration for my second less successful basket – giving me a challenge to combine them in more convincing ways in the future.

Kazue Honma’s workshop on the Isle of Wight lead us through a process of discovery with just one material – Somband, a twisted paper tape. Inspecting the process and details of knot making as a starting point, Kazue introduced this material – quite new to most participants. Once again the scale of the material in relation to the constructed form had a major influence on the product. Kazue’s wide array of drawings interpreting her knots provided us with many mental puzzles and demands on our dexterity.

Hexagonal plaiting in the form of a ball followed – immediately providing a pleasing outcome inspiring discussions of its application – for necklaces, community art projects and stitched and bound together to make baskets made of balls. Several workshop participants went away with specific makings in mind.

Having learnt some of the knotting and weaving potential in the first morning we were then challenged to re-inspect the material for the afternoon – changing its nature in as many ways as possible without weaving or knotting. Beating, soaking, cutting, scraping, scoring and folding by all the participants followed over a couple of hours, leading to a huge array of possibilities – creating a palette of variations that we could refer to for future projects. The principles and lessons of manipulation taught in this exercise provided us with inspiration to go home and attack our more familiar materials with increased vigour.

Day two of Kazue’s workshop gave us the freedom to pursue a larger project of our own choosing. Participants made a variety of mats and baskets, flat and round, symmetrical and not. My own challenge was to interpret a pair of traditional Finnish plaited shoes – originally made in Birch bark I hoped to understand the process of their construction and how they could be varied to allow for different foot sizes. Far from easy – working from traditional items provides a challenge and with Kazue’s help and patience we got closer to understanding their perfect design.

Having had the good fortune to attend these three workshops and be involved in a small way with the East Weaves West exhibition as an exhibitor, I feel honoured to have gained a small insight into the world of Japanese basketmaking. I hope that for a moment I can speak for all workshop participants and say how much we all enjoyed taking part and a big thankyou to Hisako Sekijima, Noriko Takamiya and Kazue Honma for their generosity with their knowledge and expertise.

Tim Johnson
December 2007



Willow propagation

It's that time of year - willow harvesting and replanting. My course will be running this weekend at Quay Arts, Newport, Isle of Wight.
Quay Arts Workshops


a scribbled beginning..........

Scribbled notes from my two year old daughter Rosie on my office window - "It's a cat..........no it's a camel" - profound, imaginative, spontaneous - well I hope I can live up to her creative beginnings as I take my first steps in blogworld.

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