Tag: Willow

Back on the Craft Show Circuit

Earlier in the summer I was invited to demonstrate at the Abbaye de Boschaud near Villars for the Fête “Flânerie Artistique”.  This has become quite a well known and well attended show in the area and I was fortunate enough to be able to set up my stand in the old abbey. I have to say that in my time I have given demonstrations in some fairly amazing places around the U.K. (stately homes, palaces, castles, including Windsor Castle, and some beautiful woodlands too) as part of my work with Living Heritage and the RHS in the 1990’s but this place was really special. I set up beneath the partly fallen down dome of the Abbey and hoped that none of the precariously positioned cut stone would cut short my demonstration!

Matt demonstrating at the Abbaye de Boschaud

It was a very hot, sunny day which was only intensified by being within the white stone walls of the Abbey and this may have been the reason why nobody stayed around long enough to buy anything! Although this was possibly one of the worst shows I have done financially, it was one of the most rewarding emotionally!

Whilst demonstrating in front of crowds, sometimes large, in the U.K. it was very rare that I ever heard a question or comment that I hadn’t heard several times before. I always had a stash of comical, witty responses that would generally make everyone laugh, I went with the crafty idea that if they were smiling and happy they would be more inclined to put their hands in their pockets!! (I’d worked with a few knarly old timers who taught me some tricks of the trade!)

     Matt chatting up the locals

At the Abbaye I recognised many of the same old questions and comments in french and was able to respond, I got them chuckling and created some banter which was great. Obviously there is still work to be done as nobody was parting with any cash. I’m hoping that had more to do with the economic crisis than it had to do with my french or the quality of my work, but it was a start!!

The experience has re-invigorated me to do more weaving which is what got me started on this journey all those years ago. Happy Times!

Work on the Roundhouse

The deadline for the Bodgers’ yurt is today and unfortunately we are not ready!  Thankfully my lovely wife is much more realistic and organised than me so she has secretly kept another yurt available in the event that we might need to juggle bookings around – not ideal but I can’t see anyone minding being in the Grand Abri yurt but especially at the moment as the sunflowers are out in the field just below, so the view is spectacular!

The problems started when we decided that the shower had to be positioned outside the roundhouse perimeter which involved digging another section out of the hillside.  This in itself wasn’t a big deal but by creating a cubicle we had our first corner, and therefore, stress point in the roundhouse. To overcome this we needed strong chunky carpentry again not a problem, just time consuming, so thanks Wendy for giving us that two week cushion!

To say that the last month has been busy is a massive understatement but it has been an absolute joy to see the building come on so quickly.  Once the main timber framing was finished, I went off in search of old car tyres, which lead to yet another classic french moment of me trying to explain why I wanted old car tyres, (well you try explaining about hobbit houses and earth-ship building to the man at the garage) it all ended with that gallic shrug and a mutter of “comme tu veut”.  Once in place they were rammed with stones forming the foundations of our straw-baled walls and they were then all compressed and spiked (with pointed willow rods) as best we could. 



The protective and waterproof membranes and also the land drainage were then carefully fitted as it is critical that the straw bales stay dry. It was decided at this point that Sam was the skinniest person around so he had to climb down between the bales and the excavated rock to organise membranes, drainage and careful placement of the soil, which was then filled up to henge level, compressing the bales still further and giving them a real feeling of strength and solidity.

With the bales in and safe from the elements, we could concentrate once again on the roof. After much deliberation we decided to use large willow wands in a swirling pattern (almost like french randing a basket) which had the effect of smoothing out some of the deviations in the rafter levels, creating a neat look to the underside. We could then carry on pulling the protective and damp-proof membranes over the willow before the soil went on  the roof – it took about 7 tons for the building to be sufficiently buried but the resulting structure instantly had a more cosy feel to it!

In the meantime Ben was busying himself with the first fix plumbing involving three hot and three cold water feeds, plumbing in our home-made solar panel and fitting it on to the roof to get optimum sunlight. 

And whilst everything has been busy down in the woods, Wendy has been tailor making the yurt cover up at the house. The walls are reasonably straight forward but the roof can be awkward and used to require several fittings.  Nowadays Wendy seems to be able to throw the part-made canvas on and make a few deft marks with her chalk here and there which makes no sense to me, bringing a mass of material back to her machine and turning it into a snuggly fitting roof cover with only three or four fittings, it’s a bit of a Harry Potter dark art.  She has also been very busy as ever sorting out all of the furniture for the yurt and roundhouse which involves lots of cleaning and restoration and painting as most of the stuff has to be lovingly restored having been found at vide greniers or brocantes, or donated for reuse!

Two weeks to go and even with the extra time it is going to be right down to the wire to get it ready for the first Bodgers!

Got to go and get on, next time I write it will all be done!

Matt x


Here We Go Again!

The yurts are up and we’re ready for another season! The actual putting up of the yurts is the easy bit, it’s the moving of the decks and setting them onto their plinths which requires the most effort, luckily we have my trusty steed (Massey Ferguson 135) to help and with the aid of a few willing volunteers we can set up pretty quickly. It’s always a very teamy thing with plenty of buffoonery and laughter and a celebratory drink at the end of the day.

Many of the willow poles that were cut and graded in the winter have now been peeled and are drying ready for yurt building this coming winter.  We find that you can avoid lots of the fungal, mildewy problems if the poles are well seasoned before you start. In order to keep the poles nice and white, after cutting in the winter we stand them in water (the right way up) and leave them until the spring when they will begin to burst into life.  At this point using a shave horse and drawknife we can easily remove the bark revealing the beautiful white wood beneath. If the willow is dead the bark is much more difficult to remove and tannin from the bark is released into the wood giving it a buff colour.  When cleaning the poles I like to leave pimples and knots, worm zigzags, bumps and wrinkles and any other natural imperfections, as I believe that this tells a story of the wood’s life. Sometimes you can trace a woodworm’s life through the marking it has left behind and the route it has taken may end in a hole where a woodpecker has found the worm underneath the bark and eaten it!  I like the fact that we are not producing uniform broom handles with very little character even though it does make things more complicated further down the track when joining everything together, for me it adds to the overall beauty of our yurts.

Crickey I do go on a bit, sorry I’m just excited about willow!!

In other news, the kitchen garden and solar summer bathroom are coming along nicely.  We are already getting salads out of the polytunnel and the new pathways in the kitchen garden have really tidied things up – I knew all those wood chippings would come in handy!  I’m going to stop now before I start banging on about the joy that is willow again!