As one of the commissioned artists, Lorna Singleton shares the background to her work … the weaving together of land, wood and self.
I live and work in the Rusland Valley. I ‘manage’ an ancient oak coppice, but managing is a harsh word – it’s more like stewarding and nurturing. There’s an annual cycle of coppicing trees, making baskets, nurturing regrowth, protecting the trees from browsing animals, collecting acorns, planting seedlings in less dense areas.
There’s an ethnographic element to my work. I’m fascinated by baskets as a way of understanding how people connect to their landscape, what materials they weave with, how they process these, what purpose they have, who makes them, what they were historically used for and how this has interaction shaped the landscape.
I like to know where every aspect of my creations comes from and that each step of the process has a positive impact upon the environment. Mostly, I’m using wood that I felled so this is easy. I also use leather from an oak bark tannery in Devon and brass hardware that is traditionally cast in Walsall.
My inspiration starts from a need to work in the woods and to maintain the unique habitat and biodiversity that has evolved alongside coppicing traditions. Watching the coppice change through the seasons and from year to year is a delight, as flowers emerge into the light that have been patiently waiting in the seed bank for a generation, and then trees grow to fill the canopy and overshadow the flowers until an unknown time when they can emerge again.
I love using beautiful items in daily life. There’s a wonkiness that is pleasing to our human eyes and baskets blend into any situation – useful for carrying a flask and a cagoule up a fell, for bilberry picking in the woods, or simple full of tools in a workshop.
As well as weaving baskets I’m weaving the past into the future, keeping the intangible skills alive so they can be passed forward.
Walking is healing. Whilst walking, my body is busy and my brain doesn’t need to think about what I’m doing, so new ideas and inspirations can arrive. I love to sometimes walk alone for this reason.
Within the last year my work in the woods hasn’t stopped (nature doesn’t pause for a pandemic) so I’ve still seen the people I work with most and the absence of deadlines and events has deepened these relationships and my connection to the place I work. I have also walked with friends regularly. What I have really missed is the ability to walk alone for multiple days.
I walked for 3 days, from my home, through the woods I work in, down the valley to Morecambe Bay, and back up the other side of the valley, along Windermere and back through the woods to my home. The route passes the forges, woodland industry, and tanneries of the Rusland Valley, across Bethacar Moor, down to the Leven Estuary, goes through Roudsea Wood and past the iron industry remains of Backbarrow, and along the shore of Windermere. This was once a bustling industrial area. Now we mostly see a lush green temperate rainforest (with a couple of industrious woodland folk). This history makes me think of myself: during the last year I’ve been grounded and unable to bustle.
The walking route meant I could skirt the edges of the territory that I’ve been confined to during the lockdowns, and looking out beyond it. The route is a sort of origin story too, following the history of the baskets I make, from their origins in the woodland to Morecambe Bay where they were used for cockling, and back to my home and workplace and to their future, which is…?
Each day I found a place to cut a couple of hazel rods and sat to weave a basket. I was surprised, too, that I began weaving with other materials, and I made some tiny baskets of rushes.
On a personal level I let the rhythm of my footsteps and the rhythm of the weave give me space to grieve for connections lost. For the death of my nana, a lost relationship, a home, and general life plans that have been covid-scuppered. Weaving myself back together.
Along the way, I camped, and was given shelter in a wood hut. I connected with people who have similar creative ideas about land-use and regenerative agriculture.
Day 1: From home/Grizedale Visitor Centre to Harrowslack Barn, Lake Windermere
Basket 1. Soft Rush, juncus effusus. Picked along the track and woven under the spruce trees, near Esthwaite intake.
Basket 2. Hazel. Rod cut near Esthwaite, woven in the barn at Harrowslack.
Day 2: From Cunsey to Roudsea Woods
Basket 3. Hazel. Rod cut and basket prepared next to Windermere, near Silverholme Jetty. Completed in the workshop.
Basket 4. Soft rush. Woven in the shade of a dry stone wall at Wintering Park, Finsthwaite.
Day 3: From Roudsea Woods to home/Grizedale Visitor Centre
Basket 5. Hazel. Prepared next to the path in Ashes Intake, Bouth. Completed in my workshop.
I love the fact that whenever I stopped still and didn’t pause the GPS tracker it went on its own little wander. So as I was sitting and weaving, the tracker left a weaving mark too. It highlighted to me how my ‘Weaving Walk’ was weaving in more than one way. I was weaving baskets, weaving a path through the landscape, and weaving pieces of myself back together like I had hoped for. Meeting people from different aspects of my life, slotting together my different interests. Time for quiet contemplation and letting the gentle rhythm of one step after the other tease ideas and realisations out of my brain.
I didn’t finish a basket on this last day and that was just as it should be. I finished the basket later in my studio and as I was weaving, reflected on the walk.