Over the past year we have been working with Anna Pope to shape an exciting new project which aims to explore and celebrate the withy pot craft. We’ve spent a lot of time listening to the community and have recently submitted funding applications to (hopefully!) make this project happen. After the relief of having tackled the forms, the kind offer from Tom Chambers for Storylines Sarah and Anna to have a go at making a withy pot couldn’t have come at a better time!
Tom’s expert guidance
Tom, a withy pot maker from Porthleven, was someone we had the pleasure of recording as part of the Gwelan podcasts. He had learnt the skill of making a withy pot from his father who, now in his 90’s, still makes a pot a year. He is also passing the skill down the generations of his family, so was well versed at teaching the skill.
With patience and years of experience to draw on, Tom took us through each stage of making a pot. Sarah, a newcomer to pot making, opted to make a medium pot, and Anna, who had made a couple of pots before, braved a trickier small pot.
A Garden of Willow
We were very fortunate to be allowed to cut willow to make our pots from Geraldine Jones‘ wonderful willow garden. It was a real treat to huddle amongst the plants and cut as we went. This meant we could seek the right size withy for each part of the pot. Despite the lure of all the colour, we both opted for green willow, which was easy to work with and would mean that the pots lasted.
Making a withy pot
Using Tom’s pot making stands, we started with making the pot tops. Very quickly you get a feel for each withy, which is such a lovely material to work with. Rhythm also felt important, trusting your hands and mind to repeat movements as the weave continued around the pot top. Having Tom’s expert guidance and help when things fell out of place was crucial. As we wove so much of what we have heard about the withy pot craft started to make more sense.
Once the pot tops were complete, it was onto the bottoms, requiring another weaving technique. With the pots now off the stands, we worked on our laps or on the floor, being careful not to damage the delicate tops. It’s interesting that Tom, like other withy pot makers we’ve spoken to, use tamarisk at this stage. This makes a stronger bottom which can withstand the rough seabed, and it readily available around our coastline. For our pots we used willow and it was amazing to see just how much went into the base. Once the spiral reached the centre, the bottom was complete. Finally a thicker ‘bar’ to be inserted across the bottom to provide strength. After trimming up, the pot was complete. By this point we felt very attached to our pots, and it was a proud moment to stand back and look at what we’d accomplished.
A reflection on weaving
It was lovely to find moments of rhythm, lost in the process and absorbed in the task at hand. It was also a joy to spend time amongst the willow, cutting and making in the elements. Weaving kept us warm, and as we laughed and shared it felt like we had a connection to community history. We spend a lot of our time listening, recording and editing, so the opportunity to use our hands and weave was a real treat. There is something incredibly soothing about weaving with willow and using your hands in this way.
One of the joys of working on community story sharing projects is the connections that get made between people. We were delighted when Stephen Mathews from the Mount accepted our invitation to pop in to meet Tom and Geraldine and see how we were getting on. Having learn from his grandfather on the Mount, Stephen hasn’t made a pot for over 30 years. He now hopes to make one and we are excited to support him and follow this journey. We hope to see a lot more of these connections made if we are successful with our funding bids, with pot makers coming together to weave and share.
A HUGE thank you to Tom Chambers for this lovely opportunity and to Geraldine for allowing us to work in his garden with her willow.