Funnel Beaker

Hello again, and thank you for your ideas, both on and offline, about last week’s grey yarn. More about that project soon, but today’s blog post is about something completely different.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, it won’t come as a surprise that making things is an important part of my life. It’s usually something to do with yarn or wool, but I also enjoy excursions into other mediums now and then. Recently I spent a Saturday morning at a nearby visitor centre (above) making something with clay.

The visitor centre is in the same area where I once had an interesting chat with a shepherd. It is, in fact, next to the sheep fold, so I arrived a little early to say hello to the sheep. Good morning!

The sheep didn’t answer, but quietly kept munching grass and hay before starting their daily walk on the heath.

Walking on, I ran into this big guy (or gal). Whoa!

Fortunately it was just a print on a big banner on the outside wall of the sheep fold.

I’m not just including this photo here for fun, but also because this morning was about going back in time. Not quite as far back in time as this mammoth, but almost. Wikipedia tells me that the mammoth died out around 4,000 years ago. On this Saturday morning, we were going back to the funnel beaker culture, which started here around 3,400 years ago.

The morning began with a short talk about the people who became known for their funnel-neck pots, but also made pottery in other shapes. They were not the first inhabitants of this area, but they were the first farmers, and thousands of shards of their pots have been found around here. They are also the people who built the dolmens and tumuli that are still visible in our landscape today.

Well, I can’t tell you everything I’ve learnt, but I can tell you that it was fascinating.

Then it was time to roll up our sleeves and make a funnel beaker ourselves. The artist who gave the workshop had made two examples. This is one of them:

Unlike the original funnel beaker makers, we didn’t have to travel a long way to find the right kind of river clay for our pots. We were given a slab of a similar clay…

… and started by rolling it out.

Originally the base would have been shaped by hand, and that’s what some of the more experienced participants also did. For those of us with little or no experience (like me) there were moulds to use.

My neighbour at the table was more experienced and had shaped her beaker in no time.

I used too much water to ‘glue’ the next layer onto the base and had to place the beginnings of my pot on a bench outside to dry a little before I could continue, next to those of two other beginners. Mine is on the right.

Several hours later we had all made something that looked more or less like a funnel beaker. Some of the pots were fairly small, like the ones that would originally have been used to store seeds. Others were a lot bigger, like the ones used to hold water or as cooking pots.

The pottery shards of the funnel beaker culture found around here are often richly decorated. In the past, people used feathers, pieces of wood or bone and their fingernails to make the decorations. I used a spatula for the lines and a stick for the dots on my pot.

It was while I was carefully pressing my stick into the soft clay to make dots, that I suddenly felt transported back a few thousand years. In my mind, I was sitting outside, in front of a wattle and daub dwelling, decorating my pot. There was a piercing wind, but dressed in animal skins, I didn’t feel the cold. I could hear sheep bleating and pigs grunting, and I could smell the sweet smell of the cows grazing nearby. I was looking forward to our meal of lentils and foraged greens. Life was hard and uncertain, but it also had its good moments.

Fast forward to the present, I finished my pot by adding a few details in white. Originally a substance made from ground bones and some kind of binder would have been used, but we used a modern paint of which I’ve forgotten the name.

Now my funnel beaker is drying in the artist’s studio, waiting to be fired in her kiln. It should be a soft rosy colour when it comes out. I’m really looking forward to seeing how it’s turned out.

Links:

  • The talk about the funnel beaker culture was held by someone from the Oermuseum, a small but interesting museum with archaeological finds and information about how people lived and worked in the north of the Netherlands from the last ice age to the iron age.
  • The artist who kindly and expertly taught us how to make a funnel beaker was Elisa van den Berg.

Basket Weaving

A knitter can’t live without baskets. At least, that’s what I think. There are baskets dotted all around our house, filled with knitting projects, yarn, unspun wool, more yarn and more knitting projects. Some of these baskets were made by Jannie, a basket weaver I often run into at fairs, markets and sheep shearing festivals. This summer I discovered that she doesn’t only make baskets, but also teaches others how to make them, and I entered my name for a workshop.

I asked a friend (who also knits and spins) if she’d like to join me. She said, ‘I’d love to!’, and together we set off early last Saturday.

As soon as we arrived, we were surrounded by baskets. Baskets hanging under the stairs.

And baskets stacked high on shelves.

There were small, fairly simple looking baskets.

And bigger, very complicated looking baskets. (The picture at the top of this post is a close-up of the basket below).

Something like this would be way too difficult for a first effort, of course. What we were going to make, was a round, medium-sized basket with handles. And this is the material we were going to use:

Willow shoots, or osiers. These were sorted by thickness and length and pre-soaked for about 10 days.

We started by slitting three thick pieces of osier in the middle and threading three others through them. With a thinner shoot we started weaving the base.

We continued weaving, while separating the spokes, until it was a reasonable size.

Then we cut off the starter shoots, stuck 24 new long shoots into the base, and added a few rows in a different ‘stitch’ as I would call it as a knitter. I have no idea of basket weaving terminology, but I looked it up, and I think the last few rows in the photo below are called a ‘randing’. They make for a firm base.

Now it was time to bend the shoots upwards. They were tied together near the top, to keep them out of the way and pointing in the right direction. The 3 shoots you can see sticking out on the floor, are the ones we were going to continue weaving with.

We were sat on low wooden benches, with a sloping wooden work surface attached to them. At this stage, a heavy weight was placed inside the basket in progress, to keep it from sliding down the work surface.

Phew, basket weaving is hard work! In need of a short break, I stepped outside. It was a lovely, sunny morning, and the garden around the basket weaving shed was idyllic.

Even outside there were basket-like decorations and structures everywhere, overgrown with plants.

The chickens (and a guinea fowl) were making soft, clucking noises. There were literally heaps of courgettes and tomatoes on the patio, and there were some gorgeous dahlias in bloom.

The same week I went basket weaving, I won a knitting pattern on Ravelry. Although ‘won’ isn’t the right word for it, perhaps. All I did was chat with other knitters about the things we were making and post some pictures. But still, my name was drawn and I received a digital pattern for a big, cosy wrap in a basketweave pattern.

Wasn’t that a nice coincidence? I’m really tempted to cast on straightaway, but I already have so many other plans for the coming months. I think I’ll keep it till later.

Well, after this short break I’m ready to get back inside. Are you coming?

It’s already starting to look like a real basket.

Our example was placed in the middle of the room for inspiration.

Using champagne corks we made even spaces for the handles.

After braiding a sturdy rim and snipping off all the ends sticking out, our baskets were finished. And here they are – tadaah!

And here’s mine at home, filled with some undyed Shetland roving. I’m so proud of my very first, slightly lopsided willow basket.

My friend and I made our baskets at Vlechterij Vinkenslag. Jannie is a very knowledgeable, friendly and patient teacher. Apart from teaching basket weaving, she sells her beautiful baskets, bird feeders and decorative ornaments at crafts markets and fairs.

Summer Walks Part II – Coast

On a day that was too hot for walking through woods or across heathland, we thought a walk along the coast might be a good idea, with hopefully a refreshing breeze. So we set off for my native Friesland. Our starting-point was the old town of Stavoren (photo above), and our destination was Hindeloopen, another small harbour town. (It was a one-way walk – we took the train back.)

This isn’t the coast as in sea shore, but rather the coastline along the IJsselmeer, a former inland sea that was closed off around 1930 and is now a big freshwater lake. The dykes are still there, and our trail ran right across the top. Well, it wasn’t really a trail, just grass, but you get the idea.

In reality the dyke is much steeper than it looks here. The narrow road on the right is a bicycle track. Nice when you’re cycling, because it’s sheltered from the prevailing wind. But not much fun when you’re walking, because you’d miss the lovely views over the lake.

With a delicious breeze from behind it was an ideal day for this walk. Looking to the left, we saw a choppy lake with some sailing boats.

And looking to the right, we saw agricultural land, with some farms and modern windmills. Completely flat, with endless horizons.

All along the dyke, there were lots of fences with stiles to climb.

The fences are there to confine the Texel sheep to certain sections of the dyke. The sheep are kept company by water birds, like these black and white barnacle geese.

The sheep were not shy at all. They didn’t run away when we came close, like they usually do. We had to step around and over sheep and lambs lazing and grazing on our path. And some of the sheep were downright pushy. When we sat down on the grass to eat our sandwiches, they came begging for a share. They must have been fed by other walkers.

‘Come on, give us some of your bread,’ they seemed to say. And, ‘I really like the smell of that cheese.’ They refused to be shooed away and were so insistent, that in the end we got up and walked on, eating the rest of our lunch along the way.

In the distance we could already see our destination. It wasn’t just a perfect day for walking, but for wind and kite surfing, too.

Against the big blue sky, Hindeloopen looked very small, with its church and the houses with their red roofs huddled behind the dyke. And, in fact, it is small now, with under 900 inhabitants. In the 17th and 18th centuries, when the lake was still a sea, it used to be an important harbour and trade centre, with three times the number of people and a fleet of around a hundred ships.

It’s nice to imagine merchant ships leaving and entering the town via the lock (photo below) that is now used by pleasure boats. On their outward-bound journeys they would be filled with gin and wool. And coming back from Scandinavia and Russia they would be carrying wood.

We slowly strolled through the old town centre and saw some monumental merchant’s houses – a sign of great wealth in earlier times.

There was a museum, too, as well as several shops selling local traditional crafts. Hindeloopen is renowned for its decorative painting style, with garlands and stylized flowers on a red, green, blue or cream background. Here are several trays and a ‘butte’.

A butte is a traditional travelling case used by seamen for their personal belongings. I think it’s a thing of beauty and would like to own one someday. But as it’s all handmade, it has quite a hefty price tag. It’s not that it isn’t worth it, but it isn’t an amount I’d spend on a whim.

I came home with some more modest souvenirs – two pieces of fabric and two postcards.

The fabrics are inspired by some of those used in the colourful traditional costumes of Hindeloopen. I don’t know what I’m going to use them for yet, but I’ll think of something.

One of the cards shows some of the typical decorative painting on a wooden platter. And the other shows a woman in traditional dress. (Unfortunately the postcard doesn’t tell us who the artist is.) In the painting, the fabrics are simplified to solid colours. In reality they would be flowered and checked, in mainly red, blue and white. There’s an picture of a complete costume on the town’s museum website.

And what is the woman doing? Knitting – what else?