Alison Fitzgerald

A contemporary maker inspired by the Digital Film Archive

Basketry defies mechanisation: your eyes and hands must learn to see and feel different thicknesses of willow twigs and get used to how they bend. It takes time and patience to develop fluency in the many weaving patterns used to make baskets - a bit like learning to play a musical instrument, and equally satisfying. When I started to learn in the early 1980s I was fortunate to meet people like James Mulholland who still had this knowledge and were willing to pass it on.

For this project I used techniques from the archive films of creel maker Brandy McManus. Creels are very strong because of “knots” created by progressing the weave forwards for one round, then backwards for the next round. You have to walk round the basket as you weave, so it feels a bit like dancing! This knot weave is used to create an open band in the middle of the creel designed for lifting it, sometimes called the window, gills, or eye of the creel. I have used the technique to form open structures and wavy patterns. Brandy also uses a four rod knot when each set of weavers runs out. He calls this a ‘binder' as it firms up the weaving before starting a new set of rods. This creates lines in the weaving which can be picked out using a different colour of willow. The archive films are a reminder of how close we are to losing these skills. It was very inspiring to watch how the weavers moved their hands and controlled the willow, and to hear them talk about what they were doing. 


Alison Fitzgerald ’s interest in willows and basketry began when she came to live in Ireland in 1980 at the Horticultural Research Station in Loughgall where research into growing willow for biomass was being pioneered. A degree in botany gives her a natural interest in the many varieties of willow, some of which are specially selected for basketry.  She has developed her skills through participating in master classes in the UK and Ireland and by networking with other makers, but above all by personal practice. Frame baskets, such as potato baskets, are a special interest. In 1986, Alison setup Greenwood Baskets with a workshop in Armagh, now relocated in the pretty village of Benburb. She is widely in demand as a teacher and her baskets and wall sculptures have been exhibited in Ireland, the UK, Europe and America.




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