Joanne Kaar began by talking about her involvement in the project to recreate some of the work of Angus McPhee, who used grass, leaves and sheep’s wool to create many objects during his 50 years as a psychiatric patient at Craig Dunain. He was in the habit of destroying his work once it was finished, so only some of his later work, rescued by art therapist Joyce Laing, survives, and this is now beginning to deteriorate. Joanne spoke about her research into the techniques used for creating objects from grass and similar materials, and passed around books showing work from Scandinavia, North America, Australia and New Zealand.
The materials used for this craft need to be soft rather than woody, so grass, soft rushes and leaves from plants such as crocosmia and formium, are OK, but clematis and ivy are too woody. Materials need to be dried first, then soaked till they are pliable just before use. Formium should be shredded before drying – Joanne uses what she calls a nail brush for this: a brush shaped piece of wood with nails driven through it.
We started with dried daffodil leaves and stems Joanne had brought. You start with a rough bunch, hold near the middle with your left hand and give the right side a couple of twists away from you. Fold the bunch in half, trapping the twisted bundle in front with your thumb; now twist the other bundle and cross it in front. Keep going like this, moving your left hand down as the rope grows, and adding in fresh material as needed. The process is like spinning and plying at the same time. After practicing with daffodils we tried rushes, then some of the materials we had brought to see how well they worked. We also experimented with producing different thicknesses of rope: “Have you got a horse?”, Hilma asked Aileen at one point!
After lunch Joanne showed us a simple looping technique which can be used to make baskets etc out of the grass rope. (There are other techniques such as nalbinden, which could be used but they are more complicated.) Start by pulling a loop through the twist at the beginning of the rope; create the next loop by pulling the rope through this from the back; use your fingers as a more as we went along, to save having to pull long lengths through. As I used all four fingers as a gauge for my loops my creation resembles a carpet beater! Serena, sitting next to me was making something much more tightly woven and potentially useful.
This workshop was fun, interesting and employed materials which are free and readily available!