In Conversation: Susan Early, Basketmaker

Susan Early, Basketmaker and 2012 QEST Garfield Weston Foundation Scholar

What inspired you to take up basketmaking?
I have always loved baskets and more than thirty years ago I joined my first workshop
learning to weave a basket. The whole process inspired me and I was excited to learn and
create more. The traditional techniques used, the natural material and the usefulness and
beauty of the finished piece made me want to live and breath basketmaking.

Could you tell us about your work? Traditional baskets, sculptural work, experimental pieces.

Where do you source the materials?
I buy most of my farmed willow in Somerset from a relatively small-scale independent
second-generation willow grower. I also buy from a larger, more commercial family-run
company that has been growing willow on the Somerset levels for almost 100 years. I
grow a small amount of willow and ‘Nancy Saunders’ fine basketry willow for use in
sculptures, and I gather hazel and hedgerow materials in the woods and lanes where I

What special tools are required by the basketmaker?
Very few tools are essential for the basketmaker but I have a wonderful collection of tools
both old and new. I work sitting on a low chair using a lapboard or on an angled table. I
have a variety of different sized bodkins, rapping irons and weights. An excellent pair of
secateurs is indispensable and I also invest in Japanese side cutters and love my sharp
curved knives.

Can you tell us about your application to QEST for funding. How has the support of the
Trust enabled you to expand your practice?

I applied to QEST for funding to spend ten days with master basketmaker David Drew in
France. David is well known in the basketry world and he lives in the basket-making centre
of Villaine-les-Rochers in the Loire valley. This was a fascinating and informative place to
be able to visit with a great number of basketmakers working in one small area. The
support of the Trust has given me opportunities to exhibit my work in a number of venues
and this has enabled my work to be shown to a wider audience.

What was the experience of working with David Drew like? Did it change your perception
of the craft?

My experience of working with David Drew was interesting, giving me a deeper connection
to the craft and a better understanding of the the materials and techniques used when
weaving a basket.

What do you embrace in your current practice – teaching, workshops, commissions, new

I love weaving baskets and sculpture and feel bereft if I have not been able to weave for
any length of time. I am most content when I am creating surrounded by willow!
I teach adults who regularly attend classes to improve their skills. I find this is both
rewarding and exciting, sharing my skills and appreciating their enthusiasm. And teaching
workshops to beginners, seeing both adults and children enjoy the pleasure of playing and
making using natural materials, the process being as joyful as the finished result.

Has membership of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen been important?
I greatly value membership of the Gloucestershire Guild of Craftsmen. The quality of work
amongst Guild members is very high and continuing my practice to a high standard is
important to me. Being a member of the Guild encourages me to progress and evolve with
my work. The Guild is very supportive in all aspects and has enabled me to sell my work
and exhibit in exhibitions throughout the year.

There seems to be increasing interest in this wonderfully tactile craft and its heritage. Do
you agree?

Recently I have seen a much greater interest in basketmaking, both from those wanting to
buy my pieces and those wishing to learn basketry skills. I have also seen a considerable
increase in the appreciation of the skills and techniques used in this craft.

Susan Early will be exhibiting work at Court Barn in the exhibition Material Matters:
Contemporary Craft Practice by Queen Elizabeth Scholarship Trust makers

from 20 May – 3 September 2023.