I offer handmade willow caskets to my local and greater New England community. I support the growing movements of green burial and traditional home funerals in North America. Rather than shipping my caskets far and wide, I hope to inspire weavers from throughout North America to cultivate this traditional craft within their own local communities.
I made my first basket when I was ten years old. An influential mentor of mine at the time, Ben, taught me how to shape and weave it, and I used red osier dogwood he had gathered by the edge of a pond. I loved the whole process very much but it was ten years before I made another basket.
I play fiddle, and I went on a solo wander around the UK for four months when I was 20, to immerse myself in the old traditional music that is vibrantly living there and discover all the amazing things that travelling alone provides. I was in southern Wales staying with my beloved friend Jackie when she told me of her friend who had been buried in a basket. I had never heard of such a thing before and it captured my attention and curiosity.
A month later I was up in the highlands, staying with my friend Ruth in the town of Forres on the Findhorn river, quite close to Findhorn bay where the famous eco-village was founded in the ‘70s. Her housemate, my friend Amy, took me to Karen’s workshop on Marcassie Farm, and when I walked in and a handmade casket met my eyes, my whole body felt the reaction in my being. “I want to do that! I HAVE to do that!!” So I offered a day of work, poking raw wool through as many of the cracks and holes in the barn as I could, and in exchange I came back the following week to make a basket. Ahh I loved making it! And I loved Karen’s teaching style, so clear and quiet and blunt. And I loved her beautiful workshop, with animal hides hanging over poles on the ceiling, caskets lined up against one wall, the straw bale room on the end with an old upright piano in the corner, covered with baskets, and all the dry bundles of willow rods way in the back corner.
Well I loved it, and Karen was impressed that I learned quickly and was neat, so after that first day, we arranged what we would do. Karen Collins started her business Naturally Useful four years before, and she had taught one apprentice. I was her second apprentice and we set up an arrangement that included me living with her and the business getting all the baskets I made. I went home to work for a couple months and to spend Christmas with my family, then returned in early March and apprenticed with Karen until June of 2015.
I had an indescribably amazing time at Karen’s. The most incredible three months of my life, I must say. I had arrived at my passion!! And not just that, I was surrounded by wonderful people all whom I connected with strongly and I lived in the beautiful land of the Fraser clan, my ancestors.
We would sit in the workshop weaving, talking now and then, laughing, feeding the fire in the big woodstove, and all of a sudden six hours had gone by and no one had noticed! Half a basket had materialized, dirty sore fingers, a lot of swearing, and some rich connection which I cannot articulate nor measure but which made for a full heart at the end of each day.