I’m a journalist and photographer by trade, specialising in travel writing and guide books. I’m based in central Victoria which means I’ve been pretty much grounded for the past 12-months thanks to travel bans, border closures, and endless lockdowns. The flip side to not being able to travel and work, though, was having the time to try out some crafts I’ve always wanted to, like basket-making and ceramics.
I’ve always enjoyed working with fibres, and love the tactile nature of the basketry, and the organic shapes and forms of baskets. I also love the idea of using natural materials: I can’t wait to start weaving with plants that I’ve grown myself.
'I’m a bit of a bowerbird: every time I go for a walk I come home with pockets full of seeds, gum nuts, feathers, and shells'
Recycling materials into baskets or art pieces is also a really attractive proposition, although my husband’s not so keen as he’s worried about losing all his jeans!
I’m a bit of a bowerbird: every time I go for a walk I come home with pockets full of seeds, gum nuts, feathers, and shells. I also have this weird quirk in that while I can never remember names or directions or even the number of my hotel room, I can tell you exactly where I found each and every seed, shell, or nut in my collection.
I love incorporating natural elements into my baskets; turning them into a memory vessel that instantly transports me back to where I was when I found them. It attaches a history to it, along with a sense of place. I think basket-making appeals to the storyteller in me. Although remembering addresses would be a much more useful skill! I started lessons in hand-building ceramics at a local studio around the same time I started weaving. I love working with clay, but I’m not very good at it (yet!). I’ve discovered that a woven crown or a feather fascinator hides a multitude of sins, particularly wonky pinch pots or clumsy glazing.
I've been making a lot of mixed-media vessels. They are a lot of fun because you can really be creative.
'I’m just along for the ride when I’m making them and I am as intrigued as anyone else in how it will end up'
I always start with a plan, sometimes even a sketch, but the baskets seem to have a will of their own. They never turn out anything like I envisaged.
To date, almost every basket I’ve made was meant to be practical, but they hardly ever end up being useful at all. I really enjoy that aspect of it; I’m just along for the ride when I’m making them and I am as intrigued as anyone else in how it will end up. This is probably just a long-winded way of saying that as a beginner, I still don’t really know what I’m doing. I’m having a very good time though!
As a Victorian, it has felt like life has been on hold for most of the year. Learning a new skill, and having a creative outlet that you can do when you can’t leave the house, has at least made it feel like it hasn’t been a year wasted. But more importantly, I’ve really enjoyed the camaraderie I’ve found in the online craft community. Everyone is so generous with their time, comments, and advice, and I’ve been so inspired and learned so much from others via Instagram and other social media groups.
I’m really keen to join some face-to-face workshops once travel restrictions are done and dusted. I’m thinking Arnhem Land, Alice Springs, New Zealand, but even Melbourne would be perfect - any excuse to hit the road, really!
You can follow Lee on Instagram @naturebylee and she has written many travel books which you can read about on her website www.leeatkinson.com.au
If you would like to learn how to create a raffia basket, a textile basket or a basket made from plants check them out on our school website here.
If you have participated in one of our online or face-to-face workshops we would love to hear from you! contact us at email@example.com