I joined a workshop making Christmas Wreaths with Angela Cole.
She made them using woven willow, probably one of the most ancient ways of making a Christmas decoration – and still fun today.
It’s not the only woodland craft that Angela does: I I first met her years ago, when she was a ‘bodger’: turning the legs and spindles for Windsor chairs with green (unseasoned) wood, using a pole lathe.
It was one of many traditional woodland crafts practised by Angela and her husband, Geoff Cole.
Both of them also weave wood. Geoff splits hazel rods to weave them into the fence panels known as hurdles. They’re useful not only for penning sheep but also for screening gardens, and Geoff receives many commissions for garden fences, gates, and other structures.
Angela, meanwhile, weaves the thinner, more pliable stems of willow, creating screens, dens, baskets and many other items. It’s probably one the most ancient of all crafts, needing few tools and limited only by the imagination of the practitioner.
Angela therefore has made art installations, as well as practical items such as a screen for a cafe. “It was modelled on the Howardian Hills, with wavy lines,” she recalls.
Angela also teaches willow weaving at Howsham Mill, and says that an adult can make a basket in a day. At Christmas time, the Mill was an atmospheric venue, sheltered on a wooded island in the River Derwent. Here, Angela leads half-day courses to make a festive wreath.
Modern day florists use foam or wire as a base for their wreaths, but Angela shows her students how to make one using bent willow, and then to insert their own gathered materials to make a personalised wreath.
It’s an art that must stretch back into antiquity, as adorning houses with holly and ivy for the midwinter festival was already an ancient practice in Roman times.
So making a wreath is probably one of the most traditional activities available at Christmas time. And, says Angela, “Compared to a lot of things I teach, it’s quite easy. So it’s a nice relaxed, good humoured day. And at the end, people take home a wreath that you wouldn’t be able to buy.”
Contact Angela at Yorkshire Hurdles
Read more about Angela’s handmade Willow Christmas decorations in Dalesman Magazine, December 2015