Making Traditional Celtic Frame Baskets
On the 22nd and 23rd of January we had a celtic frame basketry workshop at the Woollen Museum. Caroline and Harry spent 2 days making the beautiful Welsh potato basket called the Cyntell (sometimes Wyntell). Ali and Tony spent one day making a simpler Irish frame basket called the sciathog (pronounced skeeog in Gaelic). Both are associated with potato harvesting but also general use on the farm and family home.
The key to making a good frame is preparing a strong a hoop and ribs. The ribs are prepared by splitting and dressing with a knife or using a draw knife on a shaving horse. The hoop can be made of willow, Briar or Hazel (this being the the best). However straight coppiced Hazel is hard to find so we used Willow. The Hoop ideally should be prepared and left in a warm room to dry out otherwise you get an oval rather than a round basket. Yet that does not matter so much as long as the basket is strong and capable of load bearing. In Wales Cyntells were made to be used not to be displayed however in the early 1900’s men began to make the Cyntell to compete in the Eisteddfodd. Then the work became more precise and even more beautiful!
Once prepared the first four ribs of the cyntell must be put on moulds to give the distinctive deep ‘D’ shape . The students were given a set of four dried ribs each (because over night it was too short a time for their own ribs to dry out and take shape). However they did prepare their own ribs for the extra 2 either side of the first four which make a total of 8 ribs. The first four ribs are then attached to the hoop and weaving begins.
In a two day course I would expect most people to finish weaving a cyntell however different people work at different speeds. The good thing about the frame baskets is once all the ribs are in position and a few pointers have been given about weaving the final ‘gap’ the students have learnt all the techniques to finish the basket at home. We had a good two days and hopefully some of the students will make more of these baskets and keep the tradition alive!