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Making in the Woods

I love making things, and I love spending time outside. Learning to make things, inspired by the nature around us, and often using found and natural materials, has been one of the highlights of my Forest School journey. In addition to the skills learned through the course, I have also attended various other courses and workshops to learn new skills and make new things. Here have been some of my highlights this year:

We'll start with my pride and joy, a spoon which I carved from a piece of wood I found in the forest:

Instructions: Take a piece of dried log, around 2 inches in diameter, and split in half. On the flat side of one of the halves, draw the outline of a spoon. Using a whittling knife, slowly chisel away at it, until you have the outline of the spoon. Next take a curved knife, and hollow out the inside of the spoon head. Sand it, and coat with oil to protect (note the spoon in the photo hasn't been oiled yet).

But I started small, with these wee plant markers, which are basically sticks with one end flattened and other sharpened:

Instructions: Collect small dried branches, around 1 cm in diameter. Using a whittling knife, carve a rounded point into one end, and a flat surface on the other. Let sit for several days to settle. Then stamp or decorate flat edge.

I let them dry for a few days, then stamped names on them using homemade oak gall ink, which had held up surprisingly well:

The oak gall ink on it's own was beautiful, with several shades from from varying amounts of iron oxide:

Instructions: Collect oak galls, ideally in the winter when there won't be any wasps left over inside. Pound into as fine of a powder as you can, then boil in water for at least an hour, ideally longer. Add iron oxide to darken.

I've also been capturing colour from other natural sources, like dyeing wool using found materials. This wool (in addition to being handspun) is dyed using local dock weeds:

Instructions: Collect plant matter, and chop into pieces. Simmer with pre-treated wool until desired colour is reached. Wash and dry.

I also attended a workshop back in April in Leven where we made inks from various plants and foods. While it wasn't done in a Forest School setting, it could easily be adapted for a Forest School:

Instructions: Collect plant matter and blend. Strain out plant debris and use as paint. You can also boil the water and plant matter together for a duller yet more colourfast and even paint.

On our second week of training, I made charcoal out of hazel rods which I coppiced and stripped. They were then loaded into a tin and burned...

Until they turned into this:

I've yet to do some real drawing with it but I tried it out on a tree and can verify that it works:

Instructions: Coppice hazel branches, remove outer bark, and cut into wee chunks. Fill a golden syrup tin with the sticks, cutting a small hole in the lid. Block the lid hole with a small hazel rod, and place the covered tin in the embers of a fire, until the top hazel rod sets on fire. Check on the hazel, but keep it in the fire until ready. When ready, the hole should begin burning, but check anyways to make sure it doesn't burn too far.

Speaking of coppicing, I attended a willow coppicing workshop back in February. We were meant to dry it out, but I couldn't resist weaving up a quick tension tray, right in the coppice, so I could enjoy my tea and scone in style:

I've also been exploring loads of other types of wild basketry, like these ivy baskets I made with a friend:

And this wee reed basket from a recent trip to Arran:

I've also been exploring ways to bring more natural materials into my regular art practice, and being okay with the way that these natural materials change over time. For example, I tried out some leaf quilting, which worked great on the day, but since I made it has changed drastically:

This is all part of embracing the Forest School ethos though. The seasons shift, and nature is constantly changing, but it's been so lovely getting to appreciate nature and experience it in all seasons, and to build these seasonal shifts into my making practice.


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