Hilary Burns is a Devon based basketmaker who grows, harvests, soaks and bends her own willow to create functional pieces and decorative baskets. Weaving has been a constant in her life, originally she trained as a fabric weaver before taking up the craft of basketry thirty years ago. In 1985, she planted several willow beds to grow her own sustainable materials – hazel, oak and ash. Her work is based on traditional techniques applied in a contemporary way to achieve a robust and natural look.
Hilary Burns is a Devon-based basketmaker who grows, harvests, soaks and bends her own willow to create functional pieces and decorative baskets. Weaving has been a constant in her life, originally she trained as a fabric weaver before taking up the craft of basketry 30 years ago. In 1985, she planted several willow beds to grow her own sustainable materials, such as hazel, oak and ash. Her work is based on traditional techniques applied in a contemporary way to achieve a robust and natural look.
Willow harvesting takes place from January to April. After bundling, the willow stands in the elements draining sap. It is then soaked one day per foot and wrapped until it ‘mellows’. Using simple tools, Hilary transforms these willow stalks into unique basket forms. Learning traditional techniques from older basket makers has shaped Hilary's approach to her craft, and she likes to collaborate with emerging makers in order to keep these practices alive, while also finding new ways of using them.
1. What motivates you to make?
It’s a need to keep the hand and brain moving, a need to see a piece of work materialise. I am not happy if I am not creating something and get itchy fingers if I have left it too long. When there’s an idea in my head that I have been mulling over or developing then I’m eager to make it a reality. I mainly make pieces that are functional and pleasing to use, unless it’s an idea for a non-functional sculptural piece.
2. What and/or who are you most inspired or influenced by?
I am inspired by natural things. Living in Devon I’m surrounded by a lovely rolling landscape, close to the sea and moors. I also have my collection of beautiful willow varieties to draw from. Once the leaves have fallen in the autumn, the colours of the stems develop from green to a range of oranges, purples and dark browns/black. Each variety has its own characteristics and I look forward to being able to use them. The craft of other cultures inspires me, particularly those of Japan and Africa. Basketry is essentially three dimensional, so I love the challenge of re-interpreting interesting forms from other crafts, using my own European basketry techniques. Surface and pattern in both nature and the built environment feed into the texture that I create through different weaves.
3. What is your unique approach to your craft, and how have you honed your skills?
Practice, practice, practice. This is a very slow craft that is honed over time and by working with others to maintain traditions.
There are some unique regional methods of making that fascinate me and I like to collaborate in order to keep these practices alive, while also finding new ways of using them. I have learnt techniques from older makers which are now fast disappearing, and I try to keep some of that in my work.
4. What is your defining or proudest moment as a maker so far?
In recognition of services to the craft of basketmaking, I received the ‘Maker of the Year’ award from the Heritage Craft Association in 2016. Having founded Basketry and Beyond, a not-for-profit company that promotes aspects of basketry though festivals, events and courses, I regularly attend events such as the Contemporary Craft Fair at Bovey Tracey. I also work with the University of Hertfordshire on the Basketry Then and Now project, and I was really pleased to have been involved in the Baskets of Britain project with The New Craftsmen in 2015 – a poetic collection which highlighted basketry skills, forms and materials; and now is suspended above the bar at the Firmdale Hotel ‘The Whitby’ in New York.
5. What is your dream project?
Something that shows off the possibilities of the material in a quiet but effective way, on a large, possibly architectural, scale. Collaborations with makers from other disciplines are always exciting too.
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