In Orkney small baskets called cubbies were made from heather or sometimes softer materials like straw and rush were used.
Alisdair Davidson describes making a heather cubbie by starting with the base with pairs of rods (of heather) which become some of the uprights in the sides of the basket. The number used depends on the size of cubbie you are making. Finer heather is woven around these rods to hold them together and more rods are added to get enough to form the sides of the cubbie. The weave which is quite an open weave, spirals around these rods that form the base and which are then are curved up to form the sides. The weavers continue spiralling up the sides until the desired height is reached.
Alisdair discovered that it was important to add the extra rods on top of the base so that when the sides were brought up the ends were on the inside of the basket. They can be held in place with your foot if you are working on the floor and then as you weave the sides it is turned over and worked upside down. (1) The weave is either pairing with two weavers or plaiting with three weavers. Pairing is easier and if you can get long lenghts of willow but as Alisdair explains plaiting is ‘a good way of using short course material basically. If you were just pairing you would have so many joins that it would become weak and tear apart.’ Using three weavers in a plaiting technique means that ‘instead of having one join there and one join there, you have got one join there and two that are not joining so you have always got a pair working their way round.’
He describes the plaiting technique as ‘plait it and then use one round the back,(of the upright) plait it and one round the back.’ (1)
The top of the cubbie was finished in a variety of ways:
‘Some of them actually looked as though they knew what they were doing and some were just sticking it in and binding it round, kinda like rope borders…that kinda thing. Twisting the whole thing putting it in behind and twisitng. Anyway that all depended.’
Alisdair made several cubbies after studying them in museums in Orkney. As well as heather cubbies the photos show some cubbies made with willow and iris that he made to practise before using heather, a material he wasn’t used to using.
(1) Transcript of Julie Gurr Interviewing Alisdair Davidson on 28th June 2013
by Julie Gurr