Skep Making Course

By Leonie Williams

The Heritage Craft Association is the UK’s advocacy body for traditional heritage crafts and publishes a red list which is a list of traditional crafts that are at risk of extinction and therefore need to be protected.

On the list is Lipwork – the art of coiling a basket from wheat or oat straw – and this is the basis of Skep Making. 

Six members of Sutton Coldfield’s Association recently attended a Skep Making workshop at Warwickshire BBKA Headquarters. The course was run by Mike Townsend and Val Dillon and ably assisted by Holly Kindness and Judith Masson.

The materials were provided and these included straw that was procured from a thatcher and 6mm strips of rattan which is required for the stitching.

Traditional tools to enable Skep making could have been a sharpened leg bone of a swan and a sawn off cow horn. Fortunately, as part of the course, we were presented with modern alternatives; a special tool or fid comprising of a wooden handle with a metal hollow pointed end, which allows you to thread the rattan through to make your stitches and the top of a tonic bottle as a funnel to contain and control your straw (thanks for drinking all the gin Val!).

The straw is dampened and fed through the funnel and gradually stitched into coiled work. You can twist the straw depending on what finish you wanted. Your skep could be domed or flat depending on your preference.

The time simply flew by and some of our group managed to get as far as the basket coming down the sides, whereas others were still perfecting the base.

Enough materials were provided to ensure that we can finish our skeps at home and we have committed to having a second skep workshop together to make this happen!

It was a privilege to learn and appreciate such an ancient and traditional craft. A big thank you to all who made this possible.

Bee skep making | Heritage Crafts

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