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Weaving a route to the past: Northumbrian Fishwife's Creel Workshop on Holy Island

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Northumberland has a long and interesting history of basketmaking, and there’s no better place to weave the  Northumberland Fishwife’s Back Creel than Holy Island. A feature of Northumberland’s rich cultural heritage from the nineteenth century, this willow  design is now included in the Red List of endangered baskets in the UK. In fact, it’s believed that there are now fewer than five makers with the skills needed to weave the creel today. With this in mind, a group of nine eager students met at the St Cuthbert’s centre on Holy Island in early November to learn the craft from professional basket maker Anna Turnbull.


Northumbria Basketry Association Group  promotes and enables the study and practice of basketmaking and chair seating in the Northumbria region. This two-day course allowed participants to discover an attractivecreel from a by-gone era, and replicate the design using the finest willow, plenty of concentration and expert guidance from Anna Turnbull with support from Liz Balfour’s reproduction creel.


After many hours following the complex weave, cake-eating and tasting a delicious raspberry gin brought along by one participant, each student had their very own Fishwife’s creel basket. Originally, these baskets were made for the purpose of hauling fish from coble boats to be sold at market or door to door. Child size creels were also produced, and a replica made by Alan Winlow of the Basketry Association was a poignant reminder of the use of child labour at that time.


Nowadays, replica baskets are made for pleasure and stand as reminders of our coastal heritage. If you’d like to learn basketry from the experts, or would simply like to know more about the craft, Liz Balfour’s booklet, The Fishing Baskets of Northumbria (2019) can be bought by contacting Alan Winlow on


Northumbria Basketry Association runs several events throughout the year, keeping this interesting coastal tradition alive. To get involved, visit their website.

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