Tension Trays

Tension trays are so called because the round material, when put together place stress on one another, holding the tray together.
They can be made any size and from most woody materials forming a variety of uses. Anything that grows long slender shoots can be tried.
The best time to collect materials is between May and September when maximum growth has been made and the sappy new wood has hardened. You can use the material immediately, but the twigs will shrink as they dry, leaving your weaving loose and your basket floppy. It’s better to leave them in a damp shady spot for a few days. If they need to be stored for longer, first dry them out, then bundle them and keep them in a cool dry place. When you come to use them, they’ll need to be soaked for a week or sometimes longer to soften them enough. (Not all woods will take to being soaked, you may have to experiment).
To make a tension tray

1. First take a long straight rod and coil it into a circle. Weave the ends in and around the circle. Add more rods if you think the ring needs to be stiffer. This will become the outside frame.

2. Cut 2 or 4 sticks, long enough to overlap your frame, width wise. Leave plenty of extra length; you can always trim it at the end. Form them in pairs lay them across the ring evenly spaced. These are your stakes.

3. Tie the cross members to the frame until you put the first few weavers in. Select some of your most flexible rods; these are the weavers Take the butt end of weaver over frame, under stake, over next stake and under the frame. Repeat from the opposite side. Make sure all the butt ends are on the underside. It will now be held together. Remove ties once the first 3 weavers are in place as this will make it easier to fill the tray.

4. Fill in the tray with weavers. Continue working away from the centre towards the outer frame equally Keep the weave as tight as you can by packing the weavers together each time each time you add a new one until the circle is filled in and ridged .As you reach the ends you can slip the weavers over the cross pieces . If you are using fresh materials you will have to put a couple of extra lengths aside and add them in when the others dry out and shrink.

5. Trim tray to the desired shape. You can add handles or embellish them with a little weaving

Now the basic concept can be taken to the garden to create a variety of interesting features. When making screens and fences I use fresh materials.
A fence can be made up of several ‘trays’ .For low garden fences I make them up first then put them in place.
Use 2 longer stronger cross members with a point on the end to put it in the ground. Fill in until ridged and trim. When you have the desired number of trays make pilot hole in the soil then gently tap the tray into position.
To make larger fences or screens start by putting suitable posts in the ground. Then make the tray in situ.

This method is very simple, effective, versatile and fun to play with. Like other forms of contemporary basketry the method is only limited by your imagination

Deborah Cantrill August 2013

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