Saturday, 30 June 2012

sycamore is for curiosity

Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) grows like a weed in London.  You’ll find it sprouting all over the city alongside fences, railings and buildings. Any bit of unattended ground is an ideal home for this opportunistic plant and with all the rain we’ve had in recent weeks, what were small shoots a while back now amount to small woodland areas.  This is the case near my studio, where I’ve gone out to collect some equipped with a saw and pair of loppers. Who am I to turn down free materials?

The aim was to strip the bark off the wood collected and use it for plaiting and weaving.  So far I’ve used every part of the tree but the leaves, so these trees haven’t been felled in vain. If I was making garments, this approach would be equivalent to zero waste pattern cutting. All this has led to really interesting experimentation.  I’ve assembled, plaited, coiled and twined the leaf stalks to make nest like constructions and baskets.  I’ve bent, split and joined freshly stripped branches to make bowl and plate shaped recipients.  I’ll be working with the leaves next, so keep your eyes peeled on this coming week’s dailymades. I was only looking at an old catalogue of Andy Goldsworthy the other day. Such inspiration… If anyone knows how to work with leaves, he does!

stripped and bent sycamore

sycamore leaf stalks and branches

I’ve yet to find out what will come of all this work I’ve done: the development of new products, fresh ideas and approaches for making sculptures, new activities to be practiced in future collaborative projects… It’s too early to say, but I’ve realised there is something fundamental about working with trees.  It has something to do about connection you’re making with the environment. Phil Macnaghten writes eloquently in his short essay on trees in Patterned Ground: Entanglements of Nature and Culture, about their ‘dynamic temporality’, their ‘contribution to a sense of place’, and their relationship with people being historically ‘intimate and productive, reflected in customs of hunting, foraging, burning, beekeeping, building, grazing, and so on…’.  He also says trees ‘exhibit a rhythmic pattern of persistence and change, from the swaying, bending and twisting of branches, to the growth of leaves and ripening of fruit, to eventual death and decay.  Trees embody an intergenerational model of time’.  It is possibly this idea of time that has drawn me in, something that is of course pertinent to making, and weaving in particular.

sycamore leaf stalks

plaited and coiled sycamore leaf stalks

sycamore seeds, leaf stalks and bindweed

Foraging for sycamore has left me wanting to know much more than simply weaving with bark, so it is no surprise to find out that the symbolic meaning of sycamore is curiosity.

sycamore bark


  1. Inspirational, as we have some sycamores in dire need of heavy pruning.

    And speaking of leaves, have you come across the work of Richard Shilling, who does beautiful things with them?

  2. Thanks Celia. Do let me do your heavy pruning for you, and Richard Spilling does nice work indeed.