WATCH: Diane is keeping a special ancient skill alive

Ms Carton says that there has been a significant change towards handmade stuff and crafts, especially in Ireland.
WATCH: Diane is keeping a special ancient skill alive

Diane Carton is a baskets crafter based in Banteer, County Cork.

"I WAS a plumber for 25 years. I qualified in the UK and came over to Ireland. It took me a little while to get a job because there weren’t any women plumbing in Ireland, and they weren’t quite sure whether I’d be a good fit; when I joined, everyone was fine. So I had 25 years of doing that. And then basketry was just my hobby; I sat and played in the evening and developed my skills.’’

Diane Carton is a baskets crafter based in Banteer, Co. Cork, who started her brand in building baskets 20 years ago. She relies 100% on materials that she grows on her farm. She raises the willows that she uses to create each basket she sells.

Saille is an Irish word that means willow rod, which Ms Carton uses in her creations. There’s an old Irish song called The Saille Gardens, and that’s where her brand’s name comes from, she says.

When she started 20 years ago, she joined some classes to learn how to cut willow at the weekends, and had just moved into the house where she lives now.

“The diggers had to come in and remove all the trees in the back of [the house]. So we ended up with a big blank canvas for a garden.’’

Afterwards, a lady called Lynn Kirkham taught Ms Carton the basics of building baskets. 

“I did a couple of workshops with her and learnt the basics for basketry, then went home and took anything out the hedgerow I could find and began to play with the sticks in the kitchen, making a mess. 

"And I’ve just become addicted to it. I love the material and the feeling of it.’’

Ms Carton’s workshop was affected when Covid hit, but she continued her business by selling online.

“I stopped doing the craft fairs which I was doing before and went full time with it. So I haven’t looked back.’’

She says no-one will ever become a millionaire out of basket-making. 

Diane Carton is a baskets crafter based in Banteer, County Cork.
Diane Carton is a baskets crafter based in Banteer, County Cork.

“I suppose, for me, I could give up the plumbing and start basket-making full time really because my demands financially were a lot smaller. 

"My kids are kind of grown-up now, the mortgage is coming to an end. So if I made €200 a week, [it] was enough to feed us and pay the bills. Whereas when I had a small family and a big mortgage, that would never have been a possibility.’’

Ms Carton describes a good business day as when she can do two or three baskets, which takes 12 hours of work. She describes basketry as an ancient skill that thoroughly relies on hands. However, nothing has changed or developed since she started 20 years ago regarding timing and crafting.

“Growing the willows still takes the same amount of time, harvesting the willows still takes the same amount of time, a basket is still going to take three, four or five or six hours to make. It doesn’t get any faster; it doesn’t get any easier.’’

Meanwhile, she says that she can’t charge less than €100 for her strongest basket, even though it’s stronger and will last a lot longer.

“But sometimes the consumers don’t understand that. So they’ll buy whatever is the cheapest for them, but that won’t last that long, they maybe get one year out of a cheap basket. Whereas they’ll get 10 or 15 years out of a well-made basket.’’

Despite that, Ms Carton says that there has been a significant change towards handmade stuff and crafts, especially in Ireland.

“It’s wonderful to see because there are so many more people who want to become basket makers or want to get their hands dirty. I’ve seen a real revival of crafts over the last two or three years.’’

Visit www.saillebaskets.com

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