Annette Mills | Materials Hub
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Transition Member: Annette Mills

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Annette works with fibre and plant material. She researches and incorporates traditional basketry techniques to create dynamic and tactile sculptural forms. Annette works with a variety of plants which she can grow, harvest or forage. Using daffodils, iris, grasses, rush and willow, she makes cordage, braids or fibres to weave or coil. By combining them with the traditional techniques of looping and twining she makes baskets with a contemporary twist.

Annette investigates how basketry techniques, which have been passed from one generation to the next, have been adapted, reinvented and transmitted around the world since ancient times. The materiality of her gathered raw materials carry within them not only the source of containers, vessels, dwellings, but also provide a way to understand communities and connect with the primacy of a sense of place. In this way, the haptic qualities and purpose of basketry in different cultures can be read in the use of materials and shared techniques. Change is inherent in the physical processes of her making and consequently, guide and structure her decision making.

Her use of basketry techniques appears random, repetitive and without form until, working with the dynamic twist and tensile qualities of the material, a potential form is suggested, and a structure begins to emerge. Her work explores how this process can be considered as movement through transitional spaces: physical, emotional, imaginary and remembered.

Annette explores how the initial feelings of excitement and energy can be retained within the captured space of the refined and completed work.

Annette continues to extend her range of materials to explore the interface between basketry and ceramics and their relationship with the space they contain and inhabit.

The work being developed for this exhibition is a new departure. I have worked with ceramics in the past, but not as part of my creative practice. I have long been fascinated by the interface between ceramics and basketry and the theories of how they evolved. There is evidence of pottery from Neolithic times and woven basket structures have been radiocarbon dated back to 25,000 and 27,000 years ago. One theory is that a basket covered in mud was left too close to a fire which burned off the fibre and fired the clay leaving a solid vessel.

My recent experimental work exhibited as Work in Progress at Folkestone (Oct 2020)  involved working with cob and random weave structures exploring the free flow of space in the open weave of willow and the containment of that space within the solidity of the cob.

I am interested in continuing to develop this juxtaposition of materials in Materiality. I will focus on the notion of containment and displaced space. Working with the ancient technique of looping and handmade cordage from a variety of plant material I will make vessels and containers, the space within will be filled with strings of porcelain fragments which have been incorporated into the cordage.

The themes will explore one of the fundamental functions of a baskets and its difference to ceramic vessels – the tactile nature of the plant material and the ephemeral nature of the processed material compare to the durability of clay.

“My work explores how this process can be considered as movement through transitional spaces.”


The forms and structures evolve from, and are totally dependent upon, the materials that Annette uses. She works with raw plant material which she grows or forages. Her work follows the seasons, she grows her materials: bluebells, daffodils, tulips, Siberian iris, yellow flag iris, bur-reed, cattail, English bulrush, soft rush daylilies and willow. The harvest begins in January, with willow, and during the spring 6-8 weeks after the spring bulbs have flowered and continues throughout the summer and early autumn with iris, rush and daylilies.

The leaves are separated and dried naturally out of doors when completely dry they are boxed and ready to dampen or soak in water to make cordage and braid to loop or stitch into basket structures.

Annette uses the plant stem, leaf and bark depending on what is being made. Different preparation processes allow for different properties to be accessed, e.g. willow can be used in the brown cut form or the bark can be stripped – providing a new material- this white willow can be split using a cleave to produce thinner strips with a curved and flat side. The making reflects the time of year – random weave willow work happens outside from Easter through to September. Cordage and braid happens during the summer months and is then stored for stitching over the winter months. Annette makes cordage throughout the year as it is needed.

She enjoys the availability of the everyday garden plants and the simplicity of the processes and minimal hand tools. Time is the main ingredient. It is slow work and once the material is used up, it can’t be replaced until next year’s harvest.

Introducing clay into her work takes her away from her original source material. but it is important that she uses it with hand tools and not a wheel. Annette has a good understanding of the processing of clay and uses the clay earth in her garden to make cob.


New Materials

Annette works with her usual material, plant material, to create structures and vessels. She will use porcelain as a new material to be incorporated into the cordage and/or looping to be formed into strings and contained within the vessel. The plant material will include the leaves of iris, bur-reed, daffodil, day lily. The porcelain will be unglazed and made into leaf forms or fragments.


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