Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Wicked wicker

Halfway between Tours and Chinon, at 7 km from Azay-le-Rideau, you’ll find the village of Villaines-les-Rochers. It hosts France’s largest ‘cooperative de vanneries’, with 60 basket weavers, five of whom carry the prestigious title of ‘Meilleur ouvrier de France’.

The ‘cooperative’ has a workshop that is open to the public, as well as a large store where the artisans’ work is sold. Over the years I’ve visited the village on three occasions. And each time, I’ve bought a handmade item. My first buy was a large hand-woven wicker trunk in which I now keep my bed sheets and blankets. It’s a very useful piece of furniture and I really like it as it blends in nicely with the rest of the bedroom.

On my second visit I bought a basket that can hold up to four bottles. It’s very handy to carry wine or one liter water bottles from the garage or the cellar to the kitchen and the dining room. My third purchase was a bread basket.

Knowing my friends’ interest in handmade and crafty decorative items, we drove to Villaines-les-Rochers after finishing our walk in Crissay-sur-Manse. We started by visiting the workshop where four or five weavers were working on different items. Weaving baskets and other wicker items requires special skills, flexible, yet strong fingers and hands and several sharp tools. The weavers didn’t object to us taking photos, and we spent almost half an hour watching them transform the slim and bendable willow branches into different objects, ranging from sturdy garden fences, to handy carrying baskets and artful little stools.

One of the basket weavers in the workshop.

Our next stop was the store. It was even bigger than I remembered it from my earlier visits. I felt it was going to be a tremendous challenge not to buy anything. And yet, I resisted … There was one item that caught my fancy: a wine cooler, made from a solid piece of rock (I don’t think it was local, though) with a dark brown wicker rim. But my common sense took over when I thought of the two wine coolers I already had at home and the lack of space in my kitchen cupboards.

Wicked wicker flowers ...

I quickly scurried to the other part of the shop where large pieces of wicker furniture are on display. Here sizes and prices will automatically dissuade you from buying anything.

However, guess what B. was carrying
when we left the store. Right … the wine cooler!



Nadege said...

In the old days, farmers used to weave their baskets in winter.
The one in your photo is very pretty.

ladybird said...

Nadege, I think that's how the 'cooperative' initially started ... by an 'abbé' who wanted to give the farmers an extra occupation and income during the winter. Today it has become a fulltime occupation for many of the weavers of Villaines-les-Rochers.