Basket making at Kendal's museum

28/11/2018 Lorna Singleton: Modern Basketry

28 November 2018

Lorna Singleton: Modern Basketry

Forgotten Cumbrian craft comes alive at Museum of Lakeland Life

From her workshop in the shadow of the Cumbrian fells, Lorna Singleton keeps alive an ancient Lake District tradition.

One of the UK’s last remaining ‘swillers’, Singleton uses long-established methods to create beautiful hand-woven baskets for the modern day.

‘Swilling’ was popular in 19th century Cumbria. In this instance it is not a term to do with drinking or pigs, but refers to an ancient craft practiced in England - oak basket making.

Lorna is one of only four craftspeople in the entire world maintaining this skill and way of life. She will now have her beautiful work exhibited in Kendal, Cumbria.

Lorna Singleton: Modern Basketry opens at the Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry on 19 January 2019 and runs until 6 May.

Swilled baskets can be seen in the illustrations of Beatrix Potter and were common until after World War Two, when plastics became popular.

In Singleton’s work, craft and conservation work together. She cuts and prepares the wood by hand, managing and restoring coppice woodland in a responsible and renewable way, seeing the whole process from tree to finished product.

Lorna Singleton: Modern Basketry shines the spotlight on the history of swilling while displaying Singleton’s work as an example of someone keeping this traditional craft alive.

It will bring together some of Lorna’s best pieces along with historic tools and a chance for visitors to try weaving themselves.

The woodlands of South Lakeland were dotted with swill shops in the 19th Century. Swill baskets were used across the UK in factories, mines, farms and homes and the coppicing that the industry relied on created a unique habitat.

Lorna, 35, who has a workshop in Burneside, near Kendal, said: “You can’t create swill baskets with machines. I use simple hand tools and techniques used by generations of swillers before me. The baskets are extremely durable.

“When I’ve made a basket I want people to use it and pass it down to the next generation, as they did in a bygone era.”

A Finalist of the 2016 Cumbria Life Award for Best Maker, Lorna will run basket making workshops at the Museum in spring. Details:

As well as baskets, Singleton designs and makes other contemporary products that show off the unique strength and flexibility of swill. This includes hand bags and wall baskets. A selection of her pieces will be for sale at Lakeland Arts.

She added: “My products are made using oak coppiced locally in South Cumbria, where I grew up. Oak is stronger than many materials. There is only so far that wood can be in-fluenced, so you have to work with the material and it plays a part in deciding what I make.

“When I made my first swill in 2010 I was hooked. Since then I’ve put my heart and soul into making the baskets. It’s almost like my emotions are expressed in the finished product.”

More details about the exhibition:

Lorna’s website:


Notes to editors:

For further information contact Dickie Felton or

Lorna images:

Lorna Singleton:
Lorna Singleton is one of the UK’s last remaining ‘swillers’, a specialist in woven prod-ucts made with coppiced oak. Lorna graduated as an apprentice of the Bill Hogarth MBE Memorial Apprenticeship Trust, following three years of intensive tuition in coppice wood-land management. Using simple hand tools and techniques from generations past, Lorna Singleton creates baskets based on the traditional patterns from South Cumbrian region as well as collaborating on contemporary applications for this historic practice.

Lakeland Arts:
Lakeland Arts has a portfolio of galleries and museums in the Lake District. It’s venues are Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry, Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House. A new museum: Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories will open in spring 2019.

Abbot Hall Art Gallery:
Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal opened in 1962. It has built up an outstanding collection and a strong reputation for showing exhibitions of national and international artists of the highest quality. In 2018 it showed work ranging from Claude Monet and Auguste Rodin to contemporary artists Elisabeth Frink and Alison Watt. The gallery and surrounding es-tate will undergo a major redevelopment planned to start in 2020.

Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry:
Abbot Hall also houses the Museum of Lakeland Life & Industry in the former coach house and stables. The Museum opened in 1971. Immerse yourself in Lake District histo-ry, discover the region’s past in farming, mining and tanning. Find out about Swallows and Amazons author Arthur Ransome and stroll down a Victorian Street. The Museum also has a regular programme of exhibitions.

Blackwell, The Arts & Crafts House:
Blackwell is situated in Bowness-on-Windermere and is architect MH Baillie Scott's greatest house. Built as a Lake District rural holiday retreat for the Manchester brewery owner, Sir Edward Holt, today it is an outstanding example of an Arts & Crafts House. Re-taining most of its original decorative features. It is a perfect setting for exhibitions of his-torical and contemporary craft.

Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories:
Windermere Jetty Museum of Boats, Steam and Stories will open spring 2019. Designed by Carmody Groarke architects, this will be a new world-class museum in a stunning set-ting on Windermere and will display an internationally important collection of boats which are all associated with lake Windermere. Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) is the major funder for the Museum. HLF grants are made possible by National Lottery players. The project is also supported by Regional Growth Fund and Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund.

  • © Thom Atkinson
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