When we deliver one of our woven coffins to a Funeral Director, it’s one of the final stages of a yearlong process that stretches from field to funeral. Here we share the process of what happens as we create our coffins.
As well as presenting a more natural and aesthetically gentle looking coffin, our willow, bulrush and bamboo coffins also offer a degree of artisanal craft and detail that can’t be achieved with more traditional materials such as wood. This is largely due to the hours of detailed work that goes into making each coffin by hand. But even before the coffin is woven, there’s another entire process which sits behind it; the growing, nurturing and harvesting of the materials.
As we wrote recently, our coffins are typically manufactured by relatively small family enterprises. Sitting on homesteads and smallholdings, each family will grow and harvest the materials and weave each coffin by hand. These enterprises are multigenerational businesses that have developed and passed on the arts and skills required to manage all aspects of the farming and production cycle.
Making use of the environment and resources around them means the family put their land to work growing bamboo, willow and bulrush. But to be truly sustainable they will have had to determine the right species of each plant to grow; to balance speed and rate of growth with the quality of the final material. As any farmer will tell you, this is a careful act that takes years of trial and error, learning a little more from each year’s harvest. Often separated by many miles, there’s little chance to chat to the neighbouring farmer to compare crops or growing conditions and so the quality of each material is honed locally over decades, developing a deep knowledge of the plants, their ideal growing conditions and the perfect time to harvest.
Once harvested, the materials need to be checked for quality and then stored until they’re required for production. Like most crops, they rarely grow at the exact rate and quantity required for just in time production. In Asia, storage is often easier than in Europe as the climate remains quite humid, keeping the materials supple and flexible. The more extreme dry heat, moisture and humidity in Europe, and especially in the UK, make storage a lot harder and can require purpose-built, climate-controlled facilities.
Having farmed the land, grown the crop and harvested it, many of the same family members will then be involved in the hand weaving process. Before weaving can begin, each length of material is checked for imperfections that may impact the quality or the look of the final coffin. When dealing with natural materials imperfections are, of course, to be expected, but creating a uniformity of colour, thickness and strength is extremely important to us, our funeral directors and the families they work with .
A highly experienced weaver may be able to create 2 or 3 coffins per day, but this is only after many years of weaving; getting to know the materials, the designs and the layering. By comparison, a newer member of the family team, taking onto weaving for the first time, may require anything up to a week to produce a single coffin to the same standard. So, you can see how hard it is to develop the skill to the extent that the rate of production can increase 20 – 30-fold!
Once woven, each coffin is checked carefully for quality before being packed ahead of shipment. Coffins will then either be delivered to the freight forwarding company by the farmer or in some cases collected. As some of the families we work with are in extremely remote areas, they may wait until there are sufficient products to warrant hiring a truck or calling for a collection. These are not high-volume factories in industrial areas. Up until the point the coffin is finished, the materials may only have travelled a few hundred metres from the field to the ‘factory’ floor!
Having arrived at our stores in the UK, each coffin is once again inspected by our quality assurance team and then handed over for final hand finishing. This can take many forms – from the addition of small, laser-cut engraved hearts to additional weaving, or the placement of a plaque. We also apply any colour spray by hand and line all our coffins here in the UK, so each one can be tailored to the family’s wishes. After a final inspection, the coffin is ready to be delivered to the funeral director.
From start to finish, a coffin made from natural materials will take more than a year to create from field to funeral. Of course, even that period only takes into account a single year or season’s worth of growth on a plant or tree that may well have been in the ground for decades and produced the materials for hundreds, if not thousands, of other coffins.
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