Tuesday, 9 February 2010

Woven from willow

I have always loved willow baskets and for sometime now been wanting to learn to weave them. I bought books, tools and a some willow a couple of years back, but then I was stuck. None of the books I had told me enough to give me the confidence to get started.

In the middle of January I happened to pick up the Derbyshire County Council Adult Education brochure for Spring. In it I found a one day course called "Basket Making: taster". I phoned up to ask if it was willow baskets, and ... yes it was! So I booked.

Half a dozen keen learners made there way on a foggy morning up & down narrow country lanes to Over Haddon Village Hall, where the cheerful, friendly tutor assured us we would all go home with a finished basket. And we did. Here's mine, a bit wobbly in places but it definitely a real willow basket for all that.

All the baskets were the same basic design, all turned out different, not least because we had three colours of willow to weave with and could chose whichever we wanted. Also, as a natural material there is a lot of variety in the raw material, each stem behaves a little differently. Getting a feel for that, and learning to work with it, is essential to the art of willow weaving.

I came away not just with one woven basket, but with the knowledge of what willow feels like to work with and how the techniques I'd seen in the books actually work. It's not easy to communicate this very 3 dimensional work on the flat pages of a book.

I was also delighted when the tutor gave me some of the remaining sticks of willow. They'd already been soaked and dried out 3 times and were starting to be past their best, she said "yours if you can use it tomorrow or the next day" - of course I grinned and said "oh, yes!".

Back at home, next morning, I got out my basketry tools. Left to right, a heavy iron "rapper" for pushing the weavers into place (like the beater on a loom), a bodkin, bypass secateurs and a shop knife. Tools like this, and the willow, are available from PH Coate & Son in Somerset.

The willow I had to keep wrapped in a damp towel in the bath so it didn't dry out. So long as it is wet it remains extremely pliable.


Sitting on the kitchen floor, I tried to remember all the instructions. I should have had my camera at the workshop to record the different stages. Nevermind, making another basket the next day was a good revision exercise.






Basket number two finished. I started an hour before lunch, finished about afternoon teatime.


The wool is 100g balls of Ronaldsay from sheep kept on North Ronaldsay in the Orkney Islands. I bought it from Scottish Fibres.

An essential accessory for every handspinner?

For anyone wanting to know about willow basketry in the UK, here is the website of The Basketmakers Association.

14 comments:

Pat said...

Well, there's thing! The idea of making one by oneself immediately after a course is the best way of making sure you have learnt. Not that everyone manages it so well!

charlotte said...

Your baskets are lovely!I guess when you know the basic techiques, you can do a lot of difffreent basket types. Do you need specially grown willow, or can you just go to the woods and gather it? Basket making is also a something I wish to learn, perhaps some day there will come a chance.

Charlotte said...

Well I'm very impressed, I must say! It's so easy to put things off especially if they seem complicated or alien at first, you must be pleased you persevered and I hope you continue with your new skills.

Maggie said...

That is so cool! That you went from a bundle of sticks to a basket full of yarn and roving in a matter of hours! I love it!

Trapunto said...

First home-made willow baskets I've seen. I'm amazed how fast it goes. Beautiful.

Leigh said...

I am so impressed. I love woven baskets but have never had a desire to learn this type of weaving. You make it look so easy!

Catherine Wakely said...

Brilliant! They look really good - I shall look forward to seeing them next time we make it up to visit you xx

Barbara Blundell said...

Great Dorothy ! The second basket is very professional looking I once had a go and found it harder than it looks. I ended up with a very misshapen waste paper basket although I did enjoy working with the willow !

Dorothy said...

Thanks for the all the comments ;)

I didn't find the weaving easy Leigh, several times I was very puzzled and had to think carefully and undo bits, so it's a bit like learning to weave on a loom!!

Charlotte, you can weave with all sorts of garden plants. There's a nice book by Suzie Vaughan full of ideas, plants like Dogwood, bramble (stripped of thorns), hops, your own home grown willow are possible, and then for soft baskets anything with a long fibrous leaf.

Benita said...

I love the baskets and the use you have made of them. I love things made from natural items and your baskets are lovely - and you made them yourself!

Glad to see you are feeling better!!!

Margreet said...

Lovely baskets! Great place to keep your yarns and fibres and being able to say that you made them yourself.

Life Looms Large said...

Beautiful baskets....and even more beautiful since you made them yourself.

Sue

CannyCat said...

They are gorgeous! Thank you for sharing the in-process photos, it's really interesting to see how it's done :)

callybooker said...

Can I tell you something that really, really annoys me? Well, obviously I am going to or I wouldn't have mentioned it...

Working as I have done for the last few years in the university sector I get sick and tired of hearing academics cite "basket weaving" whenever they want to say that some course or other is not rigorous or difficult. These are also people who think that "weaving" and "basket weaving" are synonymous, which shows how much they know about it. So when I am mocked for my "basket weaving" interests, I always point out that I don't know how to make baskets and am in awe of those who do. Consider me awestruck!

Nice home for the North Ron, too...