Practical class: Willow basket weaving 101
Hello everybody, I’m just back from a few days in Somerset and ready to begin our practical classes. I will give you all the information I have so you can try a few new art forms, and I will link you to teachers and all the helpful sites I have.
The first practical class will be willow basket weaving. 😀
Have you ever wanted to weave a basket? I have, and tried, (with various degrees of success), but here we have information so our technique can only improve into an absolute art form.
Come on, let’s have a go.
First: some willow talk.
It seems that there are many different species of willow that we can chose from. Here in the UK you can order bundles of willow ready for weaving from Musgrove Willows, but I’m really interested in using the willow that is coppiced in a local park in Vancouver. The willow is freshly cut and left on the ground for people to pick up, and so that what I plan to do.
If you have fresh willow, you must stand it up against a wall and let it dry for a month. Then, whether you’ve harvested your own, or bought a bundle, you must soak it before you can weave with it. Obviously, a long, galvanised tank is the best way to soak the willow branches, but if you’re not that lucky, a plastic kiddie pool, or making a “tank” with four bits of wood and a plastic pond liner will do. This soaking can take up to four weeks. Check to see if the willow is pliable enough by twisting it into a tight wreath. It should be pliable and not snap, and it should definitely not have a slimy and peeling bark. That’s too soaked and spoiled for weaving.
Once the willow is soaked, you must use it. Apparently you can re-soak it a second time as long as it thoroughly dries out first. After soaking, willow needs a little time to “mellow” before use, so over night wrapped up in a damp blanket is ideal.
Willow leaches out tannins staining skin and clothing and possibly killing fish, so no soaking in the koi pond. Keep the willow moist for the day or two you are using it by keeping it covered with the damp blanket and misting it with water.
Rachel Poole, our wonderful instructor, made the bottom wreaths for the class, but explained that it is just two long, twisted willow branches, so with a bit of trial it might be as easy as the rest of this weave.
As a matter of fact, weaving should be very easy, and if you are struggling, you are doing something very wrong.
According to Rachel, there are only four steps in weaving, and they are:
So let’s try
Take the bottom circle, and take four straight and sturdy lengths. Keep the thick end of one, and clip it to be about four inches longer than the widest part of the circle.
Now do the same thing with the other three, and place the clipped ends under the table for later use.
So now, you have something like this below:
You have a central bottom circle and four pieces (lets call them sticks) about two inches longer on each side than the circumference of the circle.
Notice that the dark, fat ends of the sticks are all pointing in the same direction. Separate them into two and two, and place them across the circle separating the circle into thirds. Now flip one stick of each pair to have fat end, skinny end, and fat end skinny end.
You can see the beginnings here in Rachel’s demonstration.
Here we go with the first step. SHOVE
Pick up a long, straight, nice looking length of willow, (you can be choosy), and shove the thick end under the edge of the circle somewhere in the middle of one side, (as you see Rachel doing), leaving a nice, generous inch end.
Second step. JUMP
Now jump the length over the first pair of sticks.
This first length requires a little support with your hand, but the second and third and so on lengths will hold themselves in.
Third step. FLICK
Now flick the length under the second pair of sticks, again supporting it with your hand.
Omitting the fourth step here, we will go one to the second row.
Grab a second length of willow. (be choosy)
Now start on the opposite side to the first length and
SHOVE the fat end under the edge of the ring,
JUMP the first pair of sticks,
FLICK the length under the second pair of sticks
SQUEEZE the two lengths together.
See? How easy is that?
Now for a third length.
For my first basket, I chose to alternate the fat ends along the bottom, but Rachel explained that interesting patterns can happen if you end up putting two fat ends beside each other, so the choice is yours.
But here’s my beginning basket with three lengths:
And here with 17. Four steps. Just like magic 😀
Before you know it, you’ve shoved, jumped, flicked and squeezed your way right across the whole bottom and now you have a small space left on either side.
Here’s how to fill it. Pick up two of the left-over clipped ends from making the four sticks. Take one and shove it under the circle, jump, flick, squeeze, and, at the end, bend it over the second pair of sticks you’ve just flicked, jump, flick (or in this case more like thread), and try to repeat it until the small space is closed with woven willow.
I hope you can see this clearly on my basket. I tried to use a slightly different colour to show you.
There you are, the whole bottom is finished.
Now you can use secateurs and clip the scraggly, black bottom ends and prepare to bend your basket handle.
To bend willow successfully, you have to take your time. Put your hand flat on the basket bottom and gently “wave” the bundle of willow lengths up and back and up and back. This may take a few minutes. If you hurry this process you might kink some fo the lengths and that would be a shame.
In just a few minutes of coaxing the willow to bend up, you can drop the first bundle and spend time bending the second.
Pretty soon the willow will get the idea and both sides will meet in the middle.
Now tie one to the other with a simple knot. They should stay knotted. You decide how tightly you want to pull the knot. Might be you want a long handle, might be you want to pull the knot tightly for a smaller handle.
I wanted to do one last step:
I chose the longest piece on one side and wrapped it around my handle and tucked it in on itself to make a sturdy, decorative feature.
Then I did the same thing on the other side.
And there you go! Now the basket has to dry for about two weeks, but what fun! Now I want to experiment with more weaving. 😀
But I really couldn’t wait for two weeks of drying, could you?