Early Settlers in Iceland – The Ultimate Self-Reliance Test!


Early Settlers in Iceland – The Ultimate Self-Reliance Test!

Joy wasn’t the first emotion I experienced when my husband said he had booked us a surprise trip to Iceland – my first thoughts were – cold and barren. Ungrateful I know but Cold I would say is my main weakness – a holiday in it wasn’t what Id hoped for. Still grateful for this opportunity, the excitement crept in and I started researching the country on our journey there. I was intrigued to know how historically humans had coped in this cold and barren landscape without the modern trappings of my down jacket, gortex Parker and insulated snow boots. I was looking for inspiration to be tougher!

What I didn’t anticipate finding was such a fascinating history of toughness, of resiliance and slow but sure adaptation to survive in this unusual landscape. It is a history lacking in any kind of environmental support for human survival, the land and climate in Iceland yielded little in the way of advantageous natural resources for man. Reading the book of Settlers it is like reading how the land wanted to push humanness to its adaptive limits, like it was trying to push us off.

This article is a dedicated to those early Settlers, in awe of their self-reliance against all odds I would like to share their story with you. Perhaps we can all find some inspiration from Icelanders?

‘Icelanders’

To begin with, lets clarify the term Icelanders – they are genetically predominantly Norwegians and Irish. In 874 dissatisfied with the current strict rule of the king in Norway and wanting to carve his own life (and swathes of land), Ingólfr Arnarson took two of his slaves, an open top boat, some livestock, seeds and tools then set sail. Whether he had determined to land in Iceland or not we don’t know. Its existence had been known since ancient Greek times when it was called ‘Thule’ and indeed people had even visited and stayed before 874 … Irish monks, another Scandinavian or two, but none had remained so we cannot include them here as ‘settlers’.

Ingolfr however did stay. After spending a couple of summers wandering and the winters in between sheltering, looking for the best place on the island to settle he settled, like most modern people, in the Reykjavik area. A bay in the west away from the ice caps of the middle area and the harsh arctic winds from the north/east, warmed a little by the gulf stream the Reykjavik area was a good choice. Well, as good as could be in Iceland.

The Island

The island he had landed on was 104,000 km area with a coastline of 3000 miles and the only creature to be found on land was the artic fox who had floated there on ice by accident from somewhere else. Hot springs, glaciers, black volcanic rock and live volcanos.   If you stand on this bit of floating hot rock in the North Atlantic, just below Greenland and look south there will be nothing but ocean until the South Pole!

Settling the Island – On Becoming Icelanders

Thankfully Ingolfr had come prepared. As a landowner in Norway he brought some skills and the livestock and seeds to go with them. Together with the labour (slaves) to implement these, Ingolfr and his family who had followed raised a few sheep, goats, cattle and poultry. Like most settlers who initially use their own old ways of land management in the new environment they soon realised they need to adapt methods, Ingolfr struggled here with his usual methods of farming.

Livestock Farming

The climate and landscape was different from Norway and winter days could be as short as 4 hours of daylight with very short cool summers. This meant that much winter grazing was simply not available and there was not enough to store from short summers to cover such long winters for livestock food.   The settler  had to let their livestock wander in winter instead of keeping them close and feeding them – they left their livestock to become self-reliant themselves. This resulted in losses, until the farmers worked out what livestock was more suitable to focus on in this climate and landscape.

Cultivating, Foraging and Hunting.

The same problem occurred with the seeds he brought – some worked in this climate and terrain others didn’t. Winter veg such as potatoes, turnip, kale type veg worked but growing grains was notoriously difficult. They tried to grow grain they brought over, then when this proved difficult, they cultivated a wild grain on a small scale that didn’t yield much…. Barley grown on low lying plains was the only successful grain grown here and this wasn’t massively productive and ceased altogether for much of the first 1000 years. In fact a lack of grain and the settlers adapting around this characterises much of their diets development.

Foraging:  One thing that kept early Icelanders alive in the absence of grain was Icelandic moss (actually a lichen found on the northern side) they would soak and eat as a porridge. A second bulk food was dulse a seaweed found more on the southern shores. It is presumed the idea of eating Dulse came from Ireland with the Irish women.

“Ever since the first settlement of Iceland , wild growing Angelica archangelica L. has been used for human consumption and has also been important as medicinal herb. It was also eaten fresh, picked in the wild on the mountainsides. In Iceland all parts of the plant were used – the seeds, leaves, stalks and roots and were eaten fresh, fried or boiled (o en in milk); or prepared in some other way [28]” (I saw skeletons of this all over).

“The most commonly used green plant in Iceland was probably Rumex acetosa L. It was usually served with meat, sh or as a avour to bird soup. It is still recommended in a cookbook as tasting well with boiled puf- n [15,29]. Generally speaking, the common sorrel (Rumex acetosa) is the most popular wild food plant also in Iceland”

Yarrow,  and chickweed have all been identifed as present then with wormwood being well used between 900’s and 18th century. I  also saw some ribwort plantain popping out in grass under snow.

*http://yadda.icm.edu.pl/yadda/element/bwmeta1.element.agro-2e91d08e-6ebe-4178-a3e3-8ea87e9bcc03/c/1030-2974-5-PB_233.pdf

Around the woodland areas, berries such crowberry, cloudberry and bilberry would have been available.

Hunting:  Despite an unusual lack of land mammals there were still plenty of coastal products.  Fish such as capelin and herring, sea birds such as puffin and gulls eggs, sea mammals but for some reason the early settlers were determined to be farmers not fishermen so kept plodding on with trial and error land based survival methods for another 1000 years.  Whaling wasn’t really a deliberate practice either though settlers would make use of beached carcassses.  It wasn’t until spear-drift whaling was introduced in the twelfth century that the settlers could be said to hunt whales.  They would go out in open boats, strike a whale with a marked spear so that when it died and beached they would be able to find and claim it.  Salmon and trout were found in the clean rivers.

Food Preparation and Preserving in a land with no wood for Fire.

When the settlers first arrived, the country was said to be one of forests. This actually meant that the 25% of available land that could be forested because it wasn’t ice cap, rock or tundra, was tree covered. This ensured the early arrivals had plenty of timber for building and wood for fuel but within 30 years of settlement, the island had seen the arrival of about 30 – 40,000 more people, usually Norwegian men picking up Irish women en-route and this forest was all but gone!  The slow growing nature of trees so far North meant the taiga type coniferous forest trees and the birch and willow couldn’t keep up with demand. This is shown in pollen analysis of soil samples. Scientists observed that tree pollen became replaced with more pollen from the pasture land plants around this time.

So circa 910, Iceland had around 35,000 settlers in a country of harsh climate with no fire-wood or timber for building shelter.  How did they adapt?!

Lack of fire to cook on:

“As for cooking methods, boiling was by far the most common; there were no ovens for roasting and no medieval frying pans have been found in excavations. Meat was sometimes roasted on a spit but probably mostly when a cauldron or another cooking vessel was unavailable”.

*“Some Icelanders did have an alternative, fuel-conserving method for cooking. They simply cooked their food in the nearest hot spring. Sometimes the food was placed in a cauldron or other container which was then lowered into the boiling or almost-boiling water; sometimes it was buried into the hot earth close to the spring. We know that hot springs were used for cooking in medieval times, because a source dating back to 1199. Geothermal heat was probably used mostly for baking bread. moist rye bread) in some shops. The dough is placed in a closed container, buried in hot earth and left to steam in its own moisture for up to 24 hours.”

“For most cooking however, the most commonly used fuel, after a few centuries of deforestation, was either peat or dried sheep manure. This continued into the 20th century and sheep dung is even used to this day for smoking meat and salmon”.

Lack of fire-fuel to preserve food:

Another problem the settlers faced in addition to lack of fire to cook food or preserve it by smoking was a lack of salt for preserving. Even as a coastal country Iceland couldn’t yield salt for the settlers easily because of the lack of sunshine to evaporate water in the usual salt distilling process.   Nor could fire-wood be wasted just on salt making. Their usual methods of preserving food simply didn’t work in Iceland. A method to extract salt from seawater via ice rather than heat developed. Seawater was allowed to freeze, the frozen fresh-water top was scraped off and the remaining water re-frozen. The salty under-layer became more and more concentrated. The resulting super salty water was heated so it didn’t take as much fuel to get to the brine stage as it would have with boiling the first seawater. Another frequent method was to gather seaweed and dry it. The dried seaweed was then burned and the salty ashes used to preserve food. This was called “black salt”.

Icelanders did air-dry fish but the results were variable as you needed a run of cold dry sunny days.

Another method of food preservation that developed uniquely in iceland due to shortage of fuel was skyr whey fermentation of meat.  In the UK we see Skyr as a form of yogurt but it is actually a type of cheese.

*“Skyr making was thought to be more economical than ordinary cheese making; the yield from the milk was higher when skyr was made than when the milk was used for cheesemaking. The lack of salt may also have played a role, since cheese was usually salted to preserve it, but skyr needed no salt at all.

*”The milk – usually skimmed – is curdled with bacterial cultures and rennet. The culture comes from a starter kept from the last batch of skyr and the rennet was usually made from calf’s stomach, although butterwort (Pinguicula vulgaris) could be used in a pinch”

 

The resulting whey was used as main drink and used to preserve meat for up to a year in the absence of salting.  The making of skyr and its ‘waste’ product whey for drinking and preserving meat was a lifeline for Icelanders even though it would’ve made everything it preserved taste sour it would’ve not only preserved meat without salt/fuel for drying but imparted extra nutrients in the form of probiotics and B vitamins.

Lack of cooking pots for cooking on fire

“Even cooking pots were in short supply. Some bog iron can be found in Iceland, but not nearly enough to make the cooking vessels that were needed: the clay in Iceland is not suitable for pottery, Cauldrons and pots had to be imported and were expensive. Wealthy men often bought cauldrons and rented them out.” Vicars had to pass a law prohibiting villages from using church fonts to cook in.

Lack of timber for building:

Turf-clad houses became popular with the use of drift-wood or stone topped and sided with turf.  They were often  built into existing banks then walls and roofs were covered with turf to minimise need for wood in the building and the need for fires to keep warm.

 

Successes

Despite all this hardship the early Icelanders were successful in certain aspects of their way of life!

Self-Organisation

The island community despite being sparse, was effective at self-organisation.  The landowners decided to elect representatives to debate on community matters together and action results.  In other words by
the year 930, one of the world’s oldest parliaments had formed. These communities were also willing to allow women to take roles of power.   Scandinavian countries seem to have accepted that women have  a presence in politics more easily and for longer – possibly thanks to this Viking view of women as strong and key holders!?

Trade

What they couldn’t grow they learned to subsitute or do without.  As more ships started arriving – what they could’nt grow, substitute or do without could be traded with what they could grow, raise and make.

The settlers traded sheep wool, woven wool cloth, dried fish and dairy products exchanging it mostly for grain, tools and cooking implements.  Rye and wheat were imported; rye for the poor, wheat for rich. Grain was more used for porridge or flat breads rather than risen breads in as it would go further and without much fuel consumption.

From the 1500’s Iceland was under Danish rule that resulted in a period of hardship for the country.  This, coupled with lack of sunlight caused by ash fall out after a volcanic erruption a period that became known as the little ice age caused a long period of famine.   After thousands of deaths, reindeer were imported to remedy the problem. They still roam freely in places and can be hunted.

Problems with imports

Some things came over with trade boats that were less welcome.  Rats, mice, lupin seeds that have spread and taken over whole fields, rabbits that ruin puffin burrows and mink that were imported in 1700’s for clothes but now escaped.  TB and the plague were also unwelcome stowaways to Iceland.  On the other hand, sometimes ships wouldn’t come for months – so grain and other imports could not be relied upon.

Summary

“Icelandic cuisine was for almost a thousand years a cuisine of wants – want of grain, want of fresh produce, want of salt, want of fuel, even want of cooking vessels and utensils. The people of Iceland had to pay a certain price for choosing to live somewhere north of life, but they adapted to their environment and managed to survive for a thousand years on what they had”*.  Finally after trying farming for a thousand years realised fishing made more sense than farming and harbours developed more around the 3000 miles of coastline…. Trading at ports, fishing and whaling provided work.  Whaling – a sperm whales head could contain 3 tonnes of spermaceti, an oil prised throughout Europe for street lighting, medic food beauty products….  this could be sold at a premium and the profits used to buy in staff – and so fishing moved from being a self-sufficiency activity to being an industry,creating employment for whole communities who could then use their wages to buy goods in.

 

Iceland in Modern Times –  read the next article to see how from the self-reliance of early settlers Iceland has become self-reliant as a country in modern times.  Cheap hot water on tap, free cold mineral water to drink, self-reliant in energy and vegetables, dairy and eggs… permaculture principles abound plus the ultimate Volcano Bug-Out-Bag situation that many modern Icelandic families are faced with.

*From the article https://nannarognvaldar.com/a-little-food-history/

 

 

 

A Final Nail In the Coffin for Traditional Crafts?


A Final Nail In the Coffin for Traditional Crafts?

Recent research into the state of health for our body of our traditional skills has shown some alarming results.

What Are We Losing?

Two recent pieces of research, one by the Heritage Crafts Association and the other by Ordnance Survey of 2000 Britons revealed that traditional skills are dying. Between them they cite; map and compass reading, darning, clog making, saw and spade making, tanning leather, swill basket making, identifying wild plants, wagon building, starting a fire, wiring a plug, changing a tyre and baking bread. Some skills are so rare they are on a critical ‘red’ list by the HCA at risk of becoming extinct as the last craftsperson dies. It is not just Britons that are losing traditional skills – a similar piece of research from Australia found that ‘Generation Y women can’t do the chores their mothers and grandmothers did daily’ and that ‘only 51% of women under 30 can cook a roast compared to 82% of baby boomers’. It also reported that ‘only 23% can grow a plant from a cutting while 78% of older women say this is a breeze’. Also interesting is the fact that young men are more likely to be able to change a nappy than a car wheel. (The Courier-Mail).

 

What Are We Gaining Instead?

It is a natural stage of all civilisations that with the event of a new technological age, traditional skills get left behind. The OS survey found modern life skills for us that are considered essential today and which now replace the old skills are tasks such as:

Following a sat nav
Finding wifi
Using a smart phone
Installing computer programs
Working a tablet
Managing several labour saving devices at once.

Why Are We Losing Them?

In the OS Technology Survey of 2,000 Britons they found that most people believe technology is leaving people less skilled The study found almost eight in ten blame the decline of these skills on technology, while another 54 per cent think it’s due to children no longer learning them at school. Australia Social researcher Mark McCrindle said: “Women of today tend to be busier, juggling more roles, and are quite prepared to compromise a bit of the homemade just to save some time.”They also have a lot more disposable income compared with their mums and their grandmothers so buying a cake mix is not a big deal.”

The research all suggests that we are losing traditional skills for the following four reasons:

new technology replacing old skills,
schools not teachIng old skills,
us wanting convenience due to time pressure of busy lives
and more available income creating a buy-it-in and bin -it culture.

But, so what?! Isn’t this just evolution?

What Are The Consequences of This Skill Shift?

In years gone by, these skills would have been considered essential for everyday life. The report found that ninety-four per cent of people questioned believe there could soon be entire generations who have no idea how to do some of the skills once considered essential. Today, whatever we think (or just don’t think) technology, however great it is, isn’t invincible. The OS report warns; ‘There are times when it can let you down’ and ‘even if it’s a skill you think you no longer need, it’s important to have at least a basic grasp of it – basic map reading skills are vital as sometimes, batteries and phone signals let you down and map reading is an essential skill which could save your life’. Pressures on global food security coupled with no individual knowledge on how to grow, forage or prepare real food could see famine here with people surrounded by food potential but lacking the knowledge to realise it.

What can we do?

Ninety Three per cent of people asked in the HCA survey think teaching these skills
should be brought back into school so younger generations are taught them
from a young age. Greta Bertram, who led the red list research on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association said ‘We would like to see the government recognise the importance of traditional crafts skills.

So, we can hope maybe that the government will offer some protection of endangered traditional crafts eg through funding craftspeople to take on apprentices and also making these skills part of the national curriculum. Or, we can take it into our own soft, smooth hands and learn some traditional skills ourselves. With online learning and hundreds of day and evening courses around the country in everything from blacksmithing, to horticulture, to cookery via basketry and hurdle making to dry stone walling… we have no limit of opportunity to learn things for ourselves and pass the skills on to our own children. The figures for this behaviour uptake however are as sorry as the figures for the extinction of the crafts themselves… although ’86% of people questioned claimed they wished they were better at some of the traditional skills only 16% were making a conscious effort to try to improve their knowledge in them’. Come on Crafters, put down your gadget and pick up a course!

 

A Chemists Guide to Making Fire


Growing up with an Industrial Chemist

 

I decided to email my Dad a couple of years ago to ask:

“which chemicals could start a fire?”

For example could glycerine and potassium permanganate work – an article I had read online suggested so?   This was his reply…

“Hi Di,

this is just a quick response to your email.
Potassium permanganate, glycerine and water . Add a few drops of glycerine to few crystals of potassium permanganate. accelerate the reaction by adding a couple of drops of water.
Or instant fire with potassium permanganate with antifreeze (that you might have in your car along with petrol to keep it going).
Acetone, sulphuric acid and potassium permanganate. Soak a tissue with acetone. Draw sulphuric acid into a glass pipette, dip the pipette into the permanganate to coat with a few crystals. Dispense the sulphuric acid on to the tissue. It should catch fire. (Where would you get sulphuric acid?)
Sodium Chlorate, sugar and sulphuric acid. Mix a small amount of sodium chlorate and sugar initiate the reaction by adding a few drops of acid. (Where would you get sulphuric acid?)
Ammonium Nitrate powder, finely ground zinc powder and hydrochloric acid. Mix together a small amount of ammonium nitrate and zinc powder initiate the reaction by adding a few drops of hydrochloric acid. (Where would you get the hydrochloric acid?)
9V battery – touch both poles to super fine steel wool it will catch fire and burn tinder, wool fibres and feathers etc. (Sounds good to me)
Boy scouts have tried sunshine and a magnifying glass but it might work for girls too. Ha ha!
Love dad.
PS please excuse my sense of humour”

 

 +   or=  

 

The above experiments should keep me going for quite a while!  Upon research I have found ammonium nitrate can be found as fertiliser and sodium chlorate is weedkiller but whether these products are pure enough to use in the above combinations or are mixed with other ingredients I will have to read more.  I will also try to create an info graph illustrating the above combinations at a glance.  Firstly though is my promise to myself this year –  I need to learn to make fire with a hand-drill (spinning a stick on a hearth).  I will post about this method next.  If anyone has tried the above methods do let us know how it turned out and any tips for successful fire-starting with chemicals?  Blue Skies, Di x

Rag-Rugging – An Easy and Cheap Winter ‘Hearth’ Craft with Beautiful Useable Results.


A Brief History of Rag Rugging.

Before wall-to-wall carpets the working class families of Britain would’ve blocked out the cold from the floor using home-made rugs assembled from rags of cloth that were torn from old clothes, bedding, coats and household items. I like rag-rugging because it is a no-sew textile craft and Im not that proficient or patient at sewing!

Each year the whole family would get involved in making the new hearth rug, with children cutting up bits of cloth, parents prodding and poking the rags through the backing material. The old hearth rug would then be relegated to the kitchen and the kitchen rug in turn to the back door. The back door rag-rug would then become the cover for the potato clamp or the compost heap. Given the fact that rag rugs were a craft of poorer families and the rugs were so well used that nothing remained, the history of rag rugging isn’t as well documented as that of say embroidery – it was a craft of necessity, not something one would spend much time creating and publishing and documenting elaborate designs so the history of rag rugs is fairly intangible… few real life examples left and no written/drawn history.

Rag Rugging is said to have originated in West Yorkshire Mill Girls innovation born out of need – when they asked to take home the hessian sacks that the wool came into the mills in and were allowed to take home any of the scraps of wool fabric that were under nine inches long. The settlers later took the home craft to America but because the cloth of the US was cotton the rag rugs developed differently over the Atlantic – with long strips of cotton fabric from old dresses and household fabrics usually in pale and flowery patterns, braided then coiled into circles. images.

 

Materials and Tools for Rag Rugging – Nothing Special Needed!

Aside from a couple of black bags of old fabrics – fleeces, t-shirts, sweathirts, felts, being the best, the tools needed for rag-rugging are minimal. You can get away with a piece of hessian and a pencil for the clippy method and for hooky method of rag hugging you can use a crochet hook rather than buy a special rag-rugging tool. A piece of chalk to draw on a rough design and a needle and thread or bondaweb to turn over the edges at the end can also be useful but in its bare bones a piece of hessian and a pencil would make a rug. Scissors too of course for the cutting.

 

A Family Activity with Useful Results – Could Rag Rugging be right for your family?

There still exists a few older folk who remember helping their grandparents rag-rug and they always smile when they recall their memories of it so one can only assume it was a cosy family time together, the kind of time we have replaced with individual technology time. We still end up with old clothes though and we still use rugs if the contents of the shops is anything to go by so if you are interested in crafting and can hold a pencil then you should consider this easy yet fulfilling craft. To produce something useful and beautiful out of old cast-offs is pragmatic art at its best. I personally don’t like to spend time making things that aren’t both useful and earth-friendly so rag-rugging ticks my conscientious crafting box.

 

Learning How to Rag-Rug

 

 

Wild Harvest is producing two videos showing you how to do two different rag-rugging techniques; clippy and hooky. Clippy, also known as Proddy or Proggy, is a technique so called because it involves prodding short clips of fabric through a hessian backing piece. Hooky involves threading a long strip of fabric over and under the weave of the hessian, forming little balls on the topside of the hessian with ‘hooks’ of fabric. Each method is different to do and gives distinct differences in appearance, each method can be used alone or combined with the other method. Clippy is the type that is usually associated with rag-rugging and is the shag pile scruffy looking tufty rug style usually with more abstract patterns whereas hooky is finer and can give rise to quite detailed designs, some rag rugs are almost works of art to be hung on the walls as hooky can allow shading and details of design that is more like a painting. Watch the videos and try both methods to see which you prefer but remember you can use both methods in one rug!

 

To attend a rag-rugging course contact Wild Harvest School www.wildharvest.org

Selecting and Preparing Willow to Begin Basket Weaving


Basket Weaving

Basket-making really is a cradle-to-grave skill.  Baskets are used from birth as moses baskets to carry newborns and then throughout life to collect wild food, cook in, eat from, shop with, sit on, right up until our death, where we can even be buried in a woven casket!

 

 

In the UK our ancestors would have woven baskets from native plant materials such as: dried grass, bramble, willow and straw. The rule of thumb is that any long thin plant material you can wrap around your wrist once fully without snapping can be woven as a basket. Today we can also buy imported basket weaving materials such as cane (from a tropical palm) or raffia.

 

above: straw, cane, raffia.

 

At Wild Harvest School we teach willow basket weaving due to the easy availability and quick growing nature of willow in the wet UK. It is a plant you can readily find in the wild or that you can plant in your garden to raise a few willow whips yourself.  We don’t believe in importing tropical plants when nature provides us with native materials right here!

 

above: black maul willow, brown willow, buff willow (bark stripped)
The willow used mostly in commercial basket weaving in the UK is Black Maul a cultivar of Salix Triandra but most willow is ‘weavable’. The thin shoots of the willow tree are known as whips but once cut and dried we call them rods.

Choosing Willow for Basket Weaving

You can buy rods already cut and dried, either with the bark stripped off (buff) or with the bark left on (brown). The difference here is in both aesthetics and toughness to weave. If you are new to weaving and/or don’t have much hand strength then its best to start with buff willow as its much easier to work. Green willow refers to undried willow that in theory could sprout life again if stuck in the ground. If you weave a basket from willow straight off the tree (green) it will shrink as it dries so distorting your baskets shape, this is why we usually work with willow that has been dried and then re-soaked. It has then pre-shrunk.

Size – For basket weaving purposes rods can be bought in bundles known as ‘bolts’ sized from 3 feet long up to nine feet long and sold in Kg. A 5kg bolt of 3ft willow is approximately £12 and contains 500 rods. You will need about 70 rods to make a simple round basket.

To determine how long the rods should be for a particular basket weaving project use Pie – The only adult use of ‘pie’ (that abstract mathematical concept we learn at school) I have ever had is in basket weaving. To work out how long the willow rods should be for a particular basket diameter use the Pie formula of “circumference equals 3.14 times the diameter”. So for a one foot diameter basket you will need rods of slightly longer than 3 feet in length, for a three feet diameter basket you will need the nine foot rods. This is a rough guide but its better to have slightly longer rods than your desired circumference.

Disease – Any black marks on your willow rods indicate a disease the plant was suffering from when it was growing and these spots will be weak and prone to snapping as you weave. Discard rods with this on until you are confident enough to work with it.

Timing – If you are cutting the willow yourself – there is a season for cutting to be aware of. Traditionally this was between Michaelmas and Candlemas, basically over the winter months. The reason for this is because the sap is down then; it rises in the tree in Spring and when the sap is down the whips are not so rigid .

Preparation of Willow ready to Weave into a Basket.

Soaking – Assuming you have some dried willow rods from a supplier or have cut your own and left them to dry indoors somewhere or wrapped under a hedge for three weeks you are now ready to re-soak the willow ready to weave. The re-soaking of the dried willow makes it pliable; bendy enough again for weaving, you will not be able to weave a basket with dried willow it will simply snap. To soak the willow I use either my bath at home or a garden pond, a river will also be fine. If you are using a pond or a river I recommend tying the bolt with string and the other end of the string to a tree so it doesn’t float away. I weight the bolt down under the water by covering it in wet towels. The amount of soaking time depends on both the type and length of the willow. Buff willow, because there is no bark for the water to penetrate is soaked for a much shorter time, the rule of thumb is based on the length of the rods because he length of the rods determines the thickness at the butt ends that the water must penetrated. Three foot buff rods can be soaked for as little as one hour but six foot buff rods can take about 3 hours.

With the brown willow (ie. bark on) the soaking time is much longer and the saying goes – one day per foot. So, a four foot bolt will take four days in the pond.

Mellowing – This isn’t the end of the process however because after it’s bath the willow likes to mellow for a while – after you remove it from the bath/pond the willow works best if its wrapped in wet towels for a further amount of time proportionate to the soaking time ie. soak for an hour then mellow for an hour.

I always think of this part like the willow is lounging around in a dressing gown for a bit until its ready to work.

Cut – dry – soak – mellow – weave.

Anatomy of a rod – You will see that the rod is thicker at the base end, the end that was closest to the ground when it was growing, this is known as the butt, the topmost end, the thin end is known as the tip. Rods will have a natural curve to them, the inside curve is known as the belly, the outer curve is the back. It is useful when weaving to work with the natural shape of the rod and not bend it at an un-natural angle to itself or it can snap. Wild Harvest are producing a series of videos teaching each stage of basket weaving.  On the videos we will talk about butts and tips when teaching weaving.  To express an interest in watching the videos email [email protected] or to book on a course here at Wild Harvest School, York, visit our course calendar.  The next course is Sunday 30th April 2017.