Willow Basket Weaving
Spend a fun, relaxing yet productive Sunday making your own beautiful willow basket on our one-day basket-weaving course suitable for absolute beginners. Learn to weave a beautiful round willow basket using two types of weave, topped off with a fancy border and optional handle. Di has been teaching basket weaving for over a decade now, initially being taught on cane she quickly switched to willow as a more sustainable local weaving material. She can also talk you through how to extend your basket weaving skills into making items for the garden, and even harvesting from the wild and planting your own willow at home. She will also tell you about the medicinal aspects of willow and how she uses it in remedies and beauty products.
Learn how to weave a willow basket
After learning about selecting and preparing materials for your basket you will spend the morning weaving the base using a pairing weave and inserting the uprights then after lunch you will learn a new weave – three rod wale to complete the sides of the basket. Finally learning how to create a beautiful three rod wale border to really finish your basket off. You can then add a handle or leave it without, the choice is yours. Please bring a packed lunch – refreshments and materials and tools are all provided.
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.
Linda Harrison went for a forage with wild food expert Diana Hammill.
“You can eat this – have a taste,” urges wild food expert Diana Hammill, holding out a plant with a clutch of small bright yellow flowers.
Diana explains it’s a tansy plant that grows along the riverbank and pops some into her mouth.
I taste it tentatively. It’s got an odd tang and it’s quite sweet, although I’m assured it’s better cooked. Among its many uses are flavouring puddings and omelettes. The seeds can also be baked in biscuits – once a tradition at Yorkshire funerals, according to Diana.
I’m on an urban foraging walk near Skeldergate Bridge that promises “free greens for life”. Every few steps we stop at plants that I’d normally walk past, but which I’m learning can be added to all kinds of tasty dishes.
Diana points out a patch of green leaves that look like weeds. They’re actually edible and called Plantain.
“They’re a bit tough at this time of year, but eat them early in the season and they’re good raw in salads or in a creamy sauce with gammon,” says Diana.
“They’re rich in vitamin B and the seeds can be eaten like sesame seeds.”
Diana, started the walks to share her passion for the wild food that grows around us in York. An adult education teacher specialising in rural crafts, she became interested in wild food after thinking about the health and survival of her three young children.
She says: “Wild food is fantastic for three reasons: It’s free, it’s very very healthy and it’s sustainable.
“It’s also about ‘futureproofing’ your family for tomorrow. I wanted my children to know how to feed themselves.”
Next is a hawthorn hedge, near St George’s Field car park. I’m amazed at all the different parts of the hedge that can be eaten, including the leaf buds (delicious rolled in suet pastry with bacon), blossom (dried for a tea), and the bright red berries, which can be scoffed straight off the bush or made into jam.
There are also plenty of salad ingredients up for grabs, such as hawthorn leaves and dandelion leaves, as well as “wayside nibbles” like plump brambles.
It’s fascinating to learn that so much on a city riverside is edible.
Diana explains that knowledge of wild food was once very common in this country. She crouches down near some green leaves called Silverweed – our ancestors cooked and ate the root before the advent of potatoes.
Next we come to a row of nettles. I’m a fan of nettle tea and try to grab a handful, but I can’t help wondering about germs – how do I know they haven’t been polluted by dogs, or worse?
Diana recommends picking only the tips and at a safe height.
As we go our separate ways near the Millennium Bridge, my head’s buzzing with ideas.
The advice for newbie wild food explorers is to take it slowly and choose five foraging foods to try in a year. Then choose another five the next year, and so on.
I’m going to start with the nettle tips I squirreled away in my bag – and head home to make my first free brew.
For more information email [email protected]
Wild food foraging fundamentals
• Conservation: Remember to leave some for tomorrow – and for the other wildlife
• Pollution. Don’t pick plants next to roads, or fields that have recently been sprayed
• Avoid ID errors: If you’re not sure about a plant, first check it against a reliable guide book like Food For Free by Richard Mabey. If it looks and sounds similar, rub it on your arm or neck and wait up to 30 minutes for a reaction. Repeat the process on the inside of your lip. Then chew it and spit it out. And if still in doubt, consult an expert.
First appeared in the York Press 14/09/2012