Willow basket tips?

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punkrockcaveman

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Jan 28, 2017
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yorks
Knocked up my first willow basket yesterday. I rushed into it a bit, but I find I learn better by doing, than just reading or watching how it's. So I've watched a couple of videos but haven't done masses of research, and the net result is a rather shonky basket, however I feel like I gained a lot from the experience and mk.2 will be loads better so I'll update this thread when that happens. So here it is (be nice ) :

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Now I feel like the willow needed to be much thinner and pliable, especially lower down in the basket, hence I've not been able to plug those big gaps and some of the willow is angular rather than a smooth weave, am I thinking right there? I mean it will hold apples, but I'm pretty sure a lot of seashore edibles would drop through those gaps!!

Any advice appreciated
 
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Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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Good on you for giving it a good go :) and ending up with a basket you can use.

It becomes somewhat addictive, seeing just what will make a good basket :redface:

First up, did you use freshly cut willow ? or did you cut it and leave it to dry out a bit ?

Thing is you see, fresh willow will shrink, and it's pliable but it's still more inclined to bend sharply that willow that has been dried and then re-soaked.
It makes it hard to make, and keep, the weaving tight, and I think that's where you've found difficulty.

Keeping an even tension sounds easy enough, but when you're trying to do that, and wangle long rods around and twist them and keep them in place while getting frustrated with it creasing sharply instead of gently bending, it can all too quickly become an exercise in frustration.

Keeping the work damp really helps.

Best advice ? don't give up, keep playing around with it, and other materials if you can get your hands on them. Dogwood for instance is showing some beautiful coloured stems just now, and brambles are long and flexible and very sound.

There's a rather nice video from Woodlandstv, and it's under ten minutes long, worth a look, just soak up the way the lady uses her hands, etc.,

Best of luck with it :) and it'd be interesting to hear how things progress.

M
 

punkrockcaveman

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Jan 28, 2017
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You are bang on Mary, yes it was cut the night before I made it, so the willow was very green. It was interesting to see the tips with bud on were super pliable, but the rest was quite stiff and would snap rather than bend nicely. I hadn't thought about re-soaking. Is there an ideal time to harvest?
 

SaraR

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Mar 25, 2017
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Ceredigion
If it holds what you want it to hold- it's a basket! :D

Apart from what has already been said about using dry willow that has been soaked and using your grip to maintain control, here are three things that would help you make a better basket next time:

1) sorting your willow and using the right thickness willow for the right task
As you've noticed the willow that you use for weaving needs to be a lot thinner than the willow you use for the stakes. You normally achieve this by taking your bundle of same-length willow cuttings and sorting it by feel into 5 piles (thickest, thicker, medium, thinner, thinnest). - this is one of my favourite bits of basket weaving! Even just sorting into 3 piles works and is much easier and faster. An alternative would be to use the tips for weaving and the bottom part of the same cutting for the stakes.

--> Have a look at the photos on this website and you can see the difference in width between the stakes and the weavers: Jon's Bushcraft: How to weave a basket

2) making the slath (= centre of the base)
You have put four sticks on top of the other four, which lets them move around too much.
To make the cross in the centre of the the base, you pick your 6 thickest cuttings and cut them down to size, that is the intended diameter of your basket plus a few extra inches. You then make a short lengthwise split in the central part of three of these (again see Jon's webpage) and push the other three cuttings trough these slits. Ideally these two pairs of three sticks should be orientated alternating tip-butt-tip in one direction and butt-tip-butt in the other.

You then take the two very finest cuttings you have, secure the tips in the slath slit and then start weaving, first around three sticks (each end of the cross) at a time. Then you push the sticks forming the slath apart sideways so that they point evenly at different points of the face of a clock. Secure by starting to weave in and out around each stick.

Carry on adding thinnest weavers until you've got the diameter base you want. You have now have a woven disk with spokes (your slath) sticking out from the edge.

3) staking up (= starting the sides)
You bent your slath sticks and used them as the side stakes.

Normally, what you'd do is this: You take your finished base and insert new thicker cuttings next to those spokes and bend them up to form the side stakes. You then start weaving the sides using medium weavers. You'd also do a special edge (the upset - in white on Jon's basket) in wailing to get the sides started, before returning to a basic back and forth weaving or whatever fancy weave you want to use on the sides. Wailing is a great technique for maintaining control and on my first basket, I used wailing for the whole of the sides, so there's no need to do anything else really.

Happy basket making!
 
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Toddy

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Jan 21, 2005
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Round here it's usually February that we cut the willow rods and tidy up the stools. I think it's area and weather dependent though.
If you leave it too long the buds swell and though it's usuable it's not so trim. I know friends further north wait until March to cut theirs.

You can also remove the bark. Not quite so easy at this time of year, but when the stuff is cut fresh when the world is starting to warm up a bit and the sap starts to flow, then the bark almost slips off. That will leave clean, easy dried and soaked inner rods. Commercially they boil them but it's not necessary.
The long strips of bark are excellent for making cordage :)
I have a bucket load of them soaking outside just now for just that purpose.

If you have a dry place to stack cut willow in bunches, stook them up and make sure they stay cold and airy. It takes a fair bit for mildew to get to them but if it does it really weakens the willow.

Soak once, and the willow will be excellent, dry and soak again, and it's more likely to crack. So, soak enough and leave it wrapped up in damp cloth (or on the grass and covered over) someplace cool while you work.

There are a couple of tools that really help, one is simply a piece of metal wrapped in cloth used to beat the weavers down snuggly into place. You don't want a sharp edge for this, not something that will crush or mark the willow, just something that will thump it down neatly.
A piece of nice heavy oak works too.
Something to use like a fid, or thick stiletto. It not only splits rods to slip others through to help form bases, etc., but it'll spread out spaces for you to tuck ends in too. You can use a plain sturdy slot headed screwdriver for this if you have nothing else. Not ideal, but it lets you get on with it.
The last thing is a decent pair of sharp pruners. Keeps everything tidy :)

Keep it simple, play with it through the seasons, and it'll surprise you how quickly your skills come on.

M
 

punkrockcaveman

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Jan 28, 2017
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yorks
Thank you both loads for the very informative posts :) I'll have another go soon.

Is it a big no no use green willow then? I'll deffo have a go with drying and resoaking. Also, I used crack willow for this one, could that be part of the reason it didn't work so well?
 

John Fenna

Lifetime Member & Maker
Oct 7, 2006
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Another, readily available source of basket making material is brambles. I use them green then add more material as they dry... on willow frames for the Melon baskets but on thicker brambles for the Bucket types. Bramble is surprisingly durable!
As Toddy says - it can get addictive!
My wife has banned me from making anymore as they are taking over the house...

bramble baskets.JPG
 

SaraR

Full Member
Mar 25, 2017
642
394
Ceredigion
Thank you both loads for the very informative posts :) I'll have another go soon.

Is it a big no no use green willow then? I'll deffo have a go with drying and resoaking. Also, I used crack willow for this one, could that be part of the reason it didn't work so well?
Frame baskets used to be made with hedgerow materials, so you definitely can do it, but the weave will go looser as the material dries. Not really a problem as you can just add more if you need to! The willow doesn't behave quite the same when it's fresh or if it's collected at a different time of year, but you can still practise your basket making if that's what you've got to hand. As long as you get the relative thickness of the different parts right, it should be more than doable.
 
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