I will remember this autumn for several reasons, some are good and some not so. One highlight has been the participation I have had in Willow Weaving workshops run by Kim Cresswell. With a badger and goose in the bag from earlier sessions I have now added a passable roe deer and today, oh joy, I made a cone basket. Here was my mission:
Forage a Basket
Learn how to source, grow and harvest your own materials in an environmentally aware fashion – we will spend the morning collecting lots of different materials from a traditionally layered hedgerow and a mixed variety withy bed. In the afternoon we will each make a cone basket using materials from the location. NB. Please wear waterproofs and wellies for the morning session and have something more comfortable for the afternoon.
This was going to be extra special because my sister had signed up for this course as well. And what has made this course particularly enjoyable is that we foraged our own materials. We gathered in Kim’s cabin in the morning to be shown the amazing range of shrubs and trees from which our materials can be sourced: Hazel, Ash, Blackthorn, Field Maple, Dogwood, Apple, Holly, Bramble….. as well as a colourful array of Willow. We then went out into the lane to cut our own twigs; straight canes for the sticks for the framework and thinner whippy ones for the ‘weavers’.
Having cut a range of ‘wild’ materials we were then taken back onto Kim’s land to search out some long Bramble trailers. The trick was to find the end of a shoot running underneath the grass path and then tracing it back as far as you could to get the length. We each selected a long whippy trailer or two of the Bramble which we stripped of its thorns using a stout leather glove. Thence down to Kim’s withy bed to cut some sticks from her own source. We were allowed to cut 15 canes and 15 weavers at a specified height so as not to undermine the plants. The range of colours was vibrant: yellow, orange, red, purple, green. Willow, and indeed all woody material, is best cut between November and March when the sap is not rising. Armed with our personal supplies we then went back to the cabin where we stripped leafy material and unwanted axial shoots off our canes. It was lunchtime………
After lunch we began the serious business of making our baskets. Starting with 6 straight sticks we bound these at the base with two weavers which we then proceeded to weave upwards, in and out of the sticks to start our cone. We continued in this fashion introducing weavers as necessary and at approximately a half way point we introduced 6 more sticks each alongside the original canes, to give us a dozen uprights in the frame. All these uprights were chosen from the colourful withies we had collected from Kim’s bed.
We continued in this fashion, choosing a variety of woods and the bramble to give a colourfully banded willow cone. Kim did her rounds with the six of us, lending an expert hand when we looked as if we might be in danger of losing the shape, or the thread. Before long it was time to think about shaping the top of our baskets and making the border. I had wondered how one managed to do this without snapping the sticks as you need to bend the canes over at right angles. However it was straightforward as the fresh materials were more pliable than the pre-cut and dried willow which has to be soaked before it is used – as has been the case with the badger, the goose and the deer. I loved working with the freshly cut wood and the colours were wonderful to play with. Putting the handle on was a doddle. All the baskets were individual and some more accomplished than others. Ivy, Rosemary and Lavender were used as embellishments by some. What has made mine special is that I managed to use some Hazel weavers with catkin buds which have stayed in place and Kim tells me that spraying them with hairspray will help to prevent them from dropping! What a fun day!