Willow basketry has been around in some form for at least four centuries. The Europeans started weaving baskets with stiff rods and flexible willows. The Native American Indians of the Southwest are well-known for the coiled basket technique. Both of these types of willow basket making are still being done today, along with several variations that have been created over time.
There are two kinds of willow that are usually used for willow basketry. The first is desert willow, for which the proper name is Chilosis linearis. The second is purple willow, and the proper name for it is Salix purpurea. These are the most common varieties and the kind you will find the most readily available when purchasing supplies.
There are basically four methods of willow basketry. The first technique is coiled, which involves a bundle of strands that are stitched into a spiraling circle using flexible elements. The second method is twined, which is using two or more flexible elements to encircle another base element. The use of two elements in the twining technique is called pairing while using three or more elements is called winding. The third technique is woven, which is taking two rigid elements, or spokes, and weaving flexible elements in and out of the spokes. The final method is plaited, which is the weaving of like elements at right angles, vertically, horizontally, or diagonally.
To begin making willow baskets, there are quite a few tools that will be needed to weave baskets successfully. These tools include:
- pocket knife
- pair of very sharp, very strong scissors
- tape measure or cutting mat with a grid
- water bucket or large container of some kind to dampen elements and make them flexible and easy to work with
- several towels
- spray bottle
- sandpaper for smoothing rough edges
- a pencil and pad of paper for taking notes
- clothespins, rubber bands, spring clamps, wire ties, or plastic ties for holding loose ends together
- an awl to pack weaving
- diagonal cutting pliers for trimming ends
- small needle-nose pliers for small areas
- small saw and miter box for cutting rim and handle stock
- brass calipers or reed gauge for measuring the width of finished material
- pruning shears for cutting heavy stock
The best thing to do is once you have assembled all your tools, is keep them stored in one place. This will guarantee that the tools will be available when needed, and also provide a sense of excitement to start a new craft.
Once your tools are assembled, there are many ways to learn the varied techniques of willow basket making. One very good way to learn is to find out if there is anyone in your area who knows how to weave baskets and would be willing to teach you. If not, take a class at your local college or a workshop at a craft store. Purchase how-to books online or borrow them from your local library or by inter-library loan if you need to. If all else fails, buy a kit with instructions and supplies and try it on your own.
Your first basket will probably not be a masterpiece! Willow basketry is something that takes skill. It is not a skill learned overnight, so the most important part of attaining any skill is to practice, practice and then practice some more. Eventually, you will get better. Keep learning and don’t lose hope. Willow basketry can be a rewarding and relaxing creative endeavor for just about anybody.Your first basket