About this blog

My photo
Wales, United Kingdom
You know those diagrams in science textbooks that show the water cycle? Water evaporates from the sea and cools as it rises over the land until it condenses into clouds. Well that's where I live - where the clouds are born. It's very beautiful here, and it's also very damp. I don't yet know what I'll be writing about here. I had a blog a few years ago called, "Growing Things and Making Things," and there will be some continuity with that, but my life has moved on since then. I'm at a stage of reflection and re-evaluation - you could call it a mid life crisis - and this blog will reflect that. There'll be posts about things I'm doing - foraging, cooking, crafts, daft experiments (which may overlap with any or all of the other three) - posts about my thoughts on life, photos of beautiful Welsh scenery, maybe some Welsh language, and probably a bit of politics. Because it's important.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Basket making

Basketry has been on my list of things I'd quite like to learn for some time, so when I saw posters up around the village advertising four classes for the token contribution of just £5, and held in the next village, I jumped at the chance. After nearly giving up on the way to the first class because I got lost (I'd only been to the hall once before, and in the dark and the rain I couldn't find it), when I finally got there I thoroughly enjoyed it.

We were working with willow, mainly, though Michelle, our lovely teacher, had brought some other materials to mix in if we wanted to. We all made circular based, straight sided baskets (apparently rectangular baskets are a lot more advanced) but she was happy for us to have any size of base and sides we wanted. Most people went for log baskets, but I decided on a shallow tray. We already have a log basket and if I made another one Pebble would only claim it.

We learnt how to start the base with relatively thick sticks (Michelle did teach us all the jargon as we went along, but I've forgotten most of it), making holes in three of them and poking another three through. After a couple of rounds with thin weavers, these thick pieces are bent so they splay out like the spokes of a wheel, then weaving continues, always trying to keep the spokes evenly spread and forming a slight dome for strength (this was more relevant to log baskets; I ignored it for my tray).

When the bases were finished we learnt how to add the uprights - this involved lots of bashing. In fact, the bashing thing seemed to be quite an important tool for much of the work. The we learnt how to do the upset - one piece of jargon I remember, not meaning to annoy the basket but to set the upright bit on its way - before learning a new weaving pattern for the sides. To finish off, the uprights were bent over and woven into themselves, then handles were added. I have to admit that Michelle did the handles for me as I found the twisting of the willow to rope it too difficult. However, I did most of the rest of it myself, and I'm very pleased with the result.

I didn't get many pictures because mostly I was concentrating too hard on the classes, but here's one of Michelle teaching one of the other students.

Willow weaving class in progress

Before each class the baskets needed soaking so that the willow would be workable again after a week of drying out. As they got bigger this got more difficult, particularly right in the middle where you have the base finished and all the uprights at their full length. Michelle asked if we were OK to soak them at home - You'll need a stream or something (she would have done it for us if necessary) - it said a lot about our location that pretty much everyone in the class said, Yes, we could manage that.

Half made basket soaking in the stream

Our stream turned out not to be quite deep enough, even when I went over the railway line to a different part of it. I turned the basket several times during the afternoon but it was still quite stiff when I took it the class in the evening.

Here's a rather dark picture of the finished basket...

Finished basket

... and here it is full of paper pots on their way to the greenhouse, which is why I haven't taken a daylit picture of it (still full of pots).

In use

I really enjoyed the process and loved Michelle's attitude to using different materials. She's really inspired me to search the hedgerows for likely-looking shoots. Now I just need an excuse to make more baskets (until I get bored and move onto something else).


  1. I love the tray- the stripes of different materials look great.
    Basket making has been on my list of things to learn for a while, and I have had a go on a very small scale with willow whips from our garden, but I learn much better if I'm shown things like that (I got stuck on the uprights), and I'm always on the look out for some one who could teach me. We have lots of bramble round here, which is supposed to weave quite well.
    In the meantime I'm attending a willow garden structure-thingy workshop in the village, which I'll use for sweet peas and I'm hopeful that the instructor also does basket weaving.

    1. I'm sure bramble would be excellent for weaving (and we have loads of it too) but I wouldn't fancy stripping all the thorns off first. Do let me know if you learn a good technique for that.

      I was surprised to learn that uprights are added after the base is completely finished. They're separate pieces, tapered at the ends and stuffed in alongside the spokes, then bent at a suitable point and bashed on the bend to shove it the final bit. Hmm, I see your point about demonstration...

      Have fun at the garden structure-thingy workshop :-)

  2. Your basket tray is gorgeous, well done! I'd love to find some (cheap) class on basket weaving here but those type of classes are VERY scarce in this area unfortunately.

    "(until I get bored and move onto something else). "
    You sound exactly like me! Although, I do go back to those things at some point down the line!

    1. Aw, thank you :-)

      I should probably point out that the class was heavily subsidised. It's one advantage of living in a deprived area.

  3. Excellent Rachel! We did willow weaving when I was at junior school, but with rather more flimsy materials, I seem to remember from the dim mists. We made trays as in teatrays and we used my offering for ages! The joys of a 1950s education in a rural part of England. Hope to see you sometime in the week leading up to Easter :)

    1. Bring back the fifties! Um, did I meant that? Anyway, look forward to seeing you soon :-)

  4. hi rachel just found you and i love reading your blog, where abouts in wales are you, we are near carmarthen

  5. Hello Hazel-in-Wales. We're near Aberystwyth, so a bit further north than you. Glad you're enjoying the blog :-)

  6. Hi there, just found your blog. We lived as self-sufficiently as possible about 30 years ago in the Brecon Beacons region, near Crickhowell for many years. Sometimes we still miss it! We try here in northern Sweden but climate and too much daylight (23.5 hours) in summer make it very difficult! Our daughter lives to the South in St Dogmaels near Cardigan.

  7. Hello Iain, nice to hear from you :-)
    I would never have guessed that too much daylight would be the problem - too little I could understand! But maybe that's because I'm an animal, not a plant ;-)

  8. Hi! I found your blog through Consciously Frugal. It looks like I'm going to love it here!
    What a beautiful basket. I'd tried basic basket weaving once before and really enjoyed it. So much that, like so many things, I bought a lot more materials and then didn't go back to it. Sigh. But I can live vicariously through you and enjoy your progress instead, right? Yay!

    I look forward to reading more of your posts. :-)

  9. Hi Monday's Child,
    I know what you mean about getting all enthusiastic then not going back to things. Luckily my deep aversion to spending money prevents me from buying too much stuff... no, hang on, I did buy some wool for spinning a few months back, and haven't gone back to that yet. I'm sure I'll get round to it at some point!
    Nice to see you here :-)

  10. Wow - this is gorgeous Rachel - I hope you have a flush of satisfaction when you look at it :) I feel itchy to have a go. Was it hard to do, with your hands I mean? My grip's a bit rubbish but I can sew a bit though not knit brilliantly...

    1. Aw, thanks :-)
      I always hear that basketry is hard on the hands, but I didn't find it too bad. Then again, my recent hedge-trimming might indicate that I have pretty strong hands. You don't have to grip the willow in the same way you grip knitting needles, you kind of push them around and bash them with the bashing thing to make them go where you want. The only bit that's really hard is bending them at right angles and even that's not too bad if you use a knife to nick them first.


I don't know why Facebook thinks this is the most interesting text on the page - it's not, I assure you!

If you'd like to leave a comment, but it asks you to "Comment as" a load of options that don't relate to you, choose "Name/URL". You can type in your name and leave the URL blank.

Do leave a comment (unless the main point of your comment is to advertise your business, in which case it will be deleted). It's always nice to know I'm not talking to myself ;-)