My Year Begins With Willow

You know that first day in March or April when you breath in and the air has a scent again because it’s no longer frozen? That was the time of year we moved to the homestead, and that is always the first day of my personal New Year.

That is when the air tells me it is Basket Making Season.

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Fresh willow scythes

That first spring on the homestead, our neighbor girl showed us the acres of gold that grew in a low spot below where we had pitched the tipi. Though my mother had woven beautiful red and jute baskets for years, Kateri showed us a new technique using wild willow. Delighted with the opportunity to create with materials off our own land, we spent hours (between wood-cutting and water-hauling and while dinner was simmering in the cast iron pot in the fire pit) tromping through the swamp clipping armloads of willow, hauling it back up to the campsite, and weaving it into baskets large and small which we dreamed of using to harvest veggies from our garden that summer.

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the beginning of a basket

Every spring since, I have gotten a strong urge in my fingers–like sap rising in twigs–to bend and bow willow scythes into golden cages of sweet-smelling symmetry. I have made big baskets, little baskets, berry baskets, and half-bushel baskets. I just love weaving.

And every place I have lived since we left the homestead I have taken willow with me and planted it in preparation for the urge to weave. Alas, I’ve had to move away from each little stand of willow before it was mature enough to give me basket material.

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sections too thick for weaving will be planted

Lucky for me, my best friend likes to plant willow and, unlike me, she’s stayed in the same spot long enough to reap a harvest.

And lucky for me, I just happened to visit on a day she had a bunch of fresh willow lying around just waiting to be woven.

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Twining the first weavers to make the base

She made lunch while the kids played and I wove to my heart’s content. Though it had been 3 or 4 years since I’d last made a basket, my fingers remembered what my teachers had taught me, and by lunch time, a small bread basket was complete.

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the technique for building the basket’s sides, called randing, always makes me wish I had 4 hands.

Weaving is something that, when I do it, I feel such joy and satisfaction in the deepest, most Trina-ish part of me, that I know it is something God made me to do.

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Once weaving is complete, the basket gets a ‘hair cut’, then it’s finished!

I’ve always been grateful to the women who taught me to weave: my mother, my friend Kateri, and finally, the world-renown English basketry expert Bonnie Gale, whom I just happened to meet when I was 19, and who just happened to live in the same town as I (coincidence? I think not) and who trained me in the more intricate, traditional techniques of English Basket Weaving.

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not to be confused with weeping willow trees, basket willow grows as a tall bush. I planted mine along the edge of our yard. In 3 years this row will produce enough for a basket.

I’m just so excited that last year I finally got some willow planted in our yard, and in a few more years I should have a harvest of my own.

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Meanwhile, if I go missing on a warm day in spring, you’ll probably find me in my friend’s back yard playing with her willow.

Wanna make a willow basket yourself?”Natural Baskets” (affiliate link) is my favorite weaving book and contains most of the techniques I used in the above basket.

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Comments

  1. Amy says

    I love this! After reading your post I found some cuttings to plant. Hooray! Do you have any tips on where to plant this or what not to plant it next to? Thanks! :)

    • Trina says

      Amy, as far as I know, willow will grow just about anywhere, and I’m not aware of any plants disliking it. ;) It will get tall, so don’t put it in front of something short! Also, plant your starts about 8 inches apart–you want to kind of crowd the plants so they reach higher for ‘personal space’ and thus produce a longer stem. ;)

    • Trina says

      thanks, Kalyn–yes, I find it very relaxing. And? You have a practical, useful item when you’re done!

  2. says

    I imagine that basket making for you is what quilt making is for me :-)

    I would so love to learn to make baskets. I’ll have to have my husband look into planting some willow along our fence.

    • Trina says

      Amber, I would love to do a photo tutorial or even a video sometime–for now, I have to wait for the willow to mature. ;)

  3. says

    I just love creating with my hands! Like writing – it’s soooo fulfilling. Your basket is beautiful Trina. My mother-in-law used to make and sell baskets of all kinds. She taught my daughter how to make baskets too. She even made my daughter a beautiful wicker doll bed!

  4. says

    Spring for me is simply not complete without weaving a basket from fresh cut willows sitting on the grass in the warm new spring air. I’ve managed to find a little stand of wild willow every spring where ever I’ve lived. I still miss NY’s wild willows though. Michigan’s wild willows are very different.

  5. Serena says

    I would love to learn to weave a basket with you. (I’m wondering if I could get a row of willow going in our yard…) One of these days I will make it to your neck of the woods!

    • Trina says

      Noel, it’s such a gorgeous plant–I wish I had photos of what it looks like in winter–golden against the snow. It makes a lovely hedge or back-drop in a yard.