The 'Original' Creative Crafting Magazine written by Crafters, for Crafters

Creative Crafting magazine began in August/September 2009, when a group of crafting friends on the Creative Connections network decided that it would be a good idea to raise awareness of the crafting community. From this point they started work and the first issue of Creative Crafting was published in October 2009 and are still publishing today.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Basket-Making – Tips to get you started by Louise McLean

Author Bio: Louise McLean is an avid crafts women and basket-maker. She runs basket making workshops through Activity Breaks which specialises in organising adventure holidays around the UK. Activities range from arts and crafts, water-sports, land-based adventure, walking and tours, gardening, cookery, flying and even bee-keeping!
Basket-Making – Tips to get you started

The best way to get a feel for making baskets is to find an experienced basket-maker whose work you admire and go on a course. Nothing can really replace getting guidance from someone who knows what they’re doing. It gives you a chance to try out different techniques and also gets you used to the idea that everyone’s basket will turn out differently, despite you all having followed the same instructions (and everyone else’s basket will look better than yours, but that’s just normal paranoia!). And get a good book on basketry, such as The Complete Book of Basketry Techniques that will remind you of what you did in the class when you try it at home –if nothing else, the class should give you enough experience to be able to decipher the instructions in the book!

Learning the Lingo

Basketry has its own strange language: pairing, waling, randing, upsetts, slathes and scalloms to name a few. Don’t worry about those for now – you’ll pick them up as you go along. There are also lots of strange, traditional tools (cleaves, shaves and grease horns etc.), but all you need to get started is something to cut your material (a sharp pair of secateurs and a knife). It’s also useful to have a bodkin (a tapered metal tool for creating spaces in the weaving), but a screwdriver or large knitting needle will do. And plenty of string!

Strip the Willow

Although most commercial baskets are made from willow, you can make a basket from any material that will bend into a circle without breaking, from colourful stems of dogwood to bramble or dog rose (you can remove the thorns by putting on a thick pair of gardening gloves and pulling them through your hands). It’s best to cut this material in the winter when it’s lost its leaves and the sap is down. It will be usable for a couple of months after it’s cut, if you store it somewhere cool (for example, under a hedge).

Green (fresh cut) material will usually shrink as it dries out, which often loosens the weaving in the basket, so most basket-makers use willow that has been dried and then re-soaked to make it pliable. Brown willow (willow with its bark still on) generally needs to be soaked for a day per foot (so 3ft willow will take about 3 days to soak). Buff willow (willow which has had its bark removed) takes much less time to prepare but dries out faster, so it’s harder to work with when you’re starting. If you’re going to soak your own willow, then you probably want to get a large water tank (unless your family are going to be happy with you taking over the bath for several days!).

Organisation and Patience

It’s worth taking time to sort your materials before you start to try and pick rods that are similar lengths and thicknesses. The better matched your materials, the neater your final basket will be. As you get more experienced, you’ll find you learn to relax and work with the material but don’t be surprised if you find it physically tiring when you first start. You’ll find you need at least four hands for most baskets, although feet, elbows, furniture and neighbours can also be called in to help, especially when the phone rings at a crucial moment – did I mention how useful string is? There are a set of standard swear words for the moment you let go of the wrong rod and the basket unravels, or when you drop the bodkin on your toe. Feel free to also invent your own.

Like all things, making a good basket takes practice. If you have the patience it’s worth repeating each stage until you’re happy with the result and confident of repeating it before moving on to the next. But most of the time, the lure of completing a basket is too strong. Be warned - it’s addictive. Basketry is both art and craft – you can learn to make beautiful but functional baskets and be part of a long heritage of craftsmen and women. You can also follow your own inspiration, taking basketry techniques and incorporating other materials and techniques to create your own unique pieces. You’re only constrained by your imagination!


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