For those relatively new to willow and willow weaving, the terminology can seem a little strange. Mention the word, 'buff' to a willow aficionado and their first thought will probably be a smooth orangey willow rod rather than someone who is in good physical shape!
There are hundreds of species of willow and many different processes can be employed to transform this sustainable crop. It can be used freshly cut (when it is green), dried a little (so it is semi-green) and dried completely (so the willow is brown). The bark can be removed or left on. This highly versatile and quick growing crop can be stripped, steamed and dyed to produce stunning rods in a multitude of colours and finishes.
Now that's just the willow. Enter the world of willow weaving and you may well need a bodkin, a bar commander and a rapping iron. Confused? Take a look at the handy guide below.
If you require a quick guide to the basic tools needed to make a willow basket, be sure to view our video.
The bottom of a basket. In willow basketry, this is most often made separately before the side stakes are attached to it. Different materials can be used.
Pieces of willow, cut to the required length from the thick (butt) ends of willow rods that are used for the start of the base of the basket. They are cut slightly longer than the size of the finished base.
The outward, convex curve of a willow rod.
Used to straighten bent sticks
A field planted with willows. A willow bed can be harvested for decades.
The inward, concave curve of a willow rod.
Used to pierce willow rods and to make room in a weave to insert another rod. Bodkins are made in a variety of sizes.
BOILER / BOILING WILLOW
To produce buff willow, sorted wads of willow are placed in a boiler. The willow needs approximately 8 hours boiling. Steamed willow requires only a few hours. Brown willow does not go through this process at all.
See Traditional Somerset bundle.
The top edge of a basket. A border is woven using the stakes/uprights from the body of the basket. These are kinked and then woven down to make it. Different weaves create different patterns.
A piece of equipment designed to strip the bark from a willow rod. Most of our willow is now stripped with the help of specialist machinery.
Natural willow which has been dried with its bark on. Suitable for outdoor sculpture work, basketry and hurdles.
Also known as stripped willow, a natural barked or green willow which has been boiled, stripped of its bark and dried. The smooth orangey, brown rod is often used in basketry and crafts.
The thick, fat end of the willow rod which grows closest to the ground.
Two sets of weavers that are used simultaneously and follow each other around the work without ever overtaking each other. This creates an even/level weave.
A method used for completing the border, commonly used for speed and ease. When the last few rods of the border are used, instead of threading them away following the pattern, they are bent and pushed down next to the appropriate upright.
Willows are cut during their dormant season, usually from November onwards. After cutting, the bundles need to be sorted and dried.
A vitally important process which stops the willow rods from going mouldy. After the bark has been removed, the rods need to be dried before they can be tied into bundles.
Musgrove Willows only use natural dyes. To achieve the best possible finish only white willow is dyed.
An open weave.
In this weave a rod is inserted and woven in each space between the uprights (also known as stakes). Equal numbers of weavers and stakes are required. This is done by inserting each rod to the left of the previous one and then working one stroke to the right.
Often used to hold tallow. Old cows horns are suitable.
Extremely flexible and requires no
soaking. The rods shrink as they dry out. Suitable for plant climbers, hurdle
making and outdoor sculpture projects. Not suitable for living willow projects. Usually available January to April.
A tool for cutting willow by hand. On our farm, specialist machinery has replaced this backbreaking task.
Another name for a fence panel made from willow.
Long willow rods for making hurdle fence panels and fencing. Dry hurdle wads require soaking while green, fresh cut wads do not.
LANTERN & CRAFT WILLOW
Ideal for making lanterns and large indoor sculptures. Not suitable for basketry work.
Fresh cut, disease resistant willow suitable for planting. Living willow can be used in structures, for landscaping and to stop soil erosion. DIY kits available. Living willow is usually available from January to April.
After willow is soaked, it needs to mellow before being used to weave with. Hessian or an old blanket are ideal to wrap the willow in.
NATURAL BARKED OR BROWN WILLOW
This is natural willow which has been dried with its bark on.
This weave is done with two matched weavers that twist over and under the sticks or stakes of the basket in an alternating pattern. It is a very stable weave that grips the rods and so is useful for making bases.
A traditional knife used to tidy up baskets.
Once completed, the basket is ‘picked off’. Any excess, unwanted willow is cut off close to the existing weave to give a smooth finish. A special picking knife was used for this but now secateurs are usually the tool of choice.
When the upright stakes are kinked down at the correct height to make the border. It is usually done with the thumbnail or the point of a knife.
When the stakes that have been inserted into the basket base are turned up vertically. It is done by pressing down with a bodkin or knife at the point at which the rod is to bend, as close as possible to the base.
Also known as a beating iron. This is used for tapping down willows in a weave.
One stick or piece of willow, of one year’s growth, cut from the willow plant.
The most commonly used border as it creates a strong top edge to a basket. It involves trimming down a number of stakes behind one stick. It may vary in width depending how many rods are used in the pattern; generally from three to six. (3 for a 3 rod border, 4 for a 4 rod border etc.).
A knot made from willow which was
traditionally used to tie willow bundles. Watch Mike Musgrove tie one.
Available in different varieties - all suitable for basketry and sculpture work. Still has some flexibility.
Willow cuttings around 8” long which are pushed into the soil to propagate new plants.
The weaves that create the sides of the basket, usually French or English randing or slewing.
This tool is used to reduce the width of a willow rod (making it narrower). It is often used in conjunction with a shave.
‘Tying in the slath’ is the first part of the process when making a basket. This is the part of the basket base where the sticks are held in place by the first few rows of pairing weave.
The art of working with two or more willow rods together.
A slanting cut made on the butt end of the willow rod. It can be done with a single stroke of the knife or two strokes to make a cut with two angles. It is used, for example, when inserting the rods into a woven base making it quicker and easier to do.
Brown, buff, steamed and white willow needs to be soaked before it can be used to weave with. (Green willow does not require soaking.) Soaking times will vary and are influenced by factors such as the length, variety and type of willow. The temperature of the water also makes a difference. Troughs, old baths and ponds can be used to immerse willow in. Musgrove Willows stock heavy duty soaking bags.
The age-old tradition of grading the rods by their length into foot sizes is still undertaken today. Bundles of willow taken straight from the fields are placed into a barrel and pulled out by hand to separate the rods into the different sizes.
The act of weaving green willow into a river bank to help prevent soil erosion.
A specific type of basket construction; a series of uprights or stakes woven over by a lighter set of weavers, the strands.
Brown willow that has been boiled for a few hours to colour the willow a chocolate/black colour. Suitable for basketry and sculpture work.
To produce the characteristic smooth, pine coloured rod that is known as buff willow, the bark has to be removed after the boiling process. To achieve this, boiled willow rods are placed into a machine or pulled through a brake by hand.
One movement of the rod when weaving. It indicates direction and how the weave builds up – e. g. one or two strokes to the right.
Used to lubricate a bodkin.
The fine, thin end of the willow rod.
A traditional Somerset bundle is 1
foot in diameter and 3 foot 1-2 inch in circumference. Willow is sold by
weight. A traditional bundle is also known as a bolt. Musgrove Willows also sell ½ traditional bundles (or bolts) and 1kg bundles.
The rows of weaving found where the stakes are turned up into the sides of the basket. They establish the flow. This is generally done with a waling weave.
Around half a traditional bundle. For simplicity Musgrove Willows sell most willow in a traditional bundle and ½ traditional bundles.
A weave that uses three rods at a time. They twist over and under the stakes to form a strong band. Rows of waling are usually found in the upsett and just before the border.
When joining a new set of weavers, they are usually added tips to tips or butt ends to butt ends to ensure an even weave.
A willow rod cut from the stump.
The rods used to create the side of the basket, or base - in essence the rods/withies that you are weaving with.
Green willow is freshly cut in winter and left to stand in water until the sap rises in the spring. The willow is then stripped of its bark (without boiling) to leave a white colour rod. (Not paper white.)
WILLOW STICKS (buff, brown & green)
Thicker diameter willow which can be used as the main frames or uprights in baskets and for plant supports. Also suitable as corner posts or legs in furniture. Not suitable for weaving.
Another name for a willow rod.