On Saturday I went to a Basket Weaving workshop with Christine Brewster at Reading Museum, as part of their “Art in the Dark Ages” series. There were ten of us altogether, all completely new to basket weaving, although most of us were craftspeople of some sort. We spent six hours with hardly a break (but plenty of cups of tea!) working hard to overcome the technical challenges involved in making a willow basket in a single day. We all started with a twisted willow hoop that was provided, which determined the overall size of the basket. The picture above is the completed base. So far, so satisfying and extremely therapeutic!
As soon as I started to weave the beginnings of the basket proper… that’s when I discovered that it’s not as therapeutic as it first seems – unless you already know what you’re doing! If you haven’t selected nice sturdy willow pieces right at the beginning (which I hadn’t, in a few spots), it makes the weaving a teensy bit difficult. You can see on the right where one of the uprights has collapsed and is bending around the horizontals that are being woven on either side of it. That’s not supposed to happen… but thankfully Christine was extremely good at troubleshooting all of our wonky bits, and was also extremely patient with our many, many questions!
Christine did say that as soon as you’ve started to get the hang of weaving your first basket, you almost immediately want to start making your second one. It’s not long before you’re able to spot things that you should have done differently right at the beginning that affect the basket as it grows. Sadly basket weaving is not like knitting, where you can just unravel a little bit and go back to put something right. If you start off wonky you’re going to end up wonky! I’ll admit it took me quite a while (and a lot of grumbling) to get past my inner perfectionist and relax into the fact that my basket was just going to be a bit wobbly and have some interesting holes in it.
But look at this! In just six hours I made a willow basket, complete with a wrapped cane handle!
Some people’s baskets had shaped finger holes, some had no handles at all, some had vertical stripes, and some were all one colour. In fact every single basket came out completely different, even though we were all working with the same materials and to the same instructions.
I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to keep in my basket, but I have made a note in my diary to remind me that I need to leave it out in the rain once a year, to keep it from going brittle. The things you learn on a good workshop! I really, really enjoyed it.