Using willow

Do you like baskets? People have been making baskets for millenia, and some are incredibly intricate. Baskets are useful, light, and pretty strong when you consider that they are made out of twigs, grass, leaves, roots, or bark. I sometimes make baskets; it’s really time-consuming but addictive. The hypnotic repeating patterns are sort of trance-forming. I will do a post on that sometime. And while you can buy basket weaving supplies all day long, I think it is more sustainable to make your own. So this post will be about using wild-crafted materials to repair a common wicker laundry basket. Repairing things is, after all, cheaper and better for the planet.

White willow (Salix alba) is what people usually use for medicine, and those long weeping branches are fun to weave with, but Black willow (Salix nigra) is a close cousin, and it’s very common here on the Eastern Shore. It grows in wet places, has a fairly short life, soft wood, and when it is dying you can often find Oyster mushrooms on it.black willow (check mushroom post) I cut two of mine back periodically so that I have usable straight young shoots. This one has spread out and leaned over in the wet ground, so I sometimes have to trim branches so our friend can mow under it.

Salix is latin for willow, and you may notice that it is the root for salicylic acid, as in aspirin and various pimple medicines. Boiled willow bark makes a nice reddish tea that smells a bit like roses. I sometimes make it when I have cramps.  Usually I make it when I am boiling willow in my big stock pot to soften it or to loosen bark to use in repairing baskets. It is like leather.willow projects (14)

Cut the straightest pieces you can find, and no thicker than your thumb or it will be hard to bend them into circles to fit in the pot. Strip off smaller twigs on the shoots you will be using before you come in the house. You can do this by just making a loose fist around it and stripping them off. They are connected very weakly. Bend the shoots by bending small sections of the branch firmly and slowly between your fingers and thumbs. You will see how you can get the pieces in the pot without breaking.  Cover with water and boil for about a half an hour. Pull out the thick end of a piece and see if the bark peels easily. If it doesn’t, boil it longer. If it does, try to get the park off whole, or in wider, neater strips. willow projects (12)If you split it in one place and then support the bark with your hand while pulling back, it will come off in relatively fat strips. It will catch at the little knotholes, so pick it loose and continue. The strips of bark are strong, flexible, and easy to wrap around basket repairs to give a tidy but natural appearance similar to leather. You should use them while they are damp or dry them and rewet them later. If you keep them in a plastic bag they will mildew. Here I have repaired a broken laundry basket handle by reinforcing it with a piece of willow lashed on with bark. While I was doing this I also boiled willow to make wreaths for Christmas gifts. and tea for me. I will do a post on that later.willow projects (19)

 

4 thoughts on “Using willow

    • You know, she actually knows how to do a lot of stuff! And I’d love to have her staff! I’d be nice to them. Still, I don’t think I’d like so many camera crews underfoot!
      Susan recently posted…Using willowMy Profile

  1. just broke my wicker basket handle. was bummed. then remembered when in secondary school about 1956 took a basket weaving class. am off up the river to find some willow to make my repair. thanks for the tip.

    • That’s what it’s all about! I have some black willows along a drainage ditch near my house which I cut down every couple of years so they will be a good size for use. They don’t make the best weavers, but they are good for the frame, for willow bark tea, and for getting strips of bark to repair with. I just cut them down yesterday. They bounce up again quickly.

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