I’ve just returned from a three-day workshop on willow bark basketry with the wonderful Maggie Smith. Having worked with neither willow nor bark before, I was slightly worried, but Maggie’s work is fabulous so I couldn’t pass up the chance.
We started by learning how to strip the bark from willow, with a knife, willow brake or by pounding. Easing the bark off around joints or knots without tearing it can be tricky!
But by lunchtime on the first day we had all started to pile up little rolls of bark. The colour of the interior was amazing, ranging from pale yellow to chartreuse green to deep orange. However, this colour does tend to fade as the bark dries.
Maggie told us to discard any preconceived ideas about what we wanted to make and study the bark very carefully to see what was suggested by the marks and texture.
I liked the arrangement of holes on one of my pieces of bark so decided to make a pouch consisting of a random weave container wrapped in a whole piece of bark.
The next day we learnt how to cut the bark into even strips, and I started making my random weave piece around a sawdust mould.
Then I cut the whole piece of bark to length, punched holes in it and wrapped the container, stitching on a handle to keep it in position.
I left it to dry overnight and the next day managed the tricky task of removing the mould without damaging the bark!
As I had a bit of time left, I also made another coiled piece, using different widths of willow bark strips.
Here are the two final finished pieces.
And here are some of the wonderfully diverse and inspiring pieces produced by other students in the class.
Even better, I managed to add willow bark to my cordage collection!