The Sussex Journeymen : traditional English basketmaking since 1948

About the Willow

Types of Willow

Four types of willow rods known as ‘withies’ are generally used in basket making:

  • green,
  • buff,
  • white
  • brown

Green rods are used in their natural state, having gone through no treatment process. Their name is from the raw state, not their colour.

Buff, the most popular, is obtained by boiling the willows, to release the natural colorant tannin from the bark into the wood. The bark is then stripped from the willow revealing the charcteristic red-brown colour.

White willow is produced in the springtime for a short number of weeks a year. While the sap is rising the willow is cut and stripped of its bark straight away without boiling.

Brown willow is boiled but not stripped of its bark.

There are over 200 varieties of willow. The most popular is Black Maul, which gives a good clean rod of about six feet and is ideal for basket making.

The willow when dried is bundled together and tied up into different lengths ready to be sent off.

When we receive it, the willow is sorted and soaked in tanks. Depending on the thickness, this can take a couple of hours for the buff and white and up 5 days for the brown and green willow. Then it is pliable and ready to weave with.

Terminology

The different terms used in basket weaving:

Randed

This is when single strands of willow are used to weave a basket. This method takes a lot longer and gives the basket a strong finish.

Slewed

This method is when multiple strands of willow are used to weave a basket.

Waleing

This is the method used to add strength and shape to a basket.

Upsetting

This method is used on the base of all baskets to set up the willow stakes and start the shape of a basket.

Specialising in traditional English basketware products since 1948