This week I had my first go at making a basket from willow bark.
A few weeks ago, I was clearing some of the lower branches from one of the willows on our land and I noticed how easily the bark peeled away. I quickly stripped as much as could, just using my fingers and without knowing the proper way to go about it. I coiled the strips and hung them up to dry with the rest of my gathered plants.
I kept walking past them, thinking that I really must try to do something with them, but not quite finding the time to get on with it. This week I decided to make the time, so after some very brief research I popped my coils into a saucepan, covered them with water and simmered them for half an hour. Then I left them to soak in the liquid for the rest of the day.
That evening I set about removing the outer bark. It was a bit fiddly with the smaller strips that I had gathered, but I quickly found a method that worked for me.
The liquid that was left in the pan was a wonderful colour, so I sealed it in a tub to try using as a dye, when I got the time.
I went back to my strips the next day and cut them into smaller pieces of the same width (roughly) and left them covered over with a damp piece of muslin, until I could work with them in the evening.
I had a rough idea of how I was going to make the basket and it was one of the much quicker weaves that I have done so far.
I finished the top with more strips of the bark and a single strip of common rush. It went into the airing cupboard to dry out and I pushed some heavy books and building blocks up to the sides to keep it in shape.
There was some further shrinkage of the strips at this stage, which I would need to keep in mind when making more bark baskets, but I was very pleased with the results, especially considering the rather haphazard way that I had gathered it!
I enjoyed it so much that I had another go at gathering bark today. We have several small willows to clear, to make room for our polytunnel.
This time I was prepared and I used my whittling knife to score the top and bottom of the section first. Then I cut from top to bottom on one side and carefully loosened the edges. Once that was done, it was easy to remove the whole piece in one go. I did this with several section and coiled them to dry. They are very small trees so it won’t give me a lot of bark, but it’s nice to have some put by.