Willow Preparation

Willow Preparation – March 2022

I thought it helpful if I could offer knowledge to willow newbies, other basketmakers and sculptors about willow preparation. I wish I had known the following some 10+ years ago. Although still experimenting, these 3 pieces of equipment have revolutionised the efficiency of getting willow prepared for both myself and for when I’m teaching workshops:

1. A DIY warming tube. Rather than spending a week or more soaking willow in a water filled trough, I’ve got a 2m perspex pipe silicon sealed on the bottom rim to a electric tea urn. By filling this up with warm water and switching the thermostat to 38c, 6ft willow goes from bone dry to being beautifully flexible in 10 hours or so. Also, if my already prepared willow is drying out, a 1-2 hours soak in the tube does wonders. For any Kate Bush fans out there, I’ve come to think of my warming tube as a look alike cloudbusting machine that has snuck into my backyard.  Potential alternatives to my warming tube could include using an old hot tub, (though whilst knowing the potential benefits of imbuing willow’s salicylic acid I’m not endorsing simultaneously soaking in it!)

2. A wallpaper steamer and tarp (plastic sheet). If my prepared willow is drying out a little too quickly or if I want to permanently change the colour of my willow variety and add a ‘textured’ look to my baskets I get my Black & Decker wallpaper steamer out. Remove the paddle bit and insert tube into the middle of the thick ends of a willow bundle that is wrapped tightly in a tarp. Steam until the willow scents the air and colour changes, 15- 30 minutes. On a cold morning with the steam rising and a body shrouded shape wrapped up by the front door step, like me, you could raise your neighbour’s eyebrows…

3. An upright or chest freezer. @salixarts_debbiehall recently alerted me to the wonders of storing pre-prepared willow in a freezer. Within 1/2 an hour or so of being taken out of the freezer this willow can be woven.  When freezer buying, make sure all shelves and compartments are removable. (Say to the seller that you want to be able to fit a body in it. They’ll either put the phone down and dial 999 or out of curiosity might deliver it for free). A 1.65m upright freezer will fit 4-5ft willow, a 1.5m chest freezer will fit up to 6ft willow with the tip ends curled around.

Feel free to email me and ask questions about these methods.  Also, if you have brilliant tips as to how to prepare your willow successfully please do get in contact.  Happy weaving! Sarah X