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Weaving pliable wood (willow is a favourite being particularly supple and also fast growing) or reeds together can be done to create anything from a cage (if the strands are far apart) to a trap or a water-carrier (if the strands overlap tightly). Wickerwork is the term used for woven willow.
Other common materials used are hazel, blackberry, dog rose, briars, honeysuckle and other creepers, although even taken together these woods are far less commonly used in weaving than willow.
Willow is harvested by first planting rows of willow branches in damp ground, and three years afterwards cutting them down to ground level, repeating the cutting every year. The cutting is done in winter to avoid the need to trim leaves. Willows ability to regrow from a branch is one to the reasons for its popularity although less so than its pliability.
Sometimes the cut willow is then prepared for use by being pulled over a post which has a V-shaped brake atop it. The pulling bruises the bark making it easy for workers (usually children) to strip off. A brake is made by a blacksmith by shaping two pieces of iron to form the 'v', often with a 'bulb' lower down to make it easy to move the pieces apart without removing them from the post. Another method for removing bark is the lay the withies in muddy pools from when they are cut in winter until spring when they can be transported back to town.
The cut willow pieces are called withies. Brown withies are those with the bark left on them and are used for large and rough baskets or for use in hedge laying. White withies are stripped of bark as noted above. Buff withies are boiled for 5 hours or so before their bark is stripped, to allow the tannen in the bark to stain the wood underneath both colouring and to a slight degree portecting it from future rot.
If rushes or reeds are to be used for the basketry, they are harvested each year (leaving them for a second year produces inferior reeds/rushes), again they are harvested in winter when the weather has removed the leaves.
Once the withies are stripped, and delivered to the basket-maker they will be stored in the dry (so that they do not rot). When the basket maker wishes to use them they will be first left to soak for a few hours before being left out overnight for the surface water to sink in, this soaking and mellowing process is done to restore their pliability.
The basket-maker uses a lap-board about five feet by three fee in size, one end is on the floor (often on an old door or table top with nails or chocks hammered in to hold the lap-board in place), the free end of the lap-board is then raised up to the desired height on blocks. Basket making is done indoors, as the willow must be woven while still damp.
The basic method of weaving is to begin with a base, typically long withies are woven together leaving a small amount of properly woven material (the base of the basket) and long protruding withies. These protruding withies are then kinked to form uprights (stakes) between which softer withies will be woven to form the basket itself. The number of protruding withies is always an odd number ? otherwise the weave will not hold the basket together.
The basic weaving techniques include randing (the withy goes under and over alternate uprights), three-rod walling (the weaving withy goes under two of the uprights and then in front of the next one), slewing (weaving three withies at once). A border can be formed with as many as five withies slewn at once, each withy passing over four uprights and behind the next.
The desired shape of the basket determines the initial weaving method, often clamps are initially used to keep the main rods in shape until the weaving itself is sufficiently coherent to restrain itself. The strength of the weave is dictated by need ? potato baskets are very strong for example, whereas baskets to hold walking sticks are often quite weak. Open work is where a section of the uprights are not covered by woven withies, this is used for decoration, or to minimise weight where structural strength is not required, or for use in cages and suchlike.
Baskets can be made very quickly. In areas where beer-makers sell excess yeast to bakers, rough baskets may be made 4 to the hour by a skilled worker, and the resulting baskets are so cheap that they are simply burned by the bakers after the pouches of yeast have been removed.

[top]Other wickerwork


In places where wood is expensive, or at least the hard wood necessary for furniture, wickerwork can be used to form the seat and back of a chair, making the chair lighter if less durable than one made of hardwood.

[top]Fish traps

Wickerwork can be used to make lobster pots, eel hives, whelk pots, and funnel traps for fish. All of these items are fairly open structures designed to let water flow through them, luring them in with bait but shaped to prevent escape. Some traps are designed to work with the flow of a river or the tide ? a wall of fish funnels can be built in a tidal area secured by great posts dug into the seabed, as the tide goes out fish are trapped in the funnels, which are completely exposed by the low tide. Wickerwork 'snowshoes' then allowing the villagers to walk over the mud to easily harvest the fish.


Wickerwork hurdles are good for restraining sheep, as they are light enough to be easily carried, but stop the sheep seeing beyond the area of field in which they are contained to discourage the sheep trying to leave.

[top]Oak baskets

Although oak is a strong wood, it can be used for basket making.
To make a trug (a basket shaped like a boat) a pole of oak is soaked in hot water and rived as thinly as possible whilst still hot. Ash or chestnut is bent into a frame after being steamed to provide pliability. The riven slices of oak are then faired down to make the ends narrower than the middle, and still hot, are bent to form the basket shape and nailed to the frame. Baskets for coal, coke, firewood or catching fish are left with open spaces, baskets for carrying flour, water, etc are made in a boat-like fashion with overlapping slices of oak.
Spelk baskets are made from slices of oak and built around a hoop of hazel or ash. Unlike Trugs spelk baskets are actually woven, the stouter slices are used as uprights (the warp) and are nailed to the hoop. The thinner slices are then woven in as the weft. Weft slices are kept in hot water until they are used to keep them pliable.

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