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How to Weave a Wicker Basket

A practical guide

©Jonathan Ridgeon

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The type of basket work featured in this article is often referred to as 'Wicker' or 'Stake and Strand' basketry. When looking at the sides of a basket, the straight upright sticks you can see are called the 'stakes'. On the base these stakes radiate outwards from the centre and are generally called 'spokes' at that stage. Weavers (or 'strands') are woven between these rigid sticks to make an incredibly strong structure.

Click images to see larger versions.

It is a joy to harvest your own Willow from the countryside to make such baskets; and there are many types out there. However, not all Willow is suitable for basket making, many types are too brittle and will snap when bent to the extremes needed for basket weaving. If I find some shoots of Willow growing in the countryside (often in overgrown hedgerows) I simply fold a stem at 90 degrees; if it snaps then it's not right for basketry... continue searching for a different variety. I have found that often the types of Willow with colourful bark such as reds, yellows and oranges are sometimes the best types.

If your Willow is freshly picked then you will ideally need to Dry it; Baskets made from freshly cut Willow will shrink and the weave becomes loose later on, this is because Willow shrinks the most the first time it dries out. It may take a few weeks to dry completely.

The Willow then needs to be rehydrated before weaving to make it flexible again. To do this simply submerge in water, a good rule of thumb for the amount of soaking time is 1 day per foot of length i.e. If the average length of your Willow shoots is 4 foot then soak for 4 days. (Note: Willow with the bark stripped off only takes a couple of hours to rehydrate)

You wont need many tools to make a simple basket like this; a knife, a pair of secateurs and maybe an Bodkin (a pointed tool used for separating the weave, a pointed stick or 6 inch nail would work sufficiently.)

We start weaving a basket by making the base first. Cut 8 sections of Willow from thick shoots. For a small basket like I am making they only need to be about 30cm long

At the centre of four of these rods make a split about 5cm long.

Insert the non-split rods through the centres of the split rods to form a cross; this is called a 'Slath'

Rummage through your bundle of Willow and find the thinnest, longest shoots. These will make good weavers for the start. Take two weavers and Insert the thin ends into the split Slath as shown

To begin with we are going to use a type of weave called 'Pairing'; in essence this is a very simple weave but can be fiddly if you've never done it before. I often call it a 'Twine Weave' because it resembles twisted twine or cordage when woven between individual spokes/stakes. The technique involves holding the two weavers and twisting them one over the other so that they swap places. Each twist is always done in the same direction. After each twist the next spoke (or spokes in this occasion) is then put between the two weavers and then next twist is made... thus locking then in place. See the photos... it's really quite simple.

Firstly, Pair around each set of 4 spokes; complete two rows. This will lock the Slath together to start with. Always pull the weavers in tightly as close as possible.

 
Once you have completed two rows of Pairing around each set of four spokes we will proceed by Pairing around each individual spoke. Bend each spoke outwards to space them out. Space the spokes evenly, once you've completed another row of Pairing they should all be separated like a bicycle wheel. Work your way all the way around for a couple more rows.

Soon you will come near to the ends of your weavers and will need to add new ones in to carry on. It's best not to add two new weavers in at the same time as this can create a weakness. There are a couple of ways to add a new weaver in, see the following photo for one example, You can see I am replacing weaver 'B' with the new Weaver labelled 'A'. I have taken the end of the new weaver (A) and pointed the end, then shoved it down between the weave of the last two rows, then bent it over to follow the path of the old weaver. I can now cut the old weaver (B) off and continue twining around the basket.

When replacing weavers add thick ends to thick ends and thin ends to thin ends.

Click photos to enlarge

Replacing the other weaver a little further around the basket.

You can continue Pairing in this way until the base had reached its full diameter, however for the sake of showing you another simple technique we will stop and continue with a 'Plain Weave' which just involves weaving one weaver in and out of the spokes around the base. However, for this plain type of weave to work correctly we need an odd number of spokes to weave around. we currently have 16 spokes so we need to just add one more in. Simply insert it down into the weave through the last couple of rows of Pairing. Because the weave maybe tight it can take some force to insert this new Rod; Point the end and use a Bodkin or Awl to open out the weave a little. (if you don't have an Awl or Bodkin you could just use a thick metal nail)
Cut one of your Pairing weavers off and continue to weave with just one weaver. Under - over - under - over...
To add new weavers in you can just lie the old one next to the new one and then carry on
Continue weaving until you have reached the desired diameter. My base at this point is 20cm in diameter.
 
The base will have probably developed a concave shape... this is good as it gives a rim for the basket to sit on. You can encourage this formation more during the weaving for a more defined shape.
 
It's now time to 'stake up' the basket to start forming the sides. For this stage use medium-thick Willow shoots, you'll need one for each spoke. Sharpen the thick end of each.
Insert these new rods into the weave, one alongside each spoke

Cut the ends of the old spokes off level with the edge of the weave.
 
Now take one of your new stakes and bend it to the left underneath the two next to it, then bend it upwards as shown in the first two photos below. Now take the next stake to the left and bend it in the same way. Continue this procedure all the way around the basket. It can be fiddly to keep all the stakes in place at once but try your best.

(A more straight forward method is just be bent the stakes upwards, however bending them in the way described above creates a nice rim for the basket to sit on.)

 
The last two stakes will have no other stake to be bent up and around; so they need to be threaded into place up behind those stakes you bent first.

Next, tie the stakes together at the top to stop them falling all over the place.

 
Now we can begin to weave the sides of the basket. It's best to start with a border before the main weave called a 'Three Rod Wale'; This locks the uprights in position.

To weave a 'Three Rod Wale', insert three new weavers to the left of three consecutive stakes, it's convenient to start them off by inserting them into the base. Take the left-most weaver bending it to the right infront of two upright stakes, then behind the third, then back out to the front. Now take the next left-most weaver and repeat the same stroke; In front of two, behind one, then out. Continue in the way always taking the next left-most weaver.

 
 
Complete two rows of Waling. Now un-tie the stakes at the top otherwise the sides of the basket will slant inwards.
 
We can now begin our main weave which will form the main sides of our basket. In this example we are going to use a popular type of weave called 'French Randing'; this creates nice even sides. You can develop a fast weaving rhythm once you get into it.

Firstly, we need to add one weaver in next to every stake around the basket. Choose nice long thin weavers with an equal length (weavers always need to be thinner than the upright stakes). Add the weavers in one by one in the following way:

  1. Count out the correct number of rods first. Place the thick end of a rod behind a stake (with the thin end pointing to your left)

  2. Now bend the rod over the next stake to the left; behind the third; then out to the front again.

  3. Add the second weaver in starting behind the next stake to the right (the one before the start point of the first rod)

  4. Add in the next weavers in the same way; always adding the next one in to the right of the one before.

  5. Work your way around until there is one weaver next to each upright stake.

  6. The last two will be a little more tricky to add in as the first two weavers will be overlaying the position of where these last two rods need to be inserted. Lift up the first to weavers a little and add the last weavers in underneath. All the weavers should look identical if done properly.

Now we can start weaving. You can begin with any weaver because they are all effectively the same... Take one and weave it one place to the left (simply in front then behind the next stake) with the end on the outside again. Then take the next weaver to the right and weave in the same way. Keep on going all the way around the basket weaving each rod always taking the next weaver to the right.

When you come back around to the point where you started weaving this row you will notice that there are two weavers behind two of the stakes instead of just one. You're probably wondering which one to weave first... Weave the ones from underneath first, then everything will look back to normal (this happens after each time you go around the basket once. The photo illustrates that weaver number 1 should be woven first, then number 2. Remember to weave them under the ones resting above them.

Now this row of Randing is complete, you can continue by taking any one of the weavers and weaving it in the same way as before to start another row. Build the sides up in this way.

 
Continue until you have woven all of the weavers out to their tips. Cut off any surplus ends.
 
Lock the Randing down with a row of three rod wale...
 
You can build your basket as high as you wish by continuing with more French Randing; I have decided to stop here. (Always weave a Wale before finishing with the final rim.)  All we need to do now is bend the stakes down and weave them into a rim. There are many different rim designs which are made by weaving in front and behind different combinations of stakes, I have found that you can even make your own rim patterns...

For this particular pattern... take one of the stakes and bend it down to the right. Take it behind the first two consecutive stakes; in front of the third and fourth stakes; then behind the fifth stake; then back out to the front. Now take the next stake standing to the right and repeat the same movement.

The last couple of stakes will have insufficient uprights in front of them to weave around; Just repeat the same weaving pattern but you'll have to thread the tip in and out of the border in the right places to achieve a continuation of the same pattern until all the ends are in place.

Finally cut the long tips off flush with the side of the basket.

The basket is now complete! Well done! If you'd like a handle keep on reading...
 

 

To form the main structure of the handle you'll need a thick flexible rod of Willow or other suitable wood such as Hazel or Dogwood. Bend it over and work out how high you want the handle to be, cut it to length accounting for a few extra inches of material on each side which will be inserted down into the weave. Sharpen the ends and shove them down into the basket walls alongside two upright stakes directly opposite each other.

Now take ten long thin Willow shoots, insert five to start with down into the weave alongside the handle one one side.
Wrap these rods around the thick handle frame several times until you reach the other side. Keep the rods side by side treating them like a single ribbon.

Thread the tips under the top Wale and woven rim. Leave them here for the moment. (Trimming the ends will make them easier to thread through)

 
Now insert the other five rods on the side you just ended up at. Repeat the last stage working in the other direction filling in the gap where the handle core is not covered.
To tie in the tips pull them up tight against the side of the handle. Then insert a thin stem of willow down into the weave alongside.
Bend this new piece of willow over and start wrapping it around the tips locking them in place against the handle. after several wraps secure the end by passing it under the last coupe of wraps and pull it tight.
 
Finally trim off the tip ends.
Basket Complete! the one in the centre is made entirely from Blackberry brambles. To see how to prepare blackberry brambles for basketry; see my old basketry article: click here

Happy gathering!

 

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