A couple of weeks back, the girls and I made a pilgrimage of sorts to a willow growing farm just over the border into Bedfordshire. Wasseldine is a farm set on a gentle hillside, populated by glorious red poll cattle and with a wonderful view. And a big shed full of freshly harvested willow in astonishing colours. Those of you who follow me on Facebook or Twitter (I'd love to see you!) will have already seen this, one of my favourite photos. Yum.
So even though it's still a bit green, I have been weaving with some of this. Willow shrinks as it dries, so basketmakers often work with dried and soaked material that has already done all of its shrinking. If you've ever had a basket that ended up a bit rattly and loose after a year or two, that's because it's dried out a bit since weaving.
Anyway, I had no soaked willow to hand, so green willow it was. I started as I usually do, with a straightforward round split spoke base, and I put a dome on it - this is an important part of making the basket sit flat on its rim later - wobbly baskets, unless designed that way, are generally not a good thing!
At this point I thought the basket was going to be shallow and a bit like a tray. I trimmed the base and put in the side spokes and then did the fabulously named process of upsetting - bending up the side spokes without breaking them (always a tense moment) and locking them in place with a row or two of very firm four rod coil.
I had planned to try a method where you add one weaver per spoke and the basket builds quickly, but it got very, very out of hand so I changed plan and went with a more regular chasing weave. The basket started to flare nicely. "I know," I thought, "I'll make a plant holder."
Pretty soon the basket was getting too big for a plant pot and really started to look like a bucket. At one point Mr DC came and asked whether it was supposed to be octagonal. What a nerve!
After a while I decided to put a border on and call it done. This went in smoothly and after a bit of a trim looked as neat as I could have hoped for.
And then I realised that what I had actually made was a lovely round stripy wastepaper basket. And jolly useful it is too! The two willows I used are called Black Maul and Dicky Meadows - for me the names are almost as gorgeous as the colours.