How did you get interested in basketweaving?
There was this meadow across the street from where we were staying in south Jersey in 2020. It was in the backyard of a church and connected to the back field of an elementary school, and there was no one at either due to lockdown. Spring was coming in and my kid was about one, and every day I would take her in the sling for her afternoon nap and we would walk around the edges of the field.
I would look at all the plants in the hedges, and one-by-one go down rabbit holes about them. Sassafras, wild grapes, black cherry trees, black walnuts, oak trees, sumac…just like, all these things. One was a willow tree that was mostly blown down, but it was re-sprouting, because that’s what they do. I got a bunch of shoots and wove them green into a tiny, birds’-nest looking basket.
Later I learned that you can get actual basket willows. It grows as a shrub rather than a tree and it sprouts each year, that’s how you maintain it. I found this place in Ohio called Living Willow Farm and Howard sold me all this dried willow. It came in a big UPS box.
I had to figure out how to soak the willow living in an apartment; Howard told me you can get a big PVC pipe and cap one end, and put your bundle of sticks in there. So you soak the willow sticks and then you can weave them. And I got really into it. I learned how from this book [Willow Basketry: a How-To Guide by Jonathan Ridgeon]; I just followed the instructions and started practicing. The first thing I made was a binky basket for my kid.
Can you speak to how it was being a beginner, versus where you are now?
So, I’m not that good at it at all. But you know, it’s like anything – every time I do it, something gets better and I learn a little something, get more of a feel for it. I like it a lot as crafts for fun go, it really suits me. The amount of time it takes to make a thing – it’s faster than knitting, it’s more like knitting chunky gauge. It smells great. It’s a nice combination of outside stuff and inside stuff. It rewards going rogue, but if you want to be precise it will come out beautifully too. I like that aspect of it.
We know you have big feelings about willows, will you tell us about them?
Yes! Most people I meet who like this sort of thing often don’t know what kind of sticks it is or why it matters. We’re so disconnected from it, for something that has been so close to us for so long. And I could get bummed about that, but what’s the point when it’s actually just exciting? Willows have potential to help with so many pressing problems in our land management and the way we are on the earth. They thrive on wet marshy ground and they’re really good at absorbing runoff and filtering out stuff that would be harmful to the water by converting it into biomass. There’s a company in Canada that will make a field of shrub willow to be your industrial wastewater treatment plant, and they get it up to the legal requirements of how clean the water comes out. They also harvest the willow and make big woven panels for highway sound insulation. Whenever I hear about problems dealing with wastewater, I always wonder, has anyone tried this?
What’s one thing you’ve learned from this craft?
An ongoing challenge for me is that it makes you plan a week ahead and then give it like half a day of sitting making baskets. Because you have to soak the willows and then actually get it done before they dry back out. Maybe pottery is similar in some ways; just being patient and having foresight with how long it takes to do its thing. That’s something I’m still learning.
Do you have thoughts on how this basket weaving passion relates to Hazel Village and the world of the animals?
Well, now they have willows on their map. I learned more about it since I made their first map. And it’s totally the sort of thing they would do. It’s in their world now. They could probably do giant basketry birdhouses or huts dangling from a tree branch.
When you went to Peru to visit our artisan partners, did you learn anything from the weavers there?
Yes, I did! What they’re doing is similar but the palm straw they weave with will do things that willow sticks won’t. The way that they start the center doesn’t exactly work with willows, but it was cool to see. They work on a wooden mold to make any hat, including our dolly hats. I don’t usually do that, but sometimes I will find a bowl to work around and it usually turns out well. I learned how fast you can be. It was just fun, like, we do this! We’re humans!
Tell us about Stakeholder Basket Club!
So, I don’t want to do another whole business. I have one, I’m content. But this feels like an art project, or a social mission. I got willow cuttings from that same guy in Ohio and I’m growing them here. They’re doing just alright, but I hear they really get going in the second year. I also gave them out to so many friends around the region for them to plant. And I started a club that’s free basket weaving in the park. We’ll probably find other locations once it gets cold. I really want people to show up! I have so many willows still in my basement. It's for all ages, adults and kids; kids age 5-10 seem to be really into it. It depends on the temperament of the kid, but kids who like to make things, they get it. It’s a thing we can do together as humans that is great on many fronts.
- Willow Basketry, a How-To Guide by Jonathan Ridgeon
- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer
- Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler
- Always Coming Home by Ursula K LeGuin
- The Overstory by Richard Powers
- Coppice Agroforestry by Mark Krawczyk
- "The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction", essay by Ursula K LeGuin
Thank you for reading, friend! ♥️🌱