Willow Baskets with Nick Neddo at Roots School

This last weekend, I was so excited to finally be getting up to the Roots School in Vermont.  The class was two days of making willow baskets with Nick Neddo. Nick is an awesome artist and all around cool guy.  He is very knowledgeable about a range of different skills, and he even has a book, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in using natural materials for creating drawings and paintings, The Organic Artist.  

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The school was just great!  Everyone there is super interested in learning new skills and working with natural materials.  They are so organized and everything is so easy to find.  There is one main building for holding classes because most of the work is done outside, and they offer camping to students if you need it.  I decided to go that route since I only needed to stay one night.  The majority of their classes are in the "primitive skills" category and there was a small group there that weekend that were getting ready to go out for a week to learn about wilderness self reliance. 

It's a little different then the schools I have been to, which I would put in more of a "Crafting" category.  I think I probably say that I'm so inspired by all these places, but this one really got my interest.  Self reliance, permaculture, primitive skills and so on, are all major areas of interest for me.  So needless to say I don't think this will be my last trip up to this school. 

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I really don't do enough camping anymore, and I was reminded of that on this trip. How great to sleep out in the middle of a field in Vermont.  For this New Jersey girl it doesn't get much better

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In this class we were going over the basics.  You might say I don't need the basics, but who doesn't like a refresher.  We learned stake and strand round work.  But the difference for me is that I normally don't work with fresh willow.  My last class with Jo Campbell-Amsler was my first introduction to using fresh willow, so it was great to work up a stake and strand basket with it as well.  

To be honest it is probably a great way for beginners to learn because it is quite forgiving.  I felt like the fresh stuff gave me a good sense of how far I could push the material, either that or I'm just getting to a point where I've learned the material well enough.  It didn't kink as badly as I remember working as a beginner with dried willow. 

It was a really big class but it was awesome to meet and work with so many people with similar interests as my own.  Conversations flowed so nicely, and two of the girls I met are actually massage therapists as well.  Needless to say I was among people to love to work with their hands.  

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The baskets below are the ones I made over the two days.  I had so much fun practicing a lot of the techniques that I learned over the years with other basket makers.  I learned a new appreciation for adding a foot to my baskets.  Something I might now do more often in my work. 

I'm really also very interested in finding out how these baskets dry.  Working with fresh stuff, the challenge is that it shrinks alot.  But its the time of the year when the sap is down so I have a feeling these two are going to work out just fine.  

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Peach Salsa

I'm hard on myself occasionally.  Arn't we all? I can't help but count the years ahead of me, trying to prepare for more of the same and desperately trying to find peace with it.  I'm not allowed to dissatisfied with my life right now. I'm supposed to be grateful and hopeful, because I put myself here, right?

I get trapped in these cycles of "I used to do this...and that...and it will be years before I...." Ughhhh...I just can't stop and let it be, like I'm supposed to do. 

Well that being said...I used to have peaches filling my table each August.  Peach salsa, peach butter, peach relish, etc.  It was hard to let peaches go another year so I grabbed a few at my one of my favorite farm stands and set out on a mission to make salsa.   Even though making this little condiment probably put me in a tailspin of "supposed to" be here and want to be there.  And will I ever be able to live the life I was trying to create.  I know it will be ok, and I have to trust the journey I'm on.  I'm letting it be....and with my two little jars of peach salsa I'll try to keep hopeful that my future will include swimming in August peaches again. 

So many people love this recipe and its one I wanted to put here.  Even though no one reads this blog, I use it as my own personal cookbook now.  I just need to find a better way to search for the recipes in between all the basket work.   

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Peach Salsa

makes 6-7 pints

About 12-15 large yellow peaches, pitted, skinned and roughly chopped
2 large onions (or 4 medium), minced
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
4 red bell peppers, minced
6 jalapenos, minced
Juice from 5 limes
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
pinch or two of ground cayenne pepper
1 cup white vinegar

Prepare your water bath canner and jars.  

Place all the ingredients into a very large pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.  The salsa is ready when it has reduced in size by one third and no longer looks watery.  Taste some of the salsa occasionally to see if it needs more salt, pepper, spices or sugar.  Ladle the hot salsa into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Let jars cool completely and store for up to a year without rings. 

*This salsa improves with age.  Try hard to wait until you are well past the end of summer to open and enjoy that first jar. 

Peters Valley School of Craft with Jo Campbell-Amsler

Last year I discovered that Jo Campbell-Amsler of Willow Ridge Basketry, was going to be teaching at the Peters Valley School of Craft, right here in New Jersey. 

I signed up right away, and for about a year I hassled the poor admissions lady to make sure it was going to run.  I pushed this class on every message board and facebook group that would listen.  Finally after months of worry, it turns out that we had a class of 5 that would run.

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I've never been to Peters Valley before but from what I could see online it looked very similar to the Folk School.  There were a lot of similarities but also a lot of differences.  You can't really walk anywhere and the studios are a mile down a bumpy dirt road.  The housing is a little more "rustic" but if I were to visit again I'd stay on the campus.  Despite all the driving, it had the same amazing feel as the folk school.  It is just so inspiring to be around so many artists and artisans.

There was even a small auction, and I came home with a few extra goodies!  

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I can't get over how much I learn on this 5 day course with Jo.  She showed us everything you need to make rib or frame baskets and then some.  One of the very different things about Jo is that she uses all freshly cut willow instead of the dried stuff.

It is a slightly different feel and look when you work with fresh willow.  The colors are so vibrant, and it has a slight "crackly" feel sometimes.  I can't say I'd ever work with fresh stuff again because I'm so used to the dried, but it was fun to work with.   

The very first project that we all worked on was a tension tray (pictured below). Then we went on to the gypsy melon basket (pictured above). This was our real first experience with putting in ribs and shaping.  

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By the third day I was onto the next thing, which started with learning how to shape rims.  I had grabbed a rim but then noticed another one that was similar to the shape of her tote basket.  I asked if I could make one of those and she said yes!

The fourth basket I made in the class was the small coin purse that needed two "D" shaped rims. Jo took the time to explain every aspect of each basket, and we got to practice the techniques that were needed to accomplish it.  

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At the end of the 5 days Jo also showed us some fun things like how to make willow beads, or how to make cordage out of iris leaves.  It was these last little instructions that really showed what a great teacher Jo is.   I just kept thinking to myself, "this is the most I've ever learned in 5 days."  I was so happy with what I got to accomplish, but the level of skill and tutorial that I got was invaluable. 

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At the Branch Ranch with Mel Bastier

At the end of July I finally had the opportunity to travel up to Warkworth to the Branch Ranch for willow basket classes. 

Jackie and Jill are the owners of a beautiful farm where they grow the most gorgeous willow I have ever seen. They hold their own basket making workshops, but this particular time they were hosting a basket maker from the UK.

Melanie Bastier is a basket maker and willow artist.  Her handle and site is "Out to Learn Willow." And I have been following her on instagram for quite a long time now. When I discovered that Jackie and Jill would be running classes with Mel, I jumped at the chance. Within an hour of posting the classes were almost all full.  I was lucky enough to get into the Irish Skib and Cyntell classes.  

This would be my first time to their Ranch for classes and the journey was a little longer then when I visit Lene at Lakeshore Willows, but I was up for the trip. Seven and a half hours and I landed in the most beautiful place I've ever seen; rolling hills of farmland and woods. 

The first day class was the Irish Skib, which is a basket I've been wanting to learn for a very long time. The holes in the center were supposedly for straining the water from potatoes. I was extremely happy with how it came out, and I accomplished my largest border to date without a single kink!!!!    

I still can't get over the colors! They are still almost as vibrant as the day I made it. Just goes to show how Jackie and Jill have perfected the art of growing and soaking their willow.  

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Mel showing us how to split fresh willow to make the ribs for the Cyntell. 

The second two days were devoted to the Cyntell or Welsh Shopper basket.  This was my first time attempting a real rib or frame basket.

Mel took the time to prepare the handles, rims and most of the ribs. Once she showed us the process of making all these items we all realized what a monumental task this basket really is, and we were thankful to only be putting it together.  

But what a beauty I must say! This basket is precise and perfectly crafted to look amazing. The work on the handle was probably the most fun. I got to try and use a cleave, which wasn't as easy as I thought it would be. Then each strip needed to be shaved down to a very thin thickness. 

Overall I'm not sure if this is a basket I'd ever make again just because I would need to have someone make me forms for the handles, ribs and rim. But thanks to Mel, I have the instructions so if I ever wanted to, I could make it.

I included a few pictures of the beautiful home I stayed at.  I booked it through Airbnb, and I got to meet a very lovely lady who was so warm and inviting. Her home was something out of a dream.  A big old farm house.  The first night she lit a fire, and I slept with the windows open. One window overlooked her gorgeous garden and the surrounding farmland. The other was a slider that opened to a private back deck. Every night a band practiced their music in her barn.  I could hear their songs drifting into the room each night as I fell asleep.   

Lizzy is the hostess, but she is also the owner of a cafe in town.  "Our Lucky Stars Cafe" where I stopped to get some coffee before I made my way home. One hundred times better then Tim Hortons, that's for sure.    

I'm so thankful to her for making my stay so easy and comfortable. I will definitely want to stay there the next time I'm up at the Branch Ranch!  I'm crossing my fingers that they will be able to convince a few more basket makers from the UK to visit and hold workshops. 

Playing with Ideas

I'm only a few days away from two of my biggest willow learning experiences this summer.  I'm back to Canada to work for three days, then smushing in a little vacation and back to willow for another five days here in New Jersey.  These classes are with teachers I have never met or worked with before so I'm very excited and grateful for these opportunities. 

I thought I should take the time to document some of my recent works because they each had a great element of success in one form or another.  

The first basket I played with used some of my willow bark.  It really doesn't take much more then one roll to come up with something amazing.  The picture below doesn't show the spiral base, which I thought worked perfectly.   I even added a small filler of my bulrush cordage at the top, which I am in love with.   

When I was working on the small bark basket I was thinking about a few different pieces I had seen that used bark as weavers in a regular basket.  I was very interested in trying out the zigzag weave with the bark, and I thought it worked out perfectly.  I can see using this technique to add interest in a larger basket one day. 

I like working on a smaller scale to test my ideas because the baskets work up fast and I don't waste much of a a material that I don't have direct access to.  Every time I make a basket with willow or willow bark, I feel like I'm using up a precious commodity.  It's not far from the truth, but I know eventually I will have to start selling some of my pieces.  It is so very hard to give up any of my willow work, just because I have such limited supplies at this point.  I know it is only a matter of time and patience until I can fix that fact.

Another project I tested out was one for a willow tray.  I love the multiple layers of rows.  It is a technique that I was never taught and I found instructions for in a German basket book.  The pictures helped a little, but I'm not sure I worked the technique correctly.  But it still came out alright and looked great, I thought at least!

This little tray is actually quite sweet, and would probably be great just for a small cupa and some cookies.  A "Fika Tray" we can call it. 

Lastly, a few weeks back I tried another rib or frame style basket, which worked well enough, but wasn't one of my best.

I was so happy to find out that in about two weeks, I will be able to work with Jo Campbell-Amsler for five days, learning the basics of willow rib style basketry.  I know I am probably not working the correct technique, so I am looking forward to learning it.

Still....put a few freshly laid eggs in it, and it couldn't look any better!  

I know I really should be sharing more on this blog, and maybe in the coming months I will.  This September I will be starting up some new teaching opportunities, and hopefully spending lots of time creating and working on new baskets.  

I have to keep reminding myself that in the time span that I started making baskets, I really have come a long way.  I remember finding a book on willow basket making and thinking to myself, "there is no way I'll be able to ever be able to do stuff like this" And yet here I am!!!  One of my next goals is to travel internationally (besides Canada) to meet and work with more basket makers.  Every summer holds new opportunites just waiting to be explored.  

Fitching with Steen H. Madsen

This June I visited Lakeshore willows a second time.  I had the honor of meeting and working with Steen Madsen, a basket maker and internationally renowned expert in primitive crafts.  Steen lives in Denmark, but was visiting Lene to run a four day workshop.  Unfortunately I could only make two of the four days, but in that short amount of time I learned more than I ever have before making baskets. 

When Steen teaches, he allows his students to pick what they would like to work on.  Most of the people choose to work on square baskets, but I went for something a little different.  I have always admired a very open weave basket that I now have come to learn, may have originated in Scotland.  The basket called a "Cran" was used in weighing and carrying herring.  The baskets had to be very precise because they were used as the measurement of the herring, and how a fisherman would get paid.  For my purposes I wasn't there to learn the exact historical measurements, but rather the technique called "fitching"   

I figured it would be toward my advantage to work on something with a round base, because that's what I've had the most experience with.  Much to my surprise, I learned in much greater detail the process of working a round base then I ever have before. 

Steen was wonderful for explaining exactly why certain things are done.  Basketry is one of the oldest crafts known to man and over the years "Rules of Thumb" have been developed.  This was the first time those rules were ever explained to me, and most of the other students in the class as well. Steen was very good at explaining each step and entertained us all with sweet singing of Danish songs that were made to remember the basic rules.   

I also learn new little details like this little "staple" pictured above.  It was a technique used to end the bottom row of waling before you added stakes and fitched the sides.  Again this was an instance where Steen explained two different ways to complete a task.  Both ways being new to me.  

Needless to say I was in basket making heaven.  In only two days I felt way more confident in my skills then ever before.  I'm just sad that I had to miss the last two days.  But I know I will make every attempt to work with Steen again, even if that means traveling to Denmark ;)   

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This small basket was my first "practice" basket for the fitching.  Now it has been designated as my new basket making "tool box" - it fits all my tools perfectly.  

It was also a great chance to practice another roped handle, which I was very pleased with how it turned out.  

Introduction to Willow Bark with Lene Rasmussen

Arn't last minute decisions always the best ones!?

Especially when they involve working with willow in Canada!!!!

A few weeks ago I saw a post on a facebook group call "All About Willow."  Lene was showing pictures from three days when she had a few friends to her farm to strip willow bark.  I have known that there are basket makers who like to use bark, but I never really looked into it - Until I saw her pictures.  And my mind ran crazy once I learned that this process can really only be accomplished in the spring and early summer when the sap is rising through the trees.  Spring is apparently bark stripping season!  And this three day course offered the perfect opportunity for me to learn all about the process, and bring home supplies.  

It looked like so much fun that I contacted Lene and asked if I could come help.  It was sort of a crazy whirlwind trying to get everything coordinated because I am heading back to her farm in Canada in a few days for a class with a very famous basket maker.  So it all worked out for better or worse and I hopped in the car and made the 7 hour drive to Lakeshore Willows.

On day one we didn't waste anytime.  Lene explained the process for removing the outer bark on the willow and we got right to work.  There was a bit of a learning curve and most of us working quickly learned that our hands were in for a workout. 

By lunch on the first day I had collected a good pile of bark and that's when I knew that I'd be going home with a really awesome amount of willow by the end of the three days.

The deal with Lene was that for every coil of bark that I stripped for her, I got to keep one myself. So that was the major incentive for everyone to work as diligently as they could.  The pile of stripped willow outside of the barn grew bigger and bigger every hour.  

On the third day we got to use the willow we stripped.  It was the first time I've ever used bark and the process was really interesting.  The bark didn't need to soak very long, and after a few minutes it was smooth and leathery.  We used a leather cutter to make the strips and then we used things like waxed linen, dried iris, and small strips of bark to weave with.

The weaving was very similar to the work I have done with reed but again working with the willow was a million times better.  This workshop really solidified my desire to use natural materials in my future work. 

Below is a picture of the back of my car all loaded up with my half of my stash.  All this willow bark will be put to good use over the next few months.

Willow Baskets with Bonnie Gale

Two weeks ago, I traveled back down to North Carolina to spend a week at the John C. Campbell Folk School.  I spent a whole week making baskets with Bonnie Gale, a traditional willow basket maker and living willow artist. 

I was so excited to get down to the school for a second time.  This year I was lucky to have the most amazing roommate, who was so inspirational and uplifting.   We got to spend our time in the Rock House (pictured below) which had the best front porch, and was very close to the school's main buildings. 

This year I felt like my minutes were all counted for, but I still had time to walk around the property in the evenings.  The gardens and fields all bursting with golden colors, and the hundreds of birds busy with activity.   

So each day we worked for about 6+ hours.  This year I chose to work on oval baskets.  I've had my eye on a few since last year and I was so excited to get working learning something brand new.  Below is the base to my backpack.  I was nervous working with the bigger willow because last time my hands were killing me by the end of the week.  This year I was pleasantly surprised at the ease I had handling this bigger material.  

A returning class mate worked on this basket too and we both worked tirelessly for about 2 and a half days to get them completed.  All that work, but I think we were the talk of the school by the end of it! 

The second basket I worked on was a classic French Crocane or oval arm basket.  This basket was quite the challenge because it was the first time I worked with Buff Willow and it required a close attention to detail.  

Turns out that I loved working with the Buff and the whole baskets was a great learning experience.  I even bough a few pounds of the buff willow to bring home with me.  

The one thing I have left to do is rework the handle on this basket. The first one I put on didn't have enough turns or rods.  I also think I will do a much better job roping the buff willow now that I've had some practice. 

Last but not least, this beauty (pictured below) wasn't fully made this week.  I actually spent two days with Bonnie in the fall making most of what she calls the "Monster Garden Basket."  It is actually a pattern that was originally designed by a very famous basket maker named, Alastair Heseltine.  I wasn't able to complete the basket because of time constraints, but I knew I would be seeing her again. The only things that I needed to do to get this basket done was add the handle and the feet.

I am so happy with how it came out! 

Unfortunately it turns out that this was the last time that Bonnie will be teaching at John C. Campbell, but I know it won't be the last time I see her.  She teaches all over the country at different conventions, so I know I'll be seeing her somewhere else in the future.

There are so many basket classes at the school that I am very interested in taking, so next year I'll be on the look out to learn something brand new.  And maybe I'll even convince someone to travel with me!

Leftover Fun - "Frank"

With all of the classes that I sign up to take in willow baskets, it's still not enough for me. Most people that work with willow, have access to grown their own.  This is eventually my goal, but in the meantime I purchase willow from a few different places, and I look at it as my opportunity for practice and little experiments.  Normally I just grab a bundle of whatever looks good and soak it up for the correct amount time (sometimes a bit over) and I just attempt something.

The Handle and rim of the rib basket (above) were actually made from a wild rose plant that I found in the woods near where I live.  Late in the fall I was getting antsy to experiment with making handles, and it's to my understanding (could be totally wrong here), that fresh willow is made into hoops and handles, then dried.  So I decided to try the process with my found rose branches.  I had been letting them dry for a few months when I finally figured, why not give it a try now.  I was super happy with the results.

Then I made up two of these little willow nests for my sisters wedding.  She is getting married in the forest in upstate NY this summer and she wants her ring bearers to be holding these little nests as they walk up the isle with the rings.  I was totally excited with how beautiful they came out.  Once we get closer to the wedding, I plan on visiting a spot I know grows the most beautiful moss to line the bottoms.

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Lastly, I wasn't sure what I was going to accomplish when I started this basket.  I was at the end of my bundle supplies and figured I could possibly make a small tray.  I started with a round base and then this just sort of happened.  I can't get over how cute it looks with eggs in it.  

So for future reference this bundle of willow came from Howard the Basket Farmer. It was labeled "Frank" and the color is a beautiful combination of Green-Black-Dark Brown-Light Yellow

Howard is my main supplier of willow.  He is in the USA and he ships in very large boxes, that I normally have him fill to capacity.

And I'm writing all this in hopes that in a few more years I'll be sitting on my own willow farm, scrolling back into my archives saying, "Oh look at when I had to purchase dried willow" ;) 

DREAM BIG MY FRIENDS - ALWAYS!!!

Willow Baskets in Canada

Shortly after my first willow basket class in NC, I was lucky enough to get a spot in a class with Lene of Lakeshore Willows.  So far I have visited her in Canada, twice.  The first time was for a round basket class, and the second I spent two days learning brand new techniques with her and another amazing basket maker named, Anna Mette.   I have been extremely lucky to meet and learn with these two ladies.  I sincerely hope that each year I can return for more classes and continue to improve my skills with willow.  

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I can't say this was my first time in Canada, but it was my first time really getting to experience it. Years ago I traveled to Vancouver to get on a cruise to Alaska, but that wasn't anything like my experience in Ontario.  I drove through New York State, past the border over the Peace Bridge, and into a place very different then I was expecting.  

Lene lives very close to Lake Erie.  A short drive down the road brings you right to the shores of the lake.  One day I took a short walk, and saw the most beautiful pieces of driftwood all over the rocky shoreline.  I grabbed a few and hid them in the back of my car.  It was to my greatest delight to discover that the basket we were making could include a handle of our choosing.  I was excited to use one of the pieces I found, which just made this basket even more memorable to me.

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I have been constantly amazed at the amount of time that has to go into a willow basket.  After a few years of working with only reeds, I had grown accustomed to a quick turn around time.  I can make a reed basket in two hours, but willow baskets can take up to two days! Wow! 

But every time I work with willow, I fall in love all over again.  It really is the most gorgeous medium to work with.  You can feel the life of the plant as you work it into shape.  It bends and moves in the most remarkable way.  One of the awesome things about working with Lene, is that she grows many varieties of willow on her farm.  The colors that you see on the baskets are all natural.   

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Below is a small look at of some of Lene's willow beds.  Willow for baskets are planted in rows like a crop would be.  Every winter the rods are cut down and sorted by length.  This truly was an amazing thing to see.  I can honestly say that after visiting Lene and seeing how possible it would be to grow willow for basket making, my mind was definitely racing.  It only compounded my interested and excitement about learning as much as I can and finding a place to start growing my own.

Below are the two baskets I made during my second trip to Lene's Farm.  She hosted another basket maker from Denmark named, Anna Mette.  Her work is beyond gorgeous, and she is a extremely talented artist and photographer.   

The two days that I got to spend with Anna Mette we were also working on round baskets.  The first one I made was with an Irish weave and the second one was a rope coil.  These new techniques allowed me to work within the round types to enforce the skills I had learned previously.   It was an amazing opportunity to meet and work with Anna Mette, and I hope to take classes with her again.    

Overall I'm so happy to have found Lene at Lakeshore Willows.  And I'm even more excited to learn that there is a growing community of willow basket makers not far from me at all.  Lene holds many classes throughout the year, and I'm looking forward to taking advantage of many more learning opportunities in the future.

My second trip to Canada I also got to do a little sight seeing.  I finally got to see Niagara Falls.  It was a beautiful day and I'm glad I took the time to explore a little more.

This summer coming up I'm happy to say that I'll be back to Lene's again to work with yet another basket maker named, Steen Madsen.  And a second trip to a different willow farm in Canada is also set for later this summer, and I'll be sure to write about that as well!