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.