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.  


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. 

Sandra KehoeComment