The classes were taught by Jo Campbell Amsler of Willow Ridge Basketry who specializes in Rib Style baskets woven with willow and other natural weaving materials. Above is a selection of some of the beautiful baskets made by Jo which she brought to the classes. For information about Willow Ridge Basketry, the accomplishments of Jo, and upcoming classes, click on the link above.
On the first day we were taught a traditional "Gypsy Melon Basket" using some of the techniques the traveling Gypsies used when traveling from community to community selling their baskets. Most of us didn't quite finish our baskets during class and as we didn't want to go home with unfinished baskets, four of us (staying at the same inn) worked on finishing it in one of our rooms that night.
My "Gypsy Melon Basket" made with rods from Salix koriyanagi 'Rubykins' from my field. I have decided that this is going to be my "tool basket". Not too big, but big enough - and very cute.
My "Wisteria Bowl" made over a rim created by twisting wisteria wines into a circle (holding it in place till it has dried). I chose to make it rather shallow, almost tray-like. The weaving material is a combination of various willow weavers and thinner wisteria wines. It was fun to "feel" the nature of the different materials as I don't have any former experience weaving with natural materials.
My favourite basket was the "Willow Ridge Herb Basket", taught on the third day. For this basket I decided to try using "fresh, frozen, thawed" willow rods for weaving. I had (naturally, with my lack of experience) never tried that, but Jo uses fresh (or fresh, frozen) willow for most of her baskets and told me that for the rib style baskets it doesn't make much of a difference and you don't have to worry about drying and soaking the rods - you always have weavers ready to go. That is, of course, if you have lots of freezer room for willows. It definitely had another feel to it.
Our last basket - the "Charm Basket" - was a smaller basket, thus much less room to work the weavers and because of that it was not - as I had expected - the easiest of the baskets to make. It is called "Charm Basket" as small charms are attached to the ends of the handle, dangling. I didn't attach any yet, but in the top collage - middle, right - you can see one of Jo's baskets with charms of tiny pieces of driftwood, willow beads, acorn "tops" etc.
Very few willow classes are offered in North America and none here in Ontario (not that I have been able to find) and am so happy that I found the Southwestern Ontario Basketry Guild who sponsored these classes with Jo Campbell Amsler. I hope that the interest in willow weaving will increase so that we will have an opportunity to attract other instructors to teach us their willow weaving techniques.
Words and photos by Lene Rasmussen,Willows.