Beginner Basket Making

For the last couple of days when not toiling in the garden or experimenting in the kitchen, I’ve been at a basket making course. It’s offered a few times a year and I’ve wanted to take it ever since I first moved here.   With all five of my children off to school, I took the opportunity to get away.

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This is Vincent, my instructor. He is extremely talented at both basket making and story telling.  I would never grow tired of his tales about weaving with Native American, Amish, and Irish basket makers, or of the baskets he has both gifted and received.  In fact, he generously made the basket carried by the flower girl in my wedding nearly twelve years ago. His workshop is like a museum, containing baskets full of history.  He is a genuine artisan; very passionate, driven, never tires of speaking about his craft, filled with the desire to pass the skills on to others, dedicated to keeping the art alive.  Something he mentioned casually that really stuck with me and increased my desire to become proficient is this– any basket you look at, hold, or utilise, you can be certain it was made by someone’s hands.  Basket making is an art that cannot be mechanised.  I liken this to crochet, one of the many reasons I love and appreciate it so dearly.  Here is a short 3:41 video from youtube about Vincent:

And here are some pictures of my progress and completed projects from the last two days.
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My first bit o’ basket making–the base completed.

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‘Slaths’ trimmed away and ‘side stakes’ inserted.

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My first basket nearly finished.

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Waiting for instruction, silently begging for attention. 🙂

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On right is my new fruit basket, traditionally used in homes to strain boiled potatoes, and for that purpose called a ‘scoib’, day 1 project. On the left is a taller basket with a short handle running across that I put our onions in, day 2 project.

I am looking forward to tomorrows class when we’ll be making a market/shopping basket.  The tips of my fingers are a bit tender.  I can really feel it as I type.  Before I realized that what I was already harvesting and using around the garden was willow (the traditional island basket willow), my blogger friend Roz sent me some beautiful willow from her own gardens in the UK.  At the time, the basket making course wasn’t even being offered yet, but the stars were aligning for me to become prepared.  I’m so happy that I was unaware willow was readily available here or I would surely have declined her offer and missed out on some different and unique types.  Funny how life works that way; it was meant to be mine!

Hope you are all having a week filled with wonder, possibly some new challenges of the delightful kind, and oodles, bushels, and pecks of sunshine.  Melissa Xx

73 Comments

  1. Melissa, they look fantastic! Funny, as soon as I saw the picture of Vincent and the workshop I knew how you were going to describe him and the shop. You can feel it through the picture and video.
    Silently begging for attention….you’re funny!
    Great connection with the basket used at your wedding.
    There are so many people like Vincent around the world. So talented and usually thrilled to pass on their knowledge.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, so much easier than I imagined. Vincent has made a farmer and farmer’s wife out of willow. I would LOVE that for our corn field. That’d really get the crows talking! But I am far from that yet.
      I hope I am one of those people passing on that knowledge with my sewing. It was always my intent to teach, but of course, now that I am doing so, I realize it is a threshold of age I have crossed, from mostly ‘doing’ for a living to teaching…just something Robert Kiyosaki wrote about. It’s all good 🙂 .
      That was my first alone ‘selfie’ (not with one of kiddos). Something about that part of the basket kept me wanting to put it on my head, both days. I rather liked the reflection in the window of the St. Brigid’s cross.
      Glad you ‘got’ what Vincent was about, so authentic and humble, no b.s. about him.

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      • There is a tv show here in Canada on the CBC called Land And Sea. It’s all about the east coast of Canada. I love it! There was an episode on a couple of artisans who made fiddles on Cape Breton Island….just fascinating to watch.

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          • Oh goodness, my daughter plays violin, and here in Ireland it is called the fiddle. Well, she just quit playing it, preferring the banjo. For some reason I pictured a flute in my mind. Only with you Stan!

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          • That would be cruel 😉 ! I had a mini crisis just after sending that last message with your name attached. Did a think, double think. Got myself paranoid now, ha ha!! Actually, that would have been pretty funny! 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Good morning Stan! Vincent was saying he uses over 30 different types. He has only managed to get eight of those to grow on the island. I don’t know if there is a ‘particular type’ to use or avoid but will ask him. From that, I take it some are hit and miss to get growing, but soil could possibly be amended to assist if you’re of the experimenting mind. Sorry, that doesn’t really answer your question, but I will let you know what he says and you let me know if you find anything out between now and then. I am off to plant willow myself today! Have a groovy day.

            Oh, he did mention you could use weeping willow tree. So cool, my grandmother had one all the while I was growing up, if I only knew then what I know now… 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

          • Happy Sunday Stan, I was chatting with Vincent and he said that any willow should do as long as it is flexible. He said to pass on that it needs to be soaked for two weeks before using. If you have any more questions, let me know. 🙂

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  2. Roz Hill says:

    Hi Melissa… I am so so pleased for you! One minute you don’t know your Sally rods from your tomatoes and the next you are making mega baskets. Wooow! Did you get your willow sticks into a well nurtured bed so you have your own future willow supply? And don’t forget to ask Vincent if he can add to your varieties, if you can get them in this year you will be well set up. Apparently there are hundreds of different varieties of willow. I am really impressed at your basket attempts, you look like a natural. And to think Vincent lives so close too. This is great, I could do to find a local teacher. I have got to find the time too…. Sooooon… You got me going gal! Haha! 🐝🐝🐝🐝bzzzz! Ps you need to make a willow hat…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Oh Roz, I haven’t got them in the ground yet. We were planning a structure….surrounding a bench on three sides was one idea, but then the bench looked better with old tires on either side of for planters. This week we’ve been widening a pathway (moving stones) between two fields separated by a four foot stone wall to put in a willow tunnel/arch between the two. Buuuut, now I think I am going to use the island sally rods for the tunnel and plant yours in a patch to use exclusively for basketmaking. I decided I don’t want to use yours and not have them for any future projects; sally rods are abundant, yours are unique here. It is raining here today and predicted for next couple of days, but first chance I get after weather passes, I will put them in. Have black ground cover ready and waiting. 🙂
      Yes, I would like to make a willow hat, maybe will for our scarecrow as a tester and see where it takes me….

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  3. Ruth says:

    What is always meant for us always finds it’s way to us and at the right time. I just love your baskets and envy the chance you have to getting to make them and to hear the stories. At christmas I was at a local fair and tucked away in the corner was a basket weaver and I was fascinated, I looked all through his baskets the different types and he answered my million and one questions and his was the only stand I bought anything from and now that wonderful basket holds my knitting and projects.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Macrame always looked interesting, thoughts of it ignites my memories of spider plants in macrame hangers 🙂 . And Vincent has a spider plant in his space which reminded me of that too…I almost asked him for one of the spider babies which was growing off it. Funny you would mention that today. 🙂

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  4. Murtagh's Meadow says:

    Beautiful! My husband and I did a basket making course here a few years ago and loved it, but unfortunately haven’t had time to go back to it. But we use the baskets we made as firewood baskets. We have plenty of willow to use locally when I go back to it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The baskets are wonderful Melissa! So great that you are learning this from someone who is sharing their life long talent at the craft and their stories! Don’t you just love when you immerse yourself in some creative process for a length of time….allow yourself to learn a craft or skill that you’ve been eager to master? Bliss! Your baskets are beautiful, loved hearing about your week and spending time with a traditional craftsman. Have fun!
    denise

    Liked by 1 person

      • I have ideas of planting willows for a while just for weaving baskets and such. My first book that I read on self sufficiency was by Dick Strawbridge. He had a chapter in his book Self Sufficiency in the 21st Century on weaving basket and even fences. I’ve always thought it was cool.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Making fences is what got me interested in taking the course. I thought learning the baskets would be a means to an end, but, wow, I am hooked! I have heard of that book, must see if the library has it. Willow grows pretty quickly too. If you don’t have access to any, I would be happy to send you some cuttings, spread the willow love as my friends in the UK did for me.

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    • Thanks Vashti. Go for it! A lovely thing about making them is the bigger ones are easier to make than the smaller, and for me, more practical. Win, win. Very rewarding, and in a short enough time. Let me know if you do it, I would love to see what they’re making in your part of the world. 🙂

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      • stephpep56 says:

        I do indeed. In fact I have gone through a few over the years. They get such abuse due to the amount I load into them. but they are all made from cane as opposed to willow which is much sturdier. What I love about the willow too is the different colours from the different varieties. And now a memory, our bath at home with cane soaking for my mothers baskets . What a woman, she made all the clothes for her eight children, painted, knitted, made wall hangings and then obviously at the time of my sudden memory took up basket making. She sounds a bit like you actually. Your enthusiasm for exploring creativity is wonderful. I will see my Mom at the weekend and will ask her what struck her in a moment of raising us to learn how to make baskets 🙂 P.s sugar loaf is the mountain I look across at when I am sitting writing 🙂

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        • Just getting seated for a bit of writing and reading. Feeling so hurried this week! We have an old iron bath outside, nothing fancy unfortunately, but my plan was to jazz it up with plants, now I think I shall plant around it and use it for soaking willow. We’ll see, it might not be used enough to warrant that purpose.
          Your mother sounds amazing! I look forward to hearing how she ventured into basket making. If you want your own willow, I can send you some Sally rods from the island.
          There is a Sugarloaf mountain near where I grew up, that’s why I asked. I will head over to read your other post now. Opened it earlier but really have not had any consistent sit down time today, and may be interrupted anytime now as children are home from school. Got to love the busy while it lasts though!

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  6. Elizabeth says:

    Hi Melissa, I love your baskets, I need both of them, they give the kitchen a special look and warm. I remember now, when I was teen I made a basket with popsicles sticks, it was great, maybe I can make another one someday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hiya Elizabeth, I love the look of them in the kitchen also. Many homes hang the scoib on the wall as some type of antique/conversation piece. That’s would only work for me if I had a couple others serving more of a purpose in the house. But to each his own. I think a popsicle stick basket would be very sweet, pun intended 😉 !

      Liked by 1 person

    • Willow grows easily; we were using it to stake our tomatoes a few years back and were a bit annoyed how it blossomed all over…didn’t realize it was willow. We saw potential with it, but certainly not to block light from our tomatoes. And the baskets I made are beginner basics. I am really impressed with the ease of them and feel confidant in making more basic ones. If you want some willow to start you off, let me know and I would happily post you some.

      Liked by 1 person

        • Great. I did find an internet video showing how to make baskets. I will use it as a reminder of a couple steps like finishing off, etc. Anyway, you know where I’m going with that thought…there is plenty of help out there via in person course or diy on-line, also regarding growing basics. Keep me posted 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

          • canaf says:

            Thanks. My husband is not convinced the willow would grow here. We are growing devil’s claw and that is supposed to be used for baskets too. Are you familiar with it?

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          • Happy Sunday! I am not familiar with it. Vincent says that, if it is flexible, it can be used for basketmaking. He also mentioned that willow is soaked for two weeks before being used for baskets–just fyi, but you can google I guess and get that info. I will have to look up devil’s claw. Tx. 🙂

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    • I found it surprisingly easy as they look quite complex. The larger are easier than the smaller and that is great because they are more useful I think. I have bought many nice baskets myself but nothing compares to these made by my own hands, a most wonderful feeling! Give it a go, you are interested and therefore, I think you would really love it too!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Mickey Mo says:

    Hi Melissa, funny how we have these parallels in our lives, first GIY, now baskets!!! I have just gotten very serious about them, after a beginners course over a year ago and 2 four-day courses since, with ‘the Master’ Joe Hogan, in North Connamara. To help you remember
    when you are making baskets on your own, get Joe Hogan’s book: Basketmaking in Ireland. I am sure you will love it, it has the history of traditional baskets in Ireland and also the techniques, with drawings, easy to understand, once you have seen/done it in real life. This Good Friday i am invited by the Dunmore Farmer’s Market to give a demonstration of basket making and I hope to sell some baskets there. I am setting up a bizness!!! Saili Mo,The Willow Witch. XXX

    Liked by 1 person

    • Fabulous name!! Vincent spoke of Joe Hogan during our time together, of course they’re acquainted as you’d imagine. I don’t own a basketmaking book, but that sounds like a good one, drawings and all 🙂
      Sounds like you are off to a grand start for your new biz, already teaching, just brilliant. Keep me posted. I’ll be rooting for you!

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  8. tonsoffun50 says:

    I’m researching taking a class from Vincent McCarron while viking Ireland in june 2017. I’m having trouble finding a way to contact him via the computer. Do you have an email address for him?
    Thank you.

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