Category Archives: Basketmaking

Backyard baskets for Summer blooms

The closing of the month of May and the opening of the month of June for me marks a season change, as my gardening brain moves on from Spring to Summer. Although the deep temperature dips we’ve experienced this past week did make me double-check the calendar! But sure enough, it is June so Summer has arrived – and that means it’s time to spruce up my backyard and plant up my Summer baskets.

Willow basket planter and willow garden screen
My original willow basket planter and one of the two willow screens

I’m keeping my crochet jute and willow garden screens going for another year so that I can continue to make use of the vertical space that enjoys the best of the sunshine in my rather shaded yard. The willow basket planter I have on my wall needed a bit of mending too and at the same time I decided to add a few more willow rods at each end to hold the weaving in place. In my photo you can probably spot the new green willow that I’ve added.

This year, I’ve decided not to go with the same air-pruning plant pots as I’ve used previously because I found my smaller pots dried out too fast when they’re planted up with the climbing plants that I needed them for. Instead, I’ve made a new hanging plant basket from hazel rods and woven willow.

Willow and Hazel Plant Basket with Summer plants
The new willow and hazel plant basket

The new hanging plant basket is very similar to the original hazel and willow basket I successfully used last year for my Violas on my backyard wall. That’s last year’s Violas you can see on my Summer blog header at the top of the page. The new basket has a sturdy hazel frame. I made the frame a few months ago in early Spring as I used natural green wood hazel rods and I wanted to bend the rods into the basket shape whilst they were still very flexible. I then added the woven willow to form the full basket.

Green willow rods stored in a bucket of water
Sprouting green willow rods stored in a bucket of water

After harvesting them last December, I’d kept my willow rods green and flexible by storing them in a bucket of water in a sheltered part of the garden. The willow is now well-sprouted and rooted and I will probably plant a few of the cuttings out in a suitable spot. But most of the willow is reserved for basket-mending and making.

Which flowers have I chosen to go in the baskets? Building on my successful plantings from last Summer, I’m growing trailing, mixed colour Nasturtiums again. (You can see last year’s Nasturtiums in my header image on this post.) These flowers scrambled beautifully up the willow screens and they were extremely popular with the bees. As the Violas were also lovely last year (and admired by the neighbours 🙂 ), I’ve decided to grow them again too.

Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in Willow Planter
Violas, Nasturtiums, Marigolds in my new willow basket planter

My new flowers for this year are bi-coloured French Marigolds in orange and crimson and a deep purple-blue compact Verbena. I’ve planted up both baskets with Nasturtiums, Violas and French Marigolds so far and left some space to add the Verbenas very soon. I’m sure I’ll be posting again as the flowers grow and develop their full Summer blooms.

Now all we need is some Summer sunshine 🙂

J Peggy Taylor

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Digging garden soil and a robin

Dig, weed, plant, grow

“Would you like to do a bit of the garden?” an elderly neighbour asked us one day last Summer. And so it was that we ended up taking on the wildly overgrown part of a large allotment garden.

Overgrown_garden
That’s our overgrown patch on the left

When I say, “taking on”, I mean that literally! It needed some serious taming! Slowly but surely, over the Autumn and Winter, a garden gradually emerged out of the wilderness. Another neighbour joked that we’d probably find lions and tigers in there. We didn’t, of course! But we did find toads and frogs sheltering in the damp jungle of densely packed thistles, nettles, bramble and willowherb.

We also found an old robin’s nest in an old blackcurrant bush. We found a small wall beside a lovely old red brick path and we found the remains of a Victorian greenhouse, complete with its own grapevine … with black grapes 😉

Garden paths were gradually relieved of their bindweed carpets and the unkempt tresses of berry-laden brambles were relieved of their luscious harvest before being shorn back closer to the boundary fence. I am a keen forager of wild fruit, so this collection of captive bramble bushes will be tamed and treasured for future fruit-picking.

Digging over an allotment garden
Digging and weeding

Then the digging began. My husband heroically tackled the heaviest digging, battling bravely against giant bramble roots. I took on the forest of Himalayan Balsam, capturing as many of the spring-loaded seed heads as I could, before they launched their invasive cargoes of seeds back into the garden.

Sweet peas and a bracken mulch

Eventually, our sections of the garden were dug over and weeded, ready for Spring planting. Though, we ended up having rather more time than we’d anticipated as Spring was rather reluctant to arrive. I’d planted out my early potatoes during a mild spell in early April – which is quite a normal time for planting early potatoes. A fortnight later, I was hurrying out to collect bracken to use as a warming mulch to protect my poor potatoes from the snow!

Early potato plants growing on allotment garden
My early potato plants are starting to grow

Happily, I can say that my mulch did its job well and the potatoes are now growing merrily.

I have a little ‘garden friend’ who follows me slavishly whenever I have a spade in my hand. A robin! Eagle-eyed visitors may be able to spot him in my header image at the top of this post.

I do have more garden tales to share, but I’ll save them for another day …

J Peggy Taylor

Hazel and willow basket planter with yarn bombing

Yarn bombing and willow weaving in my yard: gardening meets craft

This Spring I’ve been building on my back yard gardening ideas from last year but to make sure there’s always colour in my yard – regardless of whether the plants thrive or fail – I’ve also gone in for a bit of yard yarn bombing this growing season too.

I’ve tidied up the wild crochet jute and willow garden screens that I made for my Sweet Peas last year and turned them into slightly neater, but still very rustic, willow arches.

Willow garden screen rustic arch
Rustic willow garden screen ~ now an arch

This Summer the willow garden screens are going to support the nasturtiums I have sown in their fabric growbags in some of my upcycled air-pruning plant pots. The fabric growbags and air-pruning plant pots have been made the same way as last year.

Nasturtiums in air pruning plant pots
Nasturtiums in air pruning plant pots

If you’re interested in seeing how I made these upcycled air-pruning plant pots you can see the process here and here.

Keeping with the rustic woven willow theme, I’ve added a large basket planter on the outside wall of my yard, overlooking the street.

Willow Garden Screen Arch and Hazel rod basket frame
Willow arch garden screen and hazel rod basket frame
Hazel plant basket frame with coloured yarn ties
Hazel plant basket frame with coloured yarn ties

The basket frame is made from green hazel rods, carefully bent around into an oval shape and fastened with some brightly coloured crochet chains. I added some thinner willow rods that I had to hand to make the top half of the basket. I plan to finish off the weaving with some green willow rods at some later time.

I then lined the basket planter with a sliced-open empty plastic compost sack and I filled up the basket with a soil and potting compost mix. I used some soil to create weight in the base of the basket and also because the soil will help to retain water better than just potting compost alone. My old-fashioned ‘Johnny-jump-up’ violas had grown on well from sowing at the end of March and were just beginning to flower when I planted them out into the new hazel and willow basket planter on my back yard wall. I do think the violas look lovely with their little purple faces nodding in the breeze.

Johnny-jump-up violas flowering in rustic basket planter
The Johnny-jump-up Violas in their rustic basket planter

With so little growing space, I’ve gone further overboard with vertical gardening this year in my back yard gardening, with a new plant shelf to take more advantage of the fence area that sees plenty of light and sunshine.

Yarn bombing plant pots - header
Pots of dahlias and irises on the plant shelf with their colourful yarn plant pot slings

This new plant shelf is now home to pots of dwarf dahlias, which are growing on well since I potted up my seedlings, and some irises that don’t seem to be growing on too well at all just yet. To secure the pots onto the shelf, I devised a strong crochet plant pot sling and crafted these in different colours to give this new growing area an instant colour splash.

First dahlia bud
First dahlia bud

As I was watering my pots yesterday, I was excited to see the first dahlia flower bud appearing on one of my plants … I will be watching and waiting – what colour will it be!

J Peggy Taylor

How to make a lighweight roll-up trug

How to make a crochet string and willow lightweight trug

Collecting bundles of long-stemmed plants or flowers can be awkward, especially if you need to carry them any distance and don’t want to break the stems. If the plants in question are Stinging Nettles, then that makes collecting them even more difficult.

I collect both nettles and Comfrey in Spring or early Summer as I use them to make plant food. I will also be collecting a quantity of nettles fairly soon for a fibre art project I’m working on. Thinking about the practicalities of these tasks this year led to me designing and constructing a basic, lightweight and readily portable trug suitable for my long-stemmed-plant-carrying activities.

Completed trug in use
My trug with a small load of Comfrey and nettle … its first outing

In recent months I’ve had a bit of a ‘thing’ about crafting in willow and jute, so I had some of these natural materials to hand with which to try out my trug-making. I thought I’d share this little project with you. The design I’ve created is very simple and could be made in other, or more sturdy materials, as suits the purpose of your trug.

The Materials I used

15 Willow rods (I selected the rods so they were all approximately the same pencil thickness with 2 slightly thicker ones at each end)
Ruler/tape measure
Secateurs/knife
Jute garden string
Thick cotton string
Size 5.00 crochet hook

Making the trug

Completed trug opened out
The complete trug – folded out so you can see the overall construction

1. Firstly, I trimmed the thinner tips of the willow rods so that they were all about 1 metre (39 inches) long.

2. I arranged the willow rods, making sure they were all parallel with each other and about 5cm (2 inches) apart.

3. Using the cotton string and the crochet hook, I carefully crocheted across the willow rods 7.5cm (3 inches) to the right of the centre of the rod, making sure I kept the rods the same distance from each other, working 6 crochet chains between willow rods and keeping the rods parallel lengthways too. To secure each rod I crocheted around it with one chain in each direction, before continuing with my crochet chain across to the next rod.

4. When I’d crocheted right across all of the 15 willow rods, I created a carrying handle 20cm (8 inches) long. With my thick cotton string I worked 21 crochet chains for the handle.

Trug close-up, showing crochet for handle and rods
A closer view of one of the trug handles. You can also see more clearly how I have crocheted around the willow rods.

5. Next I crocheted back across the willow rods, 15cm (6 inches) away from first row, (that’s 7.5cm / 3 inches to the left of the centre of the rods) again keeping the rods the same distance from each other by working 6 crochet chains between the rods.

6. When I’d completed this second row of crochet, I created the second carrying handle on the opposite edge of the trug, in the same way as the first handle.

7. I carefully secured the end of the string to ensure the handle stays firmly attached.

A closer view of the position of the rows of jute and cotton crochet that hold the trug together
A closer view of the position of the rows of jute and cotton crochet that hold the trug together

8. To complete the trug I worked a second row of crochet on each side. I placed these outer rows of crochet 18cm (7 inches) from the first and, this time, I worked my crochet in green jute garden string. Again I fastened off the yarn securely.

Holding the empty trug
Holding the empty trug – you can see it balances quite evenly on its handles

… and that was my trug completed. I have used it a couple of times so far for carrying Comfrey and Stinging Nettles and I found it worked just as I’d hoped for my needs. To roll it up, I simply hold the handles and gather together the willow rods then secure it by tying a piece of string around each end.

Lightweight trug, rolled and tied
My lightweight trug, rolled and tied at one end … tied at both ends and it is easy to carry by its own handles

I am thinking of making a tougher one – ready for Autumn – using hazel rods. I will use it for carrying willow rods or other heavier woody materials.

J Peggy Taylor

Inserting the final willow rod around the base - using a Phillips head screwdriver!

Staking-up not staking-out

Today I continued the next phase of my basketmaking. For readers who don’t know the beginning of this story, I am attempting to teach myself the craft of basketmaking in 2014. I am working from a very helpful book by Georgia Crook, simply entitled “Basketmaking”. Readers who saw the first phase of this crafty tale may recall that so far I have made something remarkably resembling a willow basket base.

Today’s task was to add a set of willow rods around the base and to bend them upwards to form the main framework of my basket. I also continued to learn the various pieces of basketry terminology as I worked through this task.

My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously
My chosen willow rods and the base I made previously

I chose my upright rods from a bundle I had cut for this purpose. These 24 rods needed to be just a little thinner than the sticks I had used in the base. I prepared each rod by slyping the butt end (cutting the thick end of the rod to a point on one side).

Knife and some slyped rods ready for use
Some slyped rods ready for use

Next the rods were to be inserted into the weaving of the base. Using a greased ‘bodkin’ (I improvised with a Phillips head screwdriver 😉 )the rods are pushed into the pockets at either side of the base sticks. This sounded fairly straightforward, and to an extent it was, except working a set of rods each slightly over a metre long into a circular base meant I ended up working with something like a giant willow octopus … but with 24 arms!

Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving
Inserting the first four rods into the pockets of the base weaving

I should probably have carried out the whole of this task outside rather than attempting it in the kitchen. Fortunately nothing came to grief … quite … though a pot of willow cuttings in water had a close shave! However, to continue my basketmaking, I decided it really was necessary to remove my willow octopus outside, which required a few extra helping pairs of hands. Thank you helpers!

Willow base and rods - like a giant octopus
Willow base and rods – like a giant octopus

To form the uprights the willow rods have to be carefully bent upwards around the basket base. This is done by pressing a knife blade gently into each rod where it protrudes from the edge of the base. Then with a slight twist of the knife the rod neatly kinks so it can be bent upwards at a right angle, but without snapping. Clever! … and it even worked for me as I managed not to snap any of my 24 octopus arms!

Kinking the first uprights  with a knife at the edge of the base
Kinking the first uprights with a knife at the edge of the base

Now it was time to control my octopus … in other words, bend up those carefully kinked rods and catch them together in a loose willow ring. I made a quick willow ring from a left-over rod. My instruction book advised folding up the rods from opposite sides of the base, so this was how I began.

Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring
Catching up the rods from opposite sides in a loose willow ring

Unfortunately, my ‘loose’ willow ring was evidently just a tad too loose and came undone, spilling my neatly collected octopus arms back down onto the ground. Ohh! Sigh! … and start again …

All the upright rods in the second willow ring
All the upright rods caught in the second willow ring

This time I made the willow ring slightly tighter to avoid a similar fate. Perhaps as a result of the willow rods being flapped up and down rather more times than they should, I found a couple of my carefully slyped rods had crept out of their basket-base pockets and needed to be firmly replaced.

However, eventually, I ended up with a satisfyingly-shaped willow barrel, with all the upright rods neatly caught in the willow ring. Now I’m ready to start ‘waling’ so I can finish my ‘upsett’ … though I should reassure you that I’m not expecting to shed any tears!

J Peggy Taylor

hands hooking the yarn for single crochet stitches

Craft a Willow and Hemp Curtain Ring

I’m in a bit of a willow and hemp phase at the moment. Willow needs little introduction. There are many species of willow (Salix)growing in many parts of the world, and varying in shape and size. As it is quick growing and pliable, willow has long been grown as a basketmaking material. This week I have been discovering myself a little of how wonderfully versatile a material it is for basketmaking, but now I am also experimenting with making it into other forms.

This particular experiment involved making a natural ring and then crocheting a binding around it. The ring is made with a 60cm/24 inch fine willow rod simply coiled around to form a ring about 7cm/3 inches across.

Materials needed to make the curtain ring
Materials needed to make the curtain ring

To make the crochet binding I used some spare hemp yarn I had left over from another project. The hemp I am talking about here is agricultural hemp. Agricultural hemp, like willow, is another wonderfully versatile material. It is also truly environmentally friendly and I believe deserves a much bigger role as one of the sustainable solutions we need for an ecologically sound future.

Hemp yarn is soft and strong. The hemp yarn I am using in this project is a beautifully rich deep terracotta. The yarn is hand-coloured but is also colour-fast, making it washable. Another aspect I particularly love about this yarn is its lustre. The natural hemp yarn has not been bleached as part of its processing, so it retains its natural shine, allowing the light to pick up on highlights in a finished piece.

The curtain ring I am making in this tutorial is experimental at this stage, but I thought I’d share the idea with you. However, I have made similar willow curtain rings without a binding and they are certainly still giving good service a year later.

You can find my tutorial (with photos) for making the willow and hemp curtain ring here on its own page.

The finished willow and hemp curtain ring
The finished willow and hemp curtain ring

You will notice the ring is neither flat nor rounded, but rather undulates as it follows the thicks and thins of the willow base. The crochet stitches will be shorter or longer to accommodate the variations. I quite liked this. I think this gives the curtain ring more character and also the undulation will play well with the lustre of the hemp yarn as the light reflects.

J Peggy Taylor

First Base complete

On reaching First Base in a new craft

One of my crafting ambitions of 2014 is to learn basketmaking. As my main interest is working in hedgerow materials I’ve been avidly studying a very useful book I discovered by Georgia Crook, a professional basketmaker and tutor in Scotland. The book is simply entitled “Basketmaking” but its focus is on using hedgerow materials as well as giving a clear and practical introduction to the basics of this ancient craft.

So far I have been practising some of the real basics – such as cutting slypes and making slaths. If you are thinking I’ve started talking a different language, to an extent you are right. One thing I quickly learned was that it is important to get to grips with the correct terminology in this craft. A slype is an angled point cut with a knife on the end of a rod of willow or other basket material. A slath is the neat cross-over of sticks that make the centre of a basket base.

Slath for First Base
A slightly shaky version of my slath – with two slypes in the near foreground

Today I moved on from slath-making and started weaving, or pairing to be precise. Pairing is the the type of initial weaving that holds the slath sticks in place.

Pairing weaving in progress around the slath
Pairing weaving in progress around the slath

I finished up with a relatively round basket base 15cm (6 inches) wide, though I did learn a few things along the way. I learned that the first pairing weavers need to be really quite thin to make working neatly possible and that my ready-cut oddments of green willow are reaching the point of needing soaking before they are going to be workable.

I also learned that basketmaking is an ideal craft for a chilly day – it certainly kept me warm as I worked my slightly-too-chunky weavers around the slath.

First Base complete
My completed First Base

I was fairly pleased with my first attempt at a basket base and I am now inspired to try my hand at the the next stage, the “upsett” – I’m sure that will be another story.

J Peggy Taylor