Basketmakers Woods Walk

After a two week delay because of lousy weather and a bad case of laryngitis I suffered from, the Basketmakers Woods Walk hosted by the Dietrich Theater/Wyoming County Cultural Center went off yesterday without a hitch.

We gathered at the Riverside Park Willow Dome in Tunkhannock, PA to start the event. The Wee Willow Dome (actually a dome and fedges) was planned and planted by willow basketmaker and living willow installation artisan Bonnie Gale in 2004. After several years of growth the dome has filled in, is fully leafed out and actually ready for a bit of a trim. It makes a great shaded hideaway for the children who frequent the park. On a typical summer afternoon you can find children reading inside or playing side and seek. On this particular day a group of children were gathered nearby for a birthday celebration. You can see the red and blue helium balloons in the background if you peek through the willows on the right side of the dome.

Wee Willow Dome and Fedges - Tunkhannock, PA

We began our discussion with a demonstration of how to slip the willow skins off individual willow rods. These "skins" are the thin bark of the willow rod that can be harvested and used as basket weaving material. Early in the year the bark of the willow rods slip off easily leaving you with both the bark and a smooth white peeled rod. Skins harvested from a previous pruning session at the park are scheduled to be used in the introduction to twined basketry class scheduled at the Dietrich Theater next Saturday, June 6, 2009.

Before we moved on I encouraged everyone to duck inside and take a peek at the tiny little bird's nest that some enterprising feathered mommy had built right above the arched entryway of the willow dome. It is amazing what fantastic basketmakers those little birdies can be, and to think they only use a beak.

tiny bird's nest in willow dome

From there we moved on to a picnic table situated under a nearby grove of trees. I took the opportunity to share a selection of finished baskets made with a wide range of common plant materials that you can grow yourself or find in the woods. We also discussed a wide range of plant parts that find their way into weaving techniques. We discussed things such as how to process different types of woodsplint or incorporate vines, stems, roots, bark, leaves, shoots, leaf stems and other plant materials into baskets. I shared samples of many hand gathered and hand processed materials to give participants the opportunity to learn how to recognize them. Everyone had a chance to flip through some of my favorite natural materials basketry books and I gave each student a handout to take home. From there we all hopped into several cars and formed a caravan to drive to a local woodlot where I had arranged permission for access.

basketmakers woods walk

After arriving in the woods and stopping to tuck our pant legs into our boots and spray for insects we were off to see what we could find. There were all sorts of straight saplings that might find their way into woven garden plant supports or arbors. We dug hemlock roots and I demonstrated how to split the roots and peel off the bark. The split roots can be used as basket rims or weavers depending on scale. We located several vines including akebia, woodbine, periwinkle and wild grapevine. Of course I reminded everyone to be on the watch for poison ivy growing anywhere near what you are planning to harvest. (leaves of three-let it be)

I peeled the bark off numerous saplings to show just how many trees will release their bark for use as weavers or cordage. I demonstrated splitting a hemlock branch into matching halves suitable for rims and showed how a second split could be used to create a splint from the same hemlock branch. We talked about how many coppiced prunings from hedgerows or orchards can be used in stake and strand baskets when we happened upon a downed but still living poplar tree. Trees that have blown down in this fashion often make a valiant effort to survive, sending out new growth straight into the sky from the felled trunk.

peeling hemlock bark

Several class participants tried their hand at splitting some inner bark from a downed hemlock tree. The tree had fallen in a storm some time ago, but it still retained enough moisture to demonstrate how to peel the inner bark into layers. I think several students were inspired enough to try this on their own knowing that a freshly harvested tree or even a large branch would lead to even more successful gathering.

As we walked we took notice of all sorts of plant barks and fibers that would lend themselves to making cordage. I finished off our discussions with a demonstration of how to create cordage from plant fibers. I used some inner bark from several branches to create a length of cordage.

Everyone took the short walk back to their cars satisfied at having learned many ways to harvest local plant materials for their basketweaving projects.

If you are interested in future workshops, check out the Dietrich Theater's site and request to be placed on their mailing list. Stop by BasketMakers.com for much more about natural basketry materials.


  1. I really wish i could have been there. Sounds like it was a wonderful walk/talk, and looks like you had a great turnout. I would have liked to see the willow bark sheaths in person. ....sigh....

  2. I would have loved to be there! It sounds like you covered alot of stuff, and had a great turnout. I particularly would be interested in the willow bark "sheaths." ....sigh....


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