Winter Willow Work at Plas Helyg

Hurdle making

Plas Helyg means ‘Willow Palace’ in Welsh, an apt name as my main land based livelihood centres around the cultivation and use of the genus Salix.
I grow 16 varieties of willow for basketry & sculpture here at Lammas, which I use both to sell as artisan products and to teach others how to weave with a most wonderful and versatile natural material.
Willow can easily be grown organically, and a willow coppice will last around 25 years before needing to be replanted. As most people know, you can plant willow with just a cutting pushed intro the ground. Other fascinating willow facts are that aspirin comes from it’s bark – though it was intended to be taken with Marshmallow to alleviate the possible stomach upset.
Another is that even people with arthritis are finding they can weave willow – the bark and the rhythmic fine motor exercise seem to have a positive effect on creaky hands!
At the moment, as you can see in the picture, I am weaving some hurdles commissioned locally. We are still in the process of coppicing our 2500+ willow stools, we do this between October & March, though I prefer January & February as the willow is still completely dormant but the weather is slightly better! We then ‘cure’s the willow, firstly by storing it upright in small loose bundles outside for 3-4 weeks, as in the photo. We then store it undercover for several more weeks. After about 3 months it is completely dry & must be soaked before use.
For this hurdle, the willow is semi-cured, it has lost some of its sap but is still flexible enough to go round the ends of the uprights. I use a rapping iron to ensure the weave is strong & tight.
I love the colours of the willows, and it’s multitude of uses. For info on my courses have a look at the Lammas Courses page – or for a more local teacher google the Basketmakers Association.