Traditional English willow baskets are a lovely, traditional feature, perfect for your home or to use every day. Each basket at Willows and Wetlands is handmade, so we spoke to them in the hope that they could shed some light on these beautiful and unique products.

Somerset County Gazette: Woven art: beautiful baskets created by Willows & Wetlands

On site at Willows and Wetlands, they grow many willow plants, each giving rise to over 30 rods. Parts of these rods are then replanted the year after and so the cycle begins again, meaning that willow is an incredibly useful and sustainable material.

Once the willow is harvested, the colour can be changed through a natural dye found in the willow bark. Keeping willow in water until the spring causes it to grow again and, during a short window in May/June, the willow growers remove the bark to make white willow. Because of the short window to create white willow it is reserved for a few special baskets and decoration.

Boiling the willow for 10 hours softens the bark and allows you to remove it, creating the traditional buff colour that is common on willow products. Yet, soaking it in boiling water for a shorter period releases the dye, turning the willow to a dark, rich brown used for products such as hurdles.

Everything at Willows and Wetlands is handmade by a small team of just seven or eight weavers, with an incredible 180 years of experience between them. Nicola Coate, one of the directors of Willows and Wetlands, told me they would try to make nearly anything out of willow. Judging by the giant crocodile, beautiful artistic owl hanging from the ceiling of their shop, decorative hurdles and stunning pieces of furniture it certainly looks like they make a huge variety of things.

Somerset County Gazette: Woven art: beautiful baskets created by Willows & Wetlands

An exciting commission we talked about for Willows and Wetlands are the bespoke and beautiful hampers. These are created for Fortnum and Mason just in time for Christmas. “It is really encouraging that Fortnum and Mason are right behind us” explains Nicola. “They know that we can’t handmake thousands and thousands of hampers, so they keep ours for the really high-end orders.”

Not only hampers, but animals, baskets, masks and other unusual items have been made for films as well. “We can’t say too much about the films at the time we make them” Nicola comments, “but we have done a lot of films and are currently working on a few. For example, a few years ago, we made shell baskets for war horse.”

Somerset County Gazette: Woven art: beautiful baskets created by Willows & Wetlands

On the other side of the spectrum, you have more common baskets popular for everyday use, such as the shopping basket. These willow beauties come in various shapes and styles. Nicola explains: “the willow shopping baskets are attractive, they are nice to have in the home and they fit in with most styles. You can use baskets around the home, for storage, filling them with papers, vegetables and much more.

Willows and Wetlands can also make bespoke baskets to fit inside kitchen drawers, be used as drawers themselves or even just to fit in an awkward space that needs filling. “We can make specific sized baskets to fit in any space” explains Nicola. “With a bit of clever design, you can fit willow into any home. A lot of modern interior design includes a lot of natural materials (i.e. glass, stone, wood) and willow fits in well with all of these.”

Somerset County Gazette: Woven art: beautiful baskets created by Willows & Wetlands

Willow baskets are sustainable, they are durable, they are strong and are a wonderful asset to any perfectly styled home. They are a great investment and a perfect solution as we begin to move away from this ‘throwaway’ society, towards a more sustainable future.

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