Willow Christmas Decorations:
Peter Wood makes a trio of simple Christmas decorations.
Christmas is just around the corner and now is the time to be thinking of making some decorations for the Christmas tree, and to sell at the craft fairs I attend in the run up to the holiday. The willow (Salix spp.) I’ll be using is from the Somerset levels. There are plenty of suppliers around the country, but the main growing area is in Somerset – some suppliers have been growing here for hundreds of years (see suppliers list – overleaf). There are many different varieties of willow, some are fast growing (4m in a year!), others give fine thin rods and there are a multitude of different colours, which adds great interest to your weaving.
Different types of willow
Brown willow is simply willow with the bark left on. Its colour depends on the variety of willow you buy;
this can range from reds and purples, to yellow and greens.
Buff willow is where the willow has been harvested then boiled for up to eight hours. This allows the tannin
to penetrate the willow and softens the bark, which is then stripped using a stripping machine.
Steamed willow, as the name suggests, has been steamed with the bark on for a few hours then dried. The bark dries to a shiny, almost black colour.
White willow has been cut over winter then ‘pitted’ (stood in pits of water), which keeps it alive until the buds break in spring. The bark is then stripped or peeled off and left to dry, producing a high quality creamy white rod.
Green willow is simply willow that’s freshly cut and so requires no soaking to make it pliable. Willow can be
bought online and delivered ‘to the door’. Traditionally it was sold by the bolt, which was a standard bundle 1ft diameter with a circumference of approximately 3ft 2in. It is now more commonly sold by the kilogram. Depending on availability you will order by length from 3–9ft lengths.
Willow suppliers in the UK
All willow (apart from green) requires soaking to make it pliable, enabling you to weave it without it breaking. Willow without its bark on, be it white or buff is relatively quick to soak, needing only approximately 11⁄2–2 hours submerged in water. This can be in a bath, water trough, water butt for shorter lengths or even your local pond. Willow with its bark needs much longer, approximately one day for each foot length (steamed is a slightly shorter time). After soaking, wrap your willow in a damp blanket and leave to ‘mellow’ overnight which allows the moisture to penetrate deep into the wood. It’s then ready to weave!
For this freestanding tree I’m weaving with some black maul (brown) willow. Use a thicker rod for the sides, as you always want your weavers (the rods that you weave with) to be smaller than your uprights as this stops the weavers distorting the frame of your piece.
Simple Christmas tree
A Christmas star