Willow Harvest

In one very productive week and with help from Bill and friends, my willow crop is cut, sorted, and the long rods have been cleaved and coiled for skeining next year. 

Donna Kallner with some of the 2016 willow harvest.

The time to harvest willow for basketry is generally when the plant is dormant. I like to cut my beds in late November — after the leaves have dropped but before the snow starts to pile up. Last year’s crop I harvested late so I could peel the willow after the buds broke in spring. That worked really well, but other uncertainties make it better for me to harvest in fall. So we’re trying another method generously shared by Dawn Walden.

Freshly cut willow cleaved with the bark on and coiled for boiling.

We split rods with the bark on, and will boil them to remove the bark when they’re ready to skein. 

Donna Kallner, Karen Tembreull and Poppy Hatinger with some of the cleaved willow from the 2016 harvest.

Over the weekend, Poppy, Karen and I got a lot of practice at cleaving and coiling. 


Here’s a short video clip of how I start the split.

Willow cleaves collected by the wrecking crew.

I tried out some of the other’s cleaves, and Bill even made a quick sample. Last time I wrote about cleaving I got lots of inquiries about where to buy a cleave in the U.S., but I have not found a source.

Cutting the overgrown willow from the snow fence.

The hardest part of the week was cutting and splitting two of the three rows of old Green Dicks in our snow fence. Bill and I got that done in two half days. He will use the biggest material in a rustic furniture class he teaches next July.

Large willow from the snow fence cleaved with the bark on.

I sorted out the stuff that was small enough to split. What I split I will boil in long aluminum tubes Bill has for bending fishing net frames.

Bark-on willow cleaved, coiled and ready to boil.

Poppy made the extra effort to split and coil that big stuff, making sure the coils would fit in a canner for boiling.

A tool for planting willow cuttings made by Mike Klimoski.

One of the willow wrecking crew may be putting in a new willow bed next spring, so she was able to take cuttings from this year’s crop. She will store those in her refrigerator crisper drawer until it’s time to plant. She also took pictures and measurements of the tool my neighbor made me for planting willow cuttings. Karen’s husband has been volunteered to make her one.

I’m so thankful for the wonderful opportunity for learning these skills, and for the fun and fellowship of “wrecking willow” with these friends. We missed the rest of the crew from May, but we got a lot done in a short time. Step by step, we’re working our way toward the point where we have both the skills and the materials to start doing some skeinwork.

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Donna Kallner

fiber artist, teacher and explorer, inspired by ancient fiber techniques and all the ways contemporary fiber artists give old ideas a new spin

5 thoughts on “Willow Harvest”

  1. Excellent thought to “making sure the coils would fit in a canner”. Did Bill make the “long aluminum tubes”? and is the plan to fill with water and have a “long” fire? Did you plan to use the bark after cooking? What fun…

    1. The long aluminum tubes were a legacy from Neil Sanvidge, who taught Bill how to make landing nets. Bill uses them for soaking the strips, which he bends in a steam box he built. Neil also gave Bill what is essentially a flamethrower that runs on propane to aim at the tube to heat the water. Not elegant, but effective.

      I do plan to use the bark. We cooked some bark-on coils that Dawn got from Margaret Matthewson last spring. The bark we peeled off after boiling made the loveliest cordage!

    1. Thanks, Teresa! Will pass that along on Facebook, where several people have asked. I had looked at Bonnie’s site and didn’t see the kind I bought lo these many years ago. Don’t know if I missed the metal
      -capped one or if it’s a recent addition, but glad to see it now!

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