Willow Notes from Summer 2017

It’s been a while since I took time to write, so to catch up a bit I’ll focus on topics — starting with willow. I’ll write on indigo and other natural dye materials soon.

Willow bark natural dye on wool.

This season has been a good one for peeling willow bark. I was able to peel before and after going to the Willow Gathering at Luther College in June. With some of the early harvest it was easy to separate outer and inner bark, so in addition to natural dye material I got a basket full of inner bark dried for cordage.

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Frosted Indigo

It was a risk to set out indigo so early here in northern Wisconsin, even under cloches. So far, it’s only a partial success, but I’m learning more about how much I can get away with where the growing season is so short.


All of the indigo growing in double buckets seemed OK after nighttime temperatures dipped to 30 degrees. Then it got even colder. 

They might have fared better if I had given them additional cover when the forecast was a low of 28 degrees. But the point of this experiment (besides extending the season) is to see how much I can get away with. So that night, we covered the asparagus and left the indigo to live or die under the cloches. The plants were definitely frosted. They might have recovered eventually, but today I replanted with the leggy seedlings I had indoors. This is still earlier than I’ve ever had indigo out.


The indigo in the recycled horse trough bed was also frosted, but two of the plants looked good enough for another experiment. I replanted some, but kept two of the frosted ones to see how they compare in a couple of weeks.

If what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, these frosted indigo plants might become very strong indeed.

An Early Start For Indigo

I’ve lived in Northern Wisconsin for 30 years and the only month where I’ve never seen frost is July — but I’ve heard it can happen. My growing season for tender plants like Japanese indigo is generally from early June to mid-September. This year, I’m trying to extend that season on the front end.  I’m hoping I won’t have to bring potted plants indoors in the fall to protect them from frost while seeds mature for the next year’s crop.

Previously, I started my indigo seeds at the end of April and set the plants out under milk jug cloches after Memorial Day. Our ground can stay cold well into June, and the cloches act like mini greenhouses. This year, though, I started seeds in early April, and set the seedlings out under cloches on April 24.

We’re expecting overnight temperatures in the high 20s later this week, which might put a quick end to this experiment. To be safe, I have more seedlings indoors and can replant if necessary.


This is the first time I’ve used a heat mat under the flat while germinating the seeds. In the past, I put containers on top of our 55 gallon aquarium. Without the aquarium for warmth, I splurged on a $17 heat mat that I only used for a couple of days.

I don’t have grow lights, so my seedlings get leggy pretty fast. On April 20, I transferred some seedlings into yogurt containers. That should give them enough soil to thrive in case they’re indoors another four to six weeks. These are my insurance policy, in case this experiment in pushing the season fails.

If the seedlings that went outside already do succumb to frost this week, I have seedlings left in the flat for replanting — several times, if necessary. But I have high hopes for this experiment. I’ll keep you posted.

Willow Identification

Years ago at a workshop, I picked up another basketmaker’s trimmings to make cuttings for my own willow patch. Over the years, that variety’s leaves and bark have become among my favorite for natural dye. But I never knew what variety it was.

This video shows key features for identifying willow species in the United States. I believe the willow I’ve been trying to identify is peachleaf willow, salix amygdaloides.

Before I started growing named cultivars bred for basketry, I harvested and wove a lot of the willow that grows wild here in rural northern Wisconsin. I wish this video had been around then!

Looping On The Road

Embarrassing things happen when you travel. At least, I like to think it’s not just me who occasionally looks around in relief that I will probably never have to face these people again. I’ll leave much to your imagination and just share today’s addition to things I hope never to repeat.

This is not the yarn or project I planned to bring on this trip. I’m heading to Florida to move my parents again, to a different assisted living/memory care facility. I know I won’t have much time for stitching the next two weeks. But you might have heard that bad weather has wrecked havok on air travel this week.

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Fuegian Coiling

At the Northwest Basket Weavers winter retreat, one of the workshops I taught was a technique known as Fuegian coiling, which is basically simple looping over a core element.

Fuegian coiling samples by Donna Kallner.

I picked up the technique (including its name) from Osma Gallinger Tod’s book Earth Basketry. Over the years I’ve applied the concept to materials ranging from bark and cordage to velvet and satin cores. Definitely not traditional — but then, it’s hard to find much information about the basketry traditions of Tierra del Fuego and the Fuegian culture area. And I’ve never had the opportunity to travel to the southernmost tip of South America.

Baskets in museum in Tierra del Fuego photo by Jeannie Averbeck.

So I really appreciate when someone who has visited sorts through travel photos and sends some to me to share with others. It’s even better when that someone sees through a basketmaker’s eyes. These photos are from Jeannie Averbeck. The image above is one she took in a museum.

This is from the marketplace in Punta Arenas, Chile.

That’s where Jeannie met Carolina, a basketmaker…

…and snapped this picture in Carolina’s market booth….

…and purchased this small basket worked in the technique Osma Gallinger Tod identified as Fuegian coiling.

Fuegian coiling produces a looser structure than other indigenous coiling traditions, at least in my experience. From my reading, I have assumed this is because these nomads kept fewer material goods, and since they didn’t expect them to last as long they chose faster techniques to make what they needed when they needed it from materials on hand at the time. This would help explain why there are fewer examples of Fuegian coiling cataloged in digital museum collections.

If you’re googling, you might include include as search terms “Yaghan”, “Yamana” and “Ona”. That led me to a post not directly related to basketry but definitely worth a read: http://indigenousboats.blogspot.com/2011/01/yamana-bark-canoe.html

Thank you, Jeannie, for sharing these images!

Inspiration From Looped Bags

At the Northwest Basket Weavers winter retreat, I had the pleasure of seeing some looped bags collected by other people. This often happens when I give a lecture. I’m always grateful when people share their finds with me and allow me to share them with you — even when I lose sleep trying to figure them out.

Looped string bag from Sharle Osborne.

Sharle Osborne brought several lovely bags to show me, including this one. Its size, shape and stiffness at first had me thinking it might have been a camel muzzle, like this one from the Pitt River Museum.

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Plugging In For A Winter Recharge

When winter days are dark and short, I really appreciate the things that help recharge my creative energy. Things like planning a summer workshop (Sievers class registration opens today). Or going to a winter retreat — that’s what I did in January. After teaching at the Northwest Basket Weavers winter event, I came home charged up with ideas I can’t wait to explore.

I’ll save pictures of looped bags people brought to show me for my next post and focus this time on classes and retreat events. Continue reading Plugging In For A Winter Recharge

Packing Light

After Christmas I packed and sent off materials for workshops in Washington next week. I managed to fit materials for five workshops at the Northwest Basket Weaver’s winter retreat in two flat-rate Priority Mail boxes, with just enough room to slip in a few tea bags. Packing light is a skill developed through practice, and I’m always learning. 

It may take me a bit longer to set up for the netting class, since I decided not to ship the homebrewed tension jigs I like to use (heavy) or C-clamps (heavier). But students will be able to keep the cord I sent instead, and I’ll teach them how to tie a tension aid themselves (that trucker’s hitch is a useful knot). 

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