Rachel is a willow weaver making baskets, sculptures, and other decorative home and garden items. Having been a gardener for many years, Rachel was looking for a change, and wanted to work with sustainable, natural materials. She is a firm believer that the functional should also be beautiful.
She became intrigued with willow weaving and attended basket weaving classes to learn the craft, and has since spent time in the Highlands and Yorkshire refining her sculpting techniques. Rachel works from her home in Abernethy, under the name Rachel’s Willow Designs. She also enjoys taking commissions for baskets and sculptures, knowing that each design is unique with its own personality.
Rachel is inspired by the beautiful countryside around her home in rural Perthshire, and the changing natural colours of each season influence her designs. Willow is a tactile and versatile material which Rachel loves experimenting with. By using different colours of willow and a range of weaves, she adds texture and interest to her designs. Key to the ethos of her weaving is the sustainability of willow. Each plant is coppiced and harvested annually for many years, absorbing carbon and providing a habitat for wildlife as it grows.
Initially Rachel plans the colour and weave of a piece calculating the number, length and variety of willow rods needed. The willow is graded by height, and Rachel also sorts by thickness to give an even finish. It is soaked in a tank until flexible and depending on the variety and height, can take days or even weeks to be ready, patience is definitely required! Prior to weaving, it is wrapped in cloth and left to mellow overnight. The slath is made up of the thickest, strongest rods and is woven out to form the basket base. The second thickest rods are used as stakes and are given an angled cut called a slype to insert them into the base. Rachel uses a knife to turn the stakes upwards. A 3-rod wale is normally used to hold the stakes in place before a decorative weave, such as a French Rand or English Rand, which adds colour and texture to the design.
Rachel loves this repetitive weave and meditative process and seeing it steadily inch up the stakes. A key part of the process is to use a rapping iron to bash down the weave to ensure it is compact and level. Lastly, the border is laid down using the remainder of the stakes making a strong and decorative edge to the basket, which Rachel often enhances with either a woven willow or a solid wood handle, foraged from local woodlands. Finally, Japanese snips are used to trim off any spare willow leaving clean, angled cuts for a sleek finish.
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