Learn Willow Basketry
A Plant for the Times
Our ancestors wove baskets. Basketmaking is one of the original ways humans around the world constructed the containers needed for every day use throughout history. And generally speaking, the way we weave willow today is the same way people wove thousands of years ago. This is because willow work has never been machinized, materials are grown or gathered straight from the earth, and few tools are needed for construction.
As an agricultural endeavor, willow is an excellent choice of perennial crop to add to farm, homestead, urban garden, or landscaping project for a number of reasons. It is a keystone species in the many places it grows as a native, supporting life of a myriad of plant, animal, and insect companions. It helps drain and evaporate flood waters, removes heavy metals and other pollutants from soil and thus watersheds, and combats erosion of topsoil.
Also, and arguably most importantly, willow is a wildly understated powerhouse crop for carbon sequestration. Because of the sheer amount of woodacious material - aka carbon - even a small coppice produces when cut back each year, willow deserves a front and center spotlight in the regenerative farming and carbon sequestration research fields.
As climate chaos increases around the world, we must have all hands on deck in every level of the fight to mitigate and minimize the harms happening to humans and nonhumans alike - especially those who are most vulnerable to its impacts. For those of us with access to even a small amount of land, applying agricultural practices that get carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil - and in this case, into baskets and other functional crafts - is both a graspable and essential way to engage in climate activism.
At the same time, in a world overrun with earth-killing plastics and impossibly fragile global supply chains, I believe it is essential we return to & reinvent sustainable traditional crafts in order to reduce our reliance on mass-produced fossil fuel-dependent goods whose production & waste streams endanger life on earth. Because this great need is naturally coalescing with a time in history when people around the world are longing to reconnect with the land, with old ways of living with the earth, and craft better futures for all, many eager new willow weavers are appearing at this moment all over the map.
And so, as a response to all of the above, I want you to envision with me a full scale willow revival in the bioregions this incredible plant teacher loves to grow. Picture every town and city filling its unused lawn or empty land sites not filled with perennial food crops with willow grows that support a local economy of basketmakers providing the containers needed by the immediate local community. Picture the beautiful rainbow of bark lighting up our public spaces, bringing color and cheer and life to our landscapes.
This is why I grow willow, why I weave, why I choose to teach this craft despite the long hours and hard work and difficulty to make a living. We are not just weaving baskets when we pick up the rod and the knife - we are weaving a new world with pieces of the old one, paving a way for a more imaginable future for those to whom we will be the weaving ancestors.
Starting Spring 2023, I am thrilled to be able to offer limited one-on-one lessons and mini apprenticeships to those looking to begin their journeys as willow weavers at our new farm and basketry studio in southwest Wisconsin.
I know from experience that finding willing and quality instruction in willow basketry can be exceptionally difficult. This is why, though I am far from an expert in this vast, multidimensional craft, I prioritize sharing it with others as one way of being a working craftsperson. As an ethic, I would rather show folks how to make their own baskets and grow their own willow and be a part of nurturing craft empowerment than to sell baskets as products.
As someone who has taught beginner level students in other mediums for a number of years, I am skilled at accommodating diverse learning styles as folks begin to cultivate this highly challenging new skill. I especially love holding space for queer, trans, and other folks who may have more limited access to spaces of rural refuge and have traditionally not been served by the folk skills world, as well as learners who are interested in cultivating a long-term stewardship relationship with the willows.
Students taking lessons will receive quality and attentive individual instruction and can expect to complete beautiful basketry work they will be proud of, as well as the skills to continue with the craft on their own. There are several options available for both local and further flung students, and you can view those options and apply below. I will get back to prospective students via email when availability opens and next steps can be taken.
If you are applying from outside the midwest, I may see if you're interested in being connected with a more local teacher if there are any near you, though I'm open to accepting students from anywhere.
Learning to work with willow in a beginner capacity requires a significant investment of time, physical strength, focus, and commitment - almost always more than what folks' were expecting, especially if a student has a background in lighter basketry or gentler hand crafts. I have heard craftspeople I know say that willow basketry is one of the more difficult crafts they've attempted to learn. Teaching this challenging specialty skill to beginners in a comprehensive way is accordingly intensive, and I try to reflect that in the tuition for lessons.
To keep this offering sustainable, I typically charge $30 / hour for teaching time with materials included. It costs around $50 in materials to make a medium sized willow basket for reference. Installment plans for lessons are an option for the full rate of the scale.
Work trade and partial work trade on our farm is seasonally available in a limited capacity for all learning options. As a new farm, the work to plug into literally never ends! Read more about the work trade program below.
If you would rather attend a fun group class experience, check out the dates for Basket Camp 2023!
Lessons Options for Local Students
2-Day Beginner Immersion - $420
2 days is the minimum study time I offer for beginner-level students. In 2-day immersions, students will commute daily to Anni's workshop and should be prepared to work for two full days in a row from from 9 AM - 5 PM. Depending on student skill level, the student can expect to complete at least one round-based stake and strand basket, and have the basic skills to be able to continue study on their own. 14 hours of instruction, willow, and informational materials for continued learning are included.
3-Day Beginner Immersion - $520
The 3 day immersion is for students who want to take their time weaving their first basket(s) or get a little more thorough in building these skills for the first time. Students will commute to Anni's workshop and should block off 3 full days for working each day 10 AM - 5 PM. Depending on student skill level, students will complete multiple bases, potentially multiple round-based stake and strand baskets, get to experiment with handle-making and strapping, and feel confident continuing study on their on. Students will also be introduced to the art of growing and coppicing willow and have the option of coppicing their own willow for their weaving projects, an essential skill to learn for continued practice. 20 hours of instruction, willow, optional coppicing, and materials for continued learning are included.
If you're looking for longer term and/or ongoing instruction that will support you in solidifying your beginner round-base skills, move you on to more complex techniques like oval base / pack baskets, and support in establishing a willow garden of your own so you can continue weaving at home, you are welcome to apply for the local apprenticeship. All beginner-level apprenticeships must start with a 2-day immersion, so if you're curious about apprenticeship, you can start by booking a 2-day to begin the process of exploring your relationship to the willows. If you'd like to continue study after your beginner session, we can work out an arrangement that works for everyone and suits your learning goals and needs.
If you are looking to come and learn from afar and would like to find your own accommodations during your stay, you are welcome to utilize the local pricing tiers for your lessons. If you'd like to stay on-farm during your time here, keep reading for our farm stay options!
Farm Stays & Personal Basketry Retreats
Canvas Bell Tent with Cozy Camp Bed by the River: $50 / night
Willow Studio: $50 / night
Personal Tent Camping on the Land: $25 / night
Being newly on the land, we are still setting up many of our amenities for guest stays, but our facilities will soon include access to outhouse, basic outdoor kitchen setup, outdoor bathing area with hot water, and for the options we provide shelter for, a bed with all linens provided.
Mini-Apprenticeship and Farm Stay
If you're looking for longer term and/or ongoing instruction that will support you in solidifying your beginner round-base skills, move you on to more complex techniques like oval base / pack baskets, and support in establishing a willow garden of your own so you can continue weaving throughout your life, you are welcome to apply for a mini apprenticeship. Visiting apprentices are invited to come to the farm for 5 days or more of immersive learning - beginner into intermediate willow basketry - and are invited to help shape a learning curriculum that suits their individual learning goals and needs. In the mini apprenticeship, you will work one on one with Anni for 5 full days - or more if you choose and we can accommodate that - and will have the option to stay at Red Tail Farm on the beautiful West Fork of the Kickapoo River in a cozy abode for the duration of your stay. The mini-apprenticeship for visiting students is application based, as there are only so many slots for these throughout the year.
As mentioned above, limited work trade spots are available to cover full and partial tuition for all of the learning options available. Most people who apply for lessons request a work trade spot, and unfortunately we aren't able to accommodate everyone!
Work exchangers will spend their work trade days on our small, perennial and agroforestry based farm, helping tend to the native, medicinal, perennial plants, working in the garden, and helping us maintain the systems on our land that support the educational opportunities here. The farm is situated on 27 acres on the Kickapoo River, and is a beautiful place to spend some days working hard outdoors.
Work trade opportunities happen primarily in the transitional seasons and require flexible availability primarily in March - May and October - December. Some possible trade activities one could expect in work trade positions are: prepping willow and other garden beds for planting, planting and harvesting willow, sorting willow, setting up drip irrigation and other water systems, planting fruit and nut trees, making perennial garden beds, splitting and stacking wood, making and maintaining trails, workshop maintenance, invasive species removal, and more.
The work trade exchange works like this: I try to pay myself $30 / hour for teaching, and compensate basic farm labor starting at $15 / hour (the average rate in our area is $10-$12 / hour for reference). This is the highest wage I can afford to compensate short term labor that requires a lot of training and comes with an unknown degree of skill and capacity.
However, learning the skills associated with growing and processing willow for basketry during a work trade is an essential part of basketry education that work traders get to experience hands-on and other students do not necessarily get. Traveling work traders are welcome to stay on farm in personal camps or in provided accommodations with a small add-on to their overall lessons.
These are the main requirements for entering a work trade relationship for lessons and outlines how I choose my work exchangers:
1. You are flexible and available during timeframes in which work projects are happening and help is needed, which can be unpredictable given the nature of farming
2. You are able-bodied and able to work hard outdoors for long hours in a variety of weather situations, including cold and wet
3. You have some prior farm or other physical labor experience
If you want to propose a trade of goods for lessons, some acceptable trades are: home-raised meat, fruit and nut trees, farm animals, hands-on bodywork, skilled craft wares like furniture, bark or brain tanned leather, etc., and potentially 2 or 3D art in limited capacity.
For reference since request rates are high: trades I almost never accept are herbal wares, vegetables or veggie CSA shares, life coaching, non-hands-on wellness offerings (astrology, reiki, etc), or canned goods.