Willow is a sustainable, fast-growing resource that has been used throughout history to make everything from houses, fences, baskets, furniture, and fish traps. The willow industry declined with the advent of man-made products, but today there is a growing interest in willow weaving and basketry in the form of willow sculpture, wattle fencing, and garden structures. What better way to enjoy one of the oldest-known crafts than to bring a little of that willow inside?
There are many different varieties of willow that will work for this project. Willow that is grown commercially is pruned in such a way that the plants produce long, straight, flexible rods. Whether you choose to cut your own or buy them, the willow branches you use for this project must be freshly cut, not dried. It is easiest to work with willow in early spring, just before the new leaves pop. Willow branches are pliable and easy to manipulate at this time and there aren’t leaves to remove. If you are harvesting your own willow, test the willow’s flexibility before gathering it to make sure it will work for the project. If the willow snaps when you bend it to a 45-degree angle it will be a challenge to work with. When working with willow many crafters make their own willow cordage to use while weaving, but we are going to skip that step and opt for hemp cord, which is available at craft, art, and bead stores. There are many ways to weave a willow ball—you can use a standard basket weave or a random in-and-out pattern. This project uses a free-form pattern, which will give you more flexibility in the creation of your first willow sphere. All willow ages over time, turning a slightly more gray color.
Celebrate the art of willow crafting by making willow spheres that can be used as light fixtures or displayed as indoor sculptures.
Once the spheres are complete you can choose to display them on the floor as a sculptural installation or hang them. A light bulb on a cord or a string of lights can be used inside the willow spheres to turn the project into a light fixture. If you’re using the spheres as a light fixture, I recommend hanging the sphere from its own wire or cord—don’t use the electrical cord to hang the sphere.
Willow branches that are 4 feet long will make a sphere that is roughly 18 inches in diameter; a 5-foot piece will
make a 22-inch sphere. If you do not have branches that are that long you can use two shorter pieces to make the length of a single longer piece. You can vary the number of branches you use to make the spheres—the more branches you weave in the denser the appearance. I kept mine light and airy, using roughly twenty stems per ball, slightly more for the larger sphere and slightly less for the smaller sphere. I made a total of three spheres, one each at 22 inches, 19 inches, and 16 inches.
- Willow branches (at least 20 stems per sphere
and at least 3 feet long) (A)
- Hemp cord or florist wire (B)
Light bulb or string of lights (optional)
- Pruners (C)
- Scissors (D)
If you are working with willow that has leaves, use the pruners to clip the leaves off the willow branches, clipping them off as close to the branch as possible.
Cut all the willow branches to the same length.
First you will make a set of three wreathlike structures. Begin by cutting six 4-inch lengths of hemp cord (or florist wire, if that’s what you’re using).
To create more flexibility and a rounder shape in the willow branches, gently bend each willow branch into a circle, working your way along the length of the stems.
Join the ends of the willow branch together, overlapping them by 3 to 4 inches and using 2 lengths of cord to tie the ends together. Use double knots to secure the cords around the ends, and snip off any extra cord once you have double knotted and securely attached the ends together.
Once you have completed three circles join them together in a ball-like shape. Use a piece of cord to secure the rings together at the bottom and top of the sphere.
Weave a branch through the side of the sphere to stabilize the shape, threading the branch under and over the other branches. Use more cord to secure this piece of willow at two or more points along the way.
Weave branches throughout the sphere at random spots.
At first you will need to use cord to secure the branches to other branches. Once you have built up the sphere the branches will stay in place by themselves, as the sphere becomes more rigid. The longer your willow branches are, the more stability they will offer.
Once you are finished inspect the piece for dangling cords or willow ends that stick out too far. Clean up and trim anything that needs trimming, and then the sphere is ready to display.
Now it’s your turn to get your hands dirty!
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