I've been trying to contact a family friend for the last few days and finally got ahold of her this morning. Her name is Margaret Mathewson, and she is a highly skilled basket weaver who lives in the coast range of Oregon in Lobster Valley. She is a celebrated ethnobotanist and fiber artist with a great knowledge of willow. It turns out she's giving a workshop on willow tomorrow (May 23rd) in Monmouth. The workshop costs $65 dollars for the class. I know it's kind of late notice and a bit pricey, so I don't really expect anyone to be able to go, but I thought I would throw it out there if anyone is interested. Here's a link to the nursery if you want to go.
Regardless, I'm hoping to go down to her farm sometime in the near future and get a tour of her property. It's an incredibly beautiful place. She grows tons of willow for weaving. If anyone is interested, I would be happy to have people come along and we can pick her brain while taking in the scenery. Maybe we can organize something once school is finished?
Here's what I've learned about willow so far:
When using it for basketry, it should be harvested in the winter months when the sap isn't running (usually January). It can be used immediately for weaving or dried and stored for use at a later time. When using dried willow, you need to soak it for a few days before it becomes pliable enough to weave with. If you're a master weaver, I guess you also mellow out the willow after soaking it by wrapping it in wet blankets for a number of hours/days. As we were discussing in class, the bark can be stripped or left on depending on what you're doing. Leaving bark on makes it stronger. Stripping it makes it more pliable and easier to work with. Willow is also stripped to cut down on bug damage (the bugs like to live under the bark) The cool thing about willow is that you use one year's growth, so it can be harvested every year. You basically cut it back a foot from the base (called coppicing) and this allows it the send up suckers that are continuous and without any branches, which is what you want for weaving. When stripping the bark from willow, you need to do it in late spring/early summer when the sap starts to run. This makes it possible to remove the bark easily. If you wait too long into the growing season, though, the bark tightens and becomes very difficult to remove.