At Home: For an utterly wicker experience ...

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Until recently, willow baskets were as fashionable as lace-up shoes and bikes with mudguards. Now, as Rosalind Russell writes, you cannot open a glossy home magazine without seeing them and other willow containers squatting in kitchen units, in place of drawers, or lined up along shelves tagged with luggage labels listing the contents.

Stylists, who obviously do not have bulging cupboards and crammed drawers in their own homes, declare wicker is the way forward for storage. Bad luck for those who hoard bundles of three-year-old gas bills, but it is good news for a select bunch who may have felt left out on a limb in the scramble for high-tech living.

One of those stripping the willow is Susie Thomson, a basket weaver who admits the craft's image has been "desperate" ... until now.

"It has been very hard to get away from the occupational therapy image," admits Ms Thomson, a recently elected Yeoman member of the Worshipful Company of Basket Makers. "Remember all those wooden trays everybody used to make?"

Ms Thomson, who grows and harvests six varieties of willow on a south London allotment, makes baskets destined for more up-market homes. She has had commissions from Egg, a Knightsbridge shop selling expensive clothes and home accessories, and from Marston and Langinger, which makes conservatories and furnishings for them.

A Susie Thomson shopping basket in the "strawberry" design, indented to follow the curves of your body while being carried, is likely to cost you pounds 75.

"People don't expect to find a basket maker in Battersea," she acknowledges. The weaving is done in a workshop at the foot of her garden - unheated as the willow cannot be allowed to dry out. Harvesting the willow from the tennis court-sized allotment in Norbury must be done in winter when the sap is low, and the willow used within six weeks. Commercial willow strippers use machines, but Ms Thomson does hers by hand. A wet spring such as last one encourages the willow to grow and her new crop was 8ft high when it was coppiced. When her own allotment does not yield enough willow, it can be bought in from growers in Somerset and Belgium.

A basket can take a day to weave, depending on the complexity. A pedlar basket - big enough to be regarded as a piece of furniture - can be used to store bed linen, towels or blankets and costs pounds 180.

A traditional bride's basket, costing pounds 90, takes around nine hours and makes an unusual wedding present. The design was inspired by a Bavarian tradition of giving a bride woven baskets to carry her dowry from her father's house to her new husband's house. "There would have been different kinds, from a white willow basket for clean laundry to others used for fruit and vegetables and they would have been carried in a procession, the number showing the status of the family," Ms Thomson says.

"Most people have a good understanding of other crafts like pottery but think of basket weavers as trolls sitting in a cave, weaving away. I am quite passionate about putting style into it."

Commissions can take up to 16 weeks. Ms Thomson will be exhibiting at the Country Living Fair in London from 25 to 29 March.

There are, of course, also mass market baskets, which can be found quite easily.

Next Interiors offers a wicker storage box with side handle and hinged lid (62cm long, 38cm wide, 38cm deep) at pounds 59.99, and a set of three shallow storage trays at pounds 19.99. Lakeland sells willow shelf baskets, suitable for kitchen or bathroom storage, at pounds 12.95 for two, and a willow basket trio - three sturdy baskets with wooden handles - for pounds 16.95. The Pier's Milano sideboard houses three large wicker baskets instead of cupboards or drawers and costs pounds 149. And Debenhams sells a square wicker chest, suitable for blankets, at pounds 50 and bakers' baskets with handles on the sides from pounds 10.

Susie Thomson 0171 223 4806; Next Interiors 0116 284 9424; Lakeland 015394 88100; The Pier 0171 637 7001; Debenhams enquiries 0171 408 4444.

Comments