Basketry: The Art of Willow Craft

Book review by Lise Bech

In 2007 Peter Juriga, a Slovak graphic designer and basketmaker published the book ‘Kosikarstvo’, the culmination of many years of learning, practicing and writing about basketry. The book was of such a high standard that the Slovak Ministry of Education made it recommended reading.

Many of us would have rejoiced in this level of achievement and left it at that, – but not Peter. He wanted it translated into English. He happened to meet NBO member Katherine Lewis at the World Festival of Wicker and Basketry in Poland, enrolled her assistance and allied himself with an international group of English speaking makers who were willing to help (and a professional translator). I agreed to edit the two pages of basket anatomy and terminology – which was more challenging than I had anticipated – and had virtually forgotten all about it when a weighty A4 hardback tome arrived at my door.

“Basketry, the Art of Willow Craft” is instantly impressive with over 1100 illustrations on its 250 pages. The first chapter covers the history of traditional basketry in Slovakia with many most interesting illustrations showing both forms unique to this country, including some agricultural screens and walls, as well as techniques generally seen all over Europe eg Madeira and Frame baskets. The final chapters bring us up to date with what is happening in basketry today showing examples professional makers and attempts to keep the craft up to date.

Chapters on sourcing willow from the wild, cultivation, harvesting and willow preparation follow. I am particularly grateful for the attention given to how-to-test-unknown-willow’s-suitability-for-basketry, which happens to rhyme with my own procedure (!!) but I am not aware of seeing it in print before and so well illustrated.

Now at page 60 we are raring to get started. And the reader gets a lot of help! This book is characterized by its copious step-by-step illustrations throughout. As a teacher you are sometimes stuck for explanatory words and ” Watch my hands” – to quote Colin Manthorpe – becomes the shorthand for a lot of words. Peter has taken the trouble and hundreds of photographs to describe each stage, step by step, both in words and illustrations – all clearly labeled in the text with numbered weavers, red arrows and the occasional line drawing, making this a book to have in the workshop (and it stays open on the page you want). In addition many pages have a sections highlighted in green with extra tips/information, often quoting professional makers.

As a way of illustrating this, the willow weaver will appreciate that after 30+ images have been used to get the base as far as having opened up the slath sticks (2 sets of pairing/twining), Peter proceeds with another 30 photos to take us through completing the base in French randing…. starting with butts! This appears to be the traditional way and whilst I am glad not to have to teach it, I was particularly interested to see this as it explained why Peter needed an English term for the slath with just 2 sets of pairers/twiners having been woven. What would I call it? I called it ‘the spider’ or ‘the sun’ but these seem very 21stC terms and not at all traditional let alone correct!

Peter perseveres in this detailed fashion through oval and square work to lids, handles, bottle covering to the more exotic but traditional mid European whips. Having covered the various techniques, a recipe section sets the reader up well to succeed with precise numbers/sizes of rods needed for a range of baskets. Another section covers how to mend accidents and repair baskets.

I did not in all fairness try any of the instructions out myself but when I get a chance I look forward to trying out the mid European upset using the stakes and /or inserting a waler in each space not to mention ‘speed randing’.  I lent the book to a keen beginner who upon returning it commented: “It explains and shows clearly and in the best way the magic of basketmaking.”

From a north European point of view it is interesting to note that English randing is not used at all while many versions of French randing are described. The prevalence of using green willow is a bit confusing and I had to chuckle when my favourite shopper handle herringbone finish was described as ‘showy’.

This book is a stunning achievement bearing witness to the author’s love and knowledge of basketry, his graphic design skills and sense of dedication to record and promote his craft. To the English speaking audience it is in addition a tour (de force) of the craft in another country – not that far away but enough for it to be different and one might feel that the title should have included ‘…. in Slovakia’.

With this proviso I can highly recommend the book to makers of all levels.

The book is available from The Basket Maker’s Catalog

Contact the book’s author at Peter Juriga 

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