Review of the book Basketry – The Art of Willow Craft
by Lise Bech
Lise Bech is a world-renowned basketmaker and artist from Great Britain, but Denmark is her place of origin. In Denmark, basketry is very popular and there are many books on the subject. I was honored when Lise decided to write a full review of my book to inform western basketmakers about my eastern European viewpoint on the subject.
When she emailed me the review, she introduced it with this:
“You have created a fantastic book and I think it will be a resource for many in years to come!”
In 2007 Peter Juriga, a Slovak graphic designer and basketmaker published the book ‘Košikárstvo’, – the culmination of many years of learning, practising 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 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 e.g. Madeira and Frame baskets. The final chapters bring us up to date with what is happening in Slovak 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 characterised 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 labelled 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 what others might call them?!
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 the craft in another country – not that far away but but enough for it to be different and one might feel that the English title should have included ‘….in Slovakia’.
This becomes both its strength and its weakness. At £60 it is an expensive book but if you want to include the English tradition or even be global rather than Slovakian you will need other books/teachers.
With this proviso I can highly recommend the book to makers of all levels as I am sure there is something of interest and use to all.
by Lizzie Farey
Lizzie Farey is a world-renowned artist from Great Britain, who has used traditional basketry in her work, but in her latest period she mainly orients herself around tender, beautiful, gorgeous willow works designed for walls.
“Peter Juriga’s book ‘BASKETRY – The Art of Willow Craft’ is a definitive guide for basketmakers at all levels.
Taking over a decade to write, Juriga’s passion and enthusiasm for working with willow comes across in every page of this delightful book. The meticulous step-by step instructions and exceptionally clear photographs provide a clear and thorough reference to all the practical skills needed to be a successful basketmaker.
A section on the history of basketmaking in Slovakia will inspire you with beautiful old photographs, and the chapter on finding wild willows to weave will take you out into the countryside connecting you to nature and the excitement of cutting your own rods.
Clearly Juriga loves his work, this comprehensive book is full of helpful hints and encouragement, luring us into his world and unlocking the door to this absorbing and some would say addictive craft.”
by Camille Vermot
Camille works for a basketry association in the greatest centre of French basketry – in Faile-Billot, the setting for the oldest extant basketry school in the world.
“I took the time to read your entire book. It was very interesting and instructive. It’s very well done, quite precise and well-illustrated. The technical instructions are understandable and the English translation is skillful. It’s a precious book, allowing the reader to thoroughly understand the development and organization of basketry in Slovakia.”
Weaving Development and Promotion Committee
by Joe Hogan
Joe is located in Ireland and is famous for his artwork that uses traditional Irish basketry techniques that incorporates wood, lichen and other natural components. He takes his inspiration from the nature that surrounds him in Loch na Fooey.
“The book Basketry – The Art of Willow Craft is a very good introduction to basketry techniques and it also covers some quite complex techniques. It is written in a style which is easy to follow and the illustrations are clear and easy to follow.
This book would work very well as an introduction to basketry techniques since it covers all of the basic techniques you need to know to make a basket.
In the book there were a few techniques which were new to me and might not be that familiar to many basketmakers whose tradition is from the western part of Europe. I found the images of historical works – especially those of fences and farms carts – very interesting. So it would be a good book for even an experienced maker, as they may well learn new techniques.
In summary, Peter Juriga has written a fine book in a style that is easy to understand. In my opinion, a book works best when people are showing from their own experience and this Peter did very well.”
Basketmaker and artist from Ireland
by Marek Czech
Marek is keen beginning basketmaker who is living in UK but hails from Poland – a country with a big history of basketry and willow cultivation. He found my book at Lise Bech’s workshop at the time she was working on her review. Marek borrowed the book from her and immediately decided he had to have his own copy. He had two years of experience in basketmaking when he wrote his review.
“I decided to buy this book because I found everything in it that I was looking for about basketry. There is a bit of history, a bit of willow growing, how to treat it and with what, and a lot of useful tips with clear pictures. When I went through the book I got the idea of how beautiful, useful, and necessary the knowledge of basketmaking is. I would recommend it to everyone who is interested in willow basketry. This book is perfect for everybody, from beginners with willow to already skilled basketmakers. For me, the most useful parts in the book are the new basketmaking projects. I think all information in the book can be useful because we forget things and this book is the best tool to revive our knowledge. The pictures in the book are very clear and understandable even without reading the captions. The book doesn’t need to be improved!”
Polish resident of the UK
by Klaus Titze
Klaus is artist from Denmark. He is author of the innovative rope coil weaving style. He is very concentrated about developing new surfaces and combinations of willow with other materials.
“I think your book is a good help for a basic training. It is amazing how specific, step by step, you show and explain wickerworks for new beginners. It is also a good reminder for people who join courses and need a reminder. So congratulations for this great work”
by Madame Twig
We are willow growers who teach basketry classes in Canada.
This book is beautifully presented and a valuable tool for basket weavers of all levels. Although some of the techniques differ from the way we teach, we feel it is a good resource for learning. It is an extremely comprehensive, well-illustrated book.
The Branch Ranch & Warkworth Willow Works
How to purchase the book
When you are from the other part of the world write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org