Irish Creels: The woven load bearing basket

creelcropLearning how to make an Irish creel was incredibly satisfying; it was so strong and practical but had a beautiful simplistic nature to it. For starters it is made in the opposite direction to traditional stake and strand flat based baskets. The stakes are put in the ground or a jig and the top of the basket is woven first. The creel does not have a woven border; instead an incredibly tight weave called the mouth-wale is used for the first round of weaving. The stakes are trimmed some two inches above this weave at the end, it clasps the rods so hard there is no risk of it slipping off in use.

bushmoot creel3The next stage is the knot weave which is a combination of French randing and a knot weave which is again unique to the creel. This can be very confusing to the beginner as the French randing travels clockwise around the basket and the knot weave travels anticlockwise. Each weave is used alternately. Mistakes are not easily forgiven as the work has to be undone until the ‘trapped rod’ can be freed and worked correctly. Once you get into the weave you begin to create solid side walls which are very tough.

Traditionally the Irish creel has a ‘window’ a space created by pushing the weavers a few inches above the last round of weaving. It gets tied in by the next knot weave which clasps the stakes similar to a fitch (a weave designed to grasp the stakes so it can be used to create space above or below it and not move). I guess this feature was put in because it looks good and there are a few less inches to weave!

Finally a ‘top knot’ is woven at the required height, the best I can describe it is a double pairing, which braids itself around each stake to create a firm layer which is used to thread through the be. The base I feel is the clever part, on a flat based basket the base takes proportionally a lot of time to weave certainly if you want a hard wearing base which will take your stakes tidily and evenly. On the Irish creel this part is omitted and instead the stakes become the base. On the long side (presuming it is a rectangular donkey creel) a warp is created, by folding down the stakes and threading them under the top knot. The short side stakes are woven under and over this warp. Hard work but not technically difficult. Finally there will be gaps so discarded pieces of willow can be used as ‘fillers’. All remains is the strength to pull the structure out of the ground or jig and trim the stakes.

The creel known in Irish as cliabh (pronounced cleeve) was a commonly used basket made for carrying turfs, seaweed and loads to and from market. The creel in Ireland took many forms according to what it carried and where it was made. The rectangular creels were used as donkey panniers to carry turf, also as back creels for people to carry heavy loads. A variation on the back creel was the shoulder creel, more suited to carrying loads short distances with the convenience of being easily emptied. In Western Ireland where seaweed was regularly gathered to fertilise the crops a creel was commonly made with a semi open base to let the water drain out. Similarly another clever variation called the pardog had a hinged bottom for facilitating the load falling out while the pannier remained straddled on the donkey. A clever trick to be sure.

Of course all these types of creel use all the same weaves and techniques, so once they have been learnt you can construct whatever shape or feature you require. The creel even gets close to being used as a cart, the Kish, is a creel fitted on a slide car which the horse pulled. Used up until the 1930’s it was especially used to bring down loads of turf from the mountain bogs. Eventually being replaced by the wheeled cart.

The creel is a basket worth making today. It can be used for storing vegetables, moving vegetables, as a back carrier for wood collection (imagine going for a walk in the woods and slinging the small branches in your back creel). I have been told by Joe Hogan (the accomplished Irish basket maker who taught me) that the creel makes an excellent bike basket. I would not say it is an easy basket to make, but I have taught the creel to a range of people and find that if we give our selves enough time to go steady, the baskets secrets unfold and the troubling knot weave eventually embeds in our brains

As a land-based worker it is well worth taking the time to learn these weaves to make useful tough baskets. It is even more convenient if you grow the willow yourself. The farms in Ireland always had a sally bed in which the willow was grown. Each year it was cut as soon as the willow was dormant during November to March. The cut willow was stored for 4-6 weeks until it was semi green. This meant it had partially dried but was still flexible giving them the best of both worlds. For another 4-6 weeks the willow would remain pliable and the farming people could make all the baskets they needed for the coming year. This naturally coincided with the quiet period on the farm.

Using this window of time to the best advantage means you do not have to re-soak the willow, considering big stuff in its dried state can take more than a day per foot to soak this saves more work. These simple ways often highlight how farmers worked with nature in a symbiotic relationship that harmed little and cared a lot more. Plastic boxes are incredibly useful but if we can replace even a proportion with 100% biodegradable crates and baskets we can make and repair with our own hands then we will be doing a service to ourselves and future generations.

Ref: Basket Making In Ireland Joe Hogan


Re-discover our ‘Out of Town’ Craft Skills

In the late 70’s there was a TV series called Out of Town and as a small child I would sit with my father and watch it with fascination. It featured Jack Hargreaves an old boy visiting the craftsman of the countryside practising their arts and telling their tales. It was a window into an alien culture as in our local town there were no blacksmiths, coopers or wheelwrights down the road but still it seemed relevant.

IMGBasketry is one of these old skills and one that has been with us from our early beginnings. The skill is essential to most of our important and diverse innovations: boats, fish traps, armour, tools, hats, bee hives, shelters and every kind of container imaginable. Each region using their locally grown materials to hand.

Some years later as an adult I had left the city pioneering a simpler and more sustainable livelihood. I was drawn into hedgerow and willow basketry, I learnt frame baskets first, as they are easy to construct and use only one weave: randing. You gain a feel for the materials, and then start remembering the DSCF0003repetitive patterns and techniques which help shape your work. At the end of the day you can bathe in the satisfaction of making a practical container which is made from 100% natural materials and with care and repair can last 50 years. As time went by I continued to add to my skills, learning many more techniques which have included donkey panniers, lobster pots, plant supports, coracles and hurdles.

Rediscovering the ‘out of town’ craft skills for real I realised the TV series was not a sentimental walk through a bygone era but a path to re-discover skills and RedFireFarm2.jpgknowledge from the past that did not harm the earth and had answers to some of our most pressing environmental crisis. How do we change the way we live? If we seriously look into how we reduce our CO2 emissions by 80% we see that re-ruralisation, localised organic agriculture and re-localised economies will be the dominant 21st century trend. For us to drive this trend from the grass roots we need to pioneer ways out of the city: re-skill and re-learn what we are doing and why we are doing it. We have to be the change we want to see.

shavinghorses 020I am part of the Rural Skills Trust, a not for profit group set up to advance education and training in sustainable rural skills which conserves and protects the environment and in particular focuses on the threats of and practical solutions to climate change. At present we are focusing on sustainable skills in farming and forestry such as hedgelaying, hedgerow renovation, basketry and coppice practice. Skills which inspire people to change their lives and livelihoods. We encourage education, self enquiry and dialectic as a means of collective action. We are informed by the wisdom of the Buddhas as a path to taking appropriate action on climate change. The Trust is part of the 4nobletruths of climate change project ( We are always interested in talking to people who would like to get actively involved in this project.

RST are teaching the ‘out of town’ basketry skills camps as I believe there is a new wave of   land-based workers, permaculturists, small holders who would find these skills useful in their daily working lives. Such basketry skills were commonly used in our recent past, passed on through family members, young farmers clubs and community ties. We can re-learn these skills today.

We will be running 4 day basketry skills camps this June and July in rural Carmarthenshire. The course is an intensive designed to pass on the basic skills and knowledge for the landbased worker to make the baskets they need for their practical work and domestic life.

On this course you will decide how you use your time and what projects you wish to learn. You can book all four days or a few days.

applepickerChoice of projects: Celtic Frame basket, Basket with side handles, Handled carrying basket, Celtic Creel, other projects: apple picker, herb and flower drying basket and plant supports.

Added value: Handouts and book recommendations, short films on basketry shown on projector in evenings.

Venue: Tibetan Shelter next to woodland Newcastle Emlyn West Wales

Camping on site: £5 per person per night.


Fri-Sun June 5th -8th

Mon-Thurs June 15th-18th

Fri-Sun July 3rd-6th

Cost 4 days £160 (per day £40)

To book a place or more Information mob 07964530436