There are many varieties of willow,over 400 I believe! Many have wonderful names such as Black Maul, Dicky Meadows, Curly Red, and more…
Here is a little introduction to willow from my perspective as a weaver. I’ve focused on the few main ‘types’ that I use in my work, and how to prepare them. I hope this gives you some insight or guidance.
Green willow means freshly harvested willow. It does not refer to the colour but to it being freshly cut. It is very flexible to weave with and is great for beginners or anyone wanting to get straight into a willow project. It needs no soaking and can stay flexible for up to approximately 6 weeks after being cut, but do note that green rods will shrink in diameter as they dry out.
Brown willow is willow that has been dried with the bark left on. It is regularly used in basketry work and again, brown is not referring to the colour of the rod.
To prepare dried willow for weaving it needs to be submerged in cold water and left to re soak. The general rule is that you soak the rods for one day per foot, so for instance 3 foot rods will need 3 days, 5 foot rods will need 5 days, and so on. Once re soaked the rods should be wrapped in a damp (not soaking) breathable cloth/towel to mellow overnight, then it should be pliable to weave with for your project.
* To note, some factors such as very cold temperatures, and certain willow varieties, may mean longer soaking times are needed.
Buff willow is processed willow, in that the natural willow rod with its bark still on is boiled in water for a few hours. The bark softens and the process changes the colour of the rod underneath (That is how you get the lovely warm caramel ‘buff’ colour) and then the bark is removed (‘Stripped’…Another name for this willow) to leave the wonderfully smooth rod on show.
To prepare buff willow for weaving you need to submerge the rods in cold water and leave to re soak. The general rule is that you soak the rods for 1.5-2 hours however do note your suppliers instructions as some recommend an hour of soaking per foot of rod length. In my experience if soaking anything up to 5ft lengths then 1.5-2 hours works well…
Once re soaked the rods should be wrapped in a damp (not soaking) breathable cloth/towel to mellow overnight, then it should be pliable to weave with for your project.
White willow is another processed willow… ‘Green’ willow that has been freshly cut in the winter (as explained above) is left to stand in water until the sap rises in the spring, and then the willow is stripped of its bark to reveal the beautiful white/off white colour rod underneath.
To prepare white willow for weaving you need to submerge the rods in cold water and leave to re soak for approximately 1-1.5 hours. Once re soaked the rods should be wrapped in a damp (not soaking) breathable cloth/towel to mellow for a few hours/overnight, then it should be pliable to weave with for your project.
I hope you have found this introductory information useful. Willow is a fantastic material to work with and can be pretty forgiving, particularly used green or semi green. Like any material, just having a go and practicing is great learning experience. Have fun!