Begin by sorting the willow rods (withies) into bundles of the same length. This is known as DRAFTING. Take a handful of withies and grasp them at the tip end. Raise them to a vertical position so that the butt end is next to the floor and give them a shake. All the shorter withies will fall to the floor leaving you holding only the longer rods. You can repeat the process using the shorter rods which will result in having three bundles of long, medium and short withies. The next stage in the sorting process is to sort for thickness. This is done by taking a handful of withies in your left hand and passing them individually across to your right hand. Examine each withy at about 6 inches to 12 inches from the butt end and select the thickness you require passing it to your right hand. Any withies that are either too thick or too thin are allowed to drop on to the floor and you will end up with your right hand full of rods of uniform thickness. Uniformity of thickness is quite important especially in the stakes as these will eventually form the border of the basket and it looks neater if they are all about the same thickness.
To make a STAKE AND STRAND round basket you will need 4 thicknesses of withies. The thickest rods will be used for your base sticks. The next thickest for the stakes. The next for the waling and the thinnest for the weavers.
To make a small round basket you will need
6 thick rods - 24 stakes - 12 waling rods - 24 weavers
You now need to soak the willow to make it pliable. The soaking time is dependant on the type of willow you are using. This can be up to a week if you are using unstripped (brown willow) to an hour or so for buff willow. You must gauge your soaking time from experience. The willow is ready when it will bent to more than 90 degrees without breaking and if bent further will "kink" rather than break. When you think you have soaked it enough you must "mellow" it overnight. To mellow the willow you take your soaked rods and wrap them up in a damp cloth or polythene and leave overnight in a cool place. The rods are then ready to use.
Take the six thickest rods and cut off 10 inches form the butt end. These will be your base sticks. You must now split the centre of three of these sticks and thread the remaining three sticks through the split. To do this place one of the sticks on your plank and push your knife through the stick on to the plank making sure that you place the blade exactly in the centre of the stick. If the stick is curved, as many of them will be, make sure that the curve is flat on the plank. This natural curve will be useful for making the crown on the base. Open out the split using either your knife or a bodkin and push a second stick through the gap. Now split another stick and thread it on to the second stick alongside the first alternating butt to tip and making sure that any curves are going the same way. Repeat with another stick. You will now have three sticks with splits in the middle and one stick passing through the slits. Push the remaining two sticks through the splits next to the second stick. You will now have a cross formed by three sticks passing through the centre splits of another three sticks as in the diagram below,