The name “osier” refers to a number of species of willow tree that produce long, narrow, flexible branches that are especially valued in basket-making. It can also refer to the branch itself (also called a “withy”).
The best-known of the species is the common osier or basket willow (Salix viminalis).
The art and craft of willow basket-making is ancient and widespread, with long traditions in Europe, East Asia, and the Americas. Willow-work is not limited to baskets, however. According to James Arnold’s book The Shell Book of Country Crafts (1968), osiers (or withies) play a role in many essential crafts including: thatching, basketry, hurdle-making (livestock enclosures), and making coracles (a type of small lightweight boat) — among numerous others.
The practice is alive and well today, though the economic and practical importance of willow-work of all types is far less than it was in previous times. Still, there is a great deal of interest in the craft, and many opportunities, especially in the United States and Britain, to learn it from experienced crafters.
Featured photo credit: The Welsh Cyntell, basket by Ruth Pybus. Photo courtesy of Potter Wright & Webb.