Basketmaking, chair seating and willow work

Oak spelk or swill basketmaking with Lorna Singleton

Ref: S4D09975


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Places available

About this course

Oak spelk (or swill) basketmaking is a critically endangered craft from the South Cumbria fells. Learn the whole process from splitting an oak stem to weaving a sturdy oak shopping basket.

Course Description

You will be guided through the mesmerising process of making a basket from a stem of an oak tree and learn all the skills and techniques necessary.

Skills covered include:

– Cleaving oak with wedges and then a froe, into billets that are ready to be boiled.

– Shaving hazel stems on a shavemare with a drawknife. Steaming this hazel in the top of the boiler and bending it around a former to create the bool, or rim, of the basket, and another for the handle.

– Using a series of knife sizes to rive oak out of the boiler into strips that are ready to be woven. The knife starts the split before you tear the oak into two in a controlled manner.

– Using a drawknife and mare to dress and shape tougher strips into the spelks (ribs) of the basket

– Using a knife to dress taws (weavers) ready to weave.

– Constructing the frame basket. The basket has a specific pattern in production that ensures the strength and size of the basket.

– Learning the terminology of a spelk basket. All these skills are transferable to other frame baskets and split wood baskets as well as to many other greenwood crafts.

Making these baskets is a very physical activity and involves a degree of hand strength. If you have doubts about your physical ability please get in touch with the tutor beforehand. A willingness to get engrossed in processing your own materials is necessary. We will start weaving the basket on day three.


Arrival Day - this is the first date listed above

Courses start early evening. Residential students to arrive from 4pm, non-residential students to arrive by 6.45pm.

6.45pm: Welcome, followed by dinner (included).

8 - 9pm: First teaching session, attendance is essential.

Daily timetable

Classes 9.15 - 5pm, lunch is included.

From 6.30pm: Dinner (included for residential students).

Evening working - students may have access to workshops, but only with their tutor's permission and provided any health and safety guidelines are observed.

Last day

Classes 9.15am - 3pm, lunch is included.

Residential students are to vacate their rooms by 10am please.

(This timetable is for courses of more than one day in length. The tutor may make slight variations)

Course Materials


  • On this course the tutor will supply all of the materials.

What students need to bring

  • Sturdy full covered outdoor footwear is essential.
  • The boiled oak can produce a black dye that will stain your clothes and hands. Please wear old clothing that you don't mind getting discoloured. Trousers are advised. You will be working in the outdoor sculpture courtyard studio.
  • Notebook and pen.
  • All tools will be available to borrow from the tutor but you are free to bring and use your own.
  • You are not expected to know what these tools are, but here is a comprehensive tool list in case you do know and would like to bring them:
  • Froe, long handled wooden mallet, shaving mare/swillers mare, drawknife, folding saw, hammer, towels or thick fabric to wrap above knees and protect legs from hot oak, work gloves, knife or craft knife such as a Mora Frost or similar - straight blade is better, swillers bodkin, small wooden beetle/knocker, leather patch approx 1ft square, secateurs.

Available to buy

  • Available from tutor:
  • Swillers bodkins
  • Swill basketmaking book.


Lorna Singleton

Lorna Singleton is a coppice worker and basket maker specialising in oak spelk baskets and hazel basketry since 2010. 


Residential option available. Find out accommodation costs and how to book here.

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