Join us as we chat with Anna Liebmann, a skilled basketmaker and willow grower based in Edinburgh, who passionately shares her journey into the craft. She meticulously grows and hand-cuts most of her own willow organically in South Lanarkshire and Edinburgh, creating a diverse range of handmade products. Her love for locally sourced willow and her profound connection to her materials make her an inspiring figure in the world of basketmaking.
Hello! Please introduce yourself and what you do to our readers?
Hi, I’m Anna Liebmann, a basketmaker and willow grower.
I cultivate and hand-cut most of my own willow in Scotland using organic methods. I have two patches—one in South Lanarkshire and a new one in Edinburgh.
My time is occupied with sorting and preparing materials, crafting various types of baskets like log baskets, laundry baskets, harvest baskets, smaller baskets, willow jewellery, and fulfilling unique commissioned projects. Additionally, I love sharing my knowledge of basketry through teaching. I mainly conduct classes from my studio in small groups and on a one-to-one basis. However, I also teach nationally for more advanced groups and locally for anyone who has a genuine interest in learning. The only downside to my job is dealing with administrative tasks—I would love to have an IT helper!
When did you begin basket making, and how have you developed your practice over time?
I started making baskets when my son Jack, who is now 16, was just one year old. I was living on a regenerative farm and was involved in growing basketry willow for another basketmaker named Lise Bech. Lise became a great friend and mentor, and having the raw materials readily available sparked my interest in basket making.
The idea that baskets could be made with minimal fossil fuel input intrigued me—it was simply the energy used to manufacture my secateurs and the occasional chocolate treat during harvesting! I decided to attend a day course to learn the fundamentals, allowing me to practice at home with the help of a book—there was no YouTube back then! As I kept practicing, Lise introduced me to a local basketmaking group, and attending their monthly meetings kept me motivated. As my skills grew, I started making items to sell.
Can you tell us more about the materials you use, where they’re from, and why they’re so important to your craft?
I primarily work with willow, which is a remarkably generous material in terms of usability and quantity. Each year, the willow is coppiced, meaning it’s cut down to ground level, and it grows back vigorously. All of the willow I use has been specifically cultivated for basketmaking, resulting in long and slender stems due to its close planting arrangement. Picture a vegetable bed of leeks—that’s what a newly planted willow bed looks like—where the willow competes for light.
The varieties of willow I grow are chosen for their colour and have been acquired through various means—inheritance from other basketmakers, swaps, purchases, or cuttings taken from different locations. I find the history of willow growing and its various varieties fascinating, as each area in the past would have developed willows suited to their unique microclimates. In Scotland, most basketmakers who grow their own willow prefer Salix Purpureas for their vibrant colours and resistance to pests, including deer, as they taste bitter under the bark. On the other hand, Salix Triandra has a sweeter taste, and I’ve had to remove any of this variety from my bed as it gets mowed down by deer!
In the past, I have experimented with using various ‘hedgerow’ materials, such as dogwood, ash, and apple prunings. However, none compare to the length and slenderness of willow, and I have grown fond of working with it.
I truly cherish my connection to these materials. During harvest time, I’m often joined by a group of helpful individuals, and as I sort through and select the willows, I think of them fondly. It’s a reminder of the land they’ve come from and the shared experience we have in nurturing these remarkable materials.
Your baskets are not only functional but also incredibly beautiful and require a lot of skill and many hours to make. Can you take us through the process of making one?
My all time favourite plant is wild carrot, it’s the last plant to flower in the meadow and marks the end of the season, often being harvested in the last throws of the summer… its beautiful frothy white flowers form a sea that floats above the meadow; it’s feel like the meadow is having a final hurrah before it retreats underground for the winter. We have to wait until the flowers have turned to seed before collecting them and using to make a beautiful moisturiser (combining it with locally harvested Sea Buckthorn berries from the East Lothian coast). It’s one of my favourite products as it reminds me so much of the meadow at its absolute best!
Wild carrot can be found throughout Scotland though, anywhere with dry sandy soil (e.g. coastal areas), it looks a lot like cow parsley but has a tiny pink flower in its centre making it impossible to confuse!
What have been some of your favourite basketmaking projects to work on?
Some of my favourite basketmaking projects to work on are actually repair jobs; I get to fix beautiful old baskets that show the incredible skill of makers from the past whilst helping people who have a very sentimental connection to their basket, and it really touches me. It also shows the incredible durability of baskets, and I usually learn a different or historic way of doing something from studying the piece.
Not that long ago, I had a baby basket the customer had used themselves as a baby, had then travelled with relatives to Australia, then the US and back to Scotland for the customers first grandchild, but needed repairing before use. It was quite emotional!
There aren’t that many people that can offer this service actually, so it is very rewarding.
Are there any other independent Scottish makers that you’d recommend checking out?
There are SO MANY independent Scottish makers, I don’t know where to start. I have a very good friend and potter, Michelle Lowe who I will be doing the Portobello Art Walk with this year. My friend Rachel Frost of the Crafty Beggars/Rachel Frost Hatter is one of those people that can make anything as well as specialising in historical hats and all manner of woven things. Together, we have woven a 5 meter high willow lighthouse sculpture!
I would also check out Green Aspirations for woodland crafting, and I recently went on a woodwork course with Isabelle Moore, an Edinburgh exquisite furniture maker who has a workshop surrounded by yet more furniture and woodworkers. You can see in my other life I would have been a furniture maker.
I have a friend Rachel Bower in Angus who makes incredibly beautiful baskets, she has designed them on paper with colour in mind. We have quite different styles, so it doesn’t feel like we are in competition at all!
INTERVIEW BY Eryn Inglis
PHOTOGRAPHY FROM Anna Liebmann