Wisteria (Wisteria floribunda) is a beautiful and fragrant addition to your landscape design. Without careful attention to pruning, however, wisteria can quickly spread into areas that you would prefer it didn’t. While wisteria is a prolific seed producer, it spreads mostly by runners. Runners are root-like structures that shoot out from the mother plant and run right at the surface of the ground. Runners can send up new plants many feet away from the mother plant. While wisteria runners need frequent pruning to keep the wisteria from getting out of hand, there is a positive side to this labor equation. Wisteria runners are a wonderful material for use in basketry!
Some basket makers prefer to harvest wisteria runners either in early spring or in the fall because that is when they have the fewest leaves to worry with. In actuality, though, wisteria runners can be harvested anytime! While they will have a few shoots associated with them and those shoots will have leaves, they present little difficulty in terms of making the runner suitable for basketry.
To harvest wisteria runners simply pull them up from the ground. Try to get as long of sections as you can even if they do include small shoots. You can either cut the shoots off complete with their roots so that they can be replanted or you can slice them off parallel to the surface of the runner that you are harvesting.
Wisteria is a highly desired material among those basket makers that like to work with wild-harvested material. Wild crafters forage hills and meadows for all sorts of natural materials to add to their creations. They typically use just the smaller diameter wisteria runners for the weavers and reserve the bigger diameter runners for hoops, ribs, and handles.
What a lot of basket makers don’t know is that even the bigger-diameter runners can be easily split longitudinally. This produces half-rounds that are particularly well-suited for weavers. You can use these half-rounds with the rounded sides showing either on the outside or the inside of the basket.
To split a wisteria runner just take the edge of your knife and carefully push it into the end of one of the runners. Try to place the knife right on the center mark of the end of the runner. Push the knife edge in about one-quarter of an inch perpendicular to the end of the runner then tilt it slightly away from you to pry the two sides of the runner apart.
Once you have your initial split formed at the runner’s end, remove your knife and pull the split further apart using your hands. As you pull the idea is to keep the split as much in the center of the runner as possible. At the same time, try to maintain even thicknesses on both sides of the split. You do this by changing your angle of pull as needed. If one side of the runner starts to get thinner than the other then keep that side straight while bending the thicker side more sharply as you pull it down. This will result in the thick side thinning up and the thin side thickening. Keep varying your pull as needed until you reach the end of the runner.
Whether you use them split or whole, wisteria runners can be used green or dried and stored for latter use. If you use them green expect some shrinkage and be prepared to adjust for it in your basket. To dry wisteria runners just coil them and store in a cool dry place until you are ready to weave! You’ll need to soak the dried runners for a bit before using to make them supple once again.
Wisteria baskets can be made from materials that many would just toss aside. Wild crafters, however, recognize wisteria as a plant that is desirable not only for its beauty but for the weaving material it readily yields from its prolific runners. By using the harvesting and preparation methods outlined above you can use most any size runner to produce beautiful and functional baskets.