The wonder of wickerwork!
A little-known craft is revealed to curious visitors a few miles from Château d’Azay-le-Rideau: wickerwork (a word regularly used by crossword fans!) has been around for centuries but it couldn’t be more modern!
Villaines-les-Rochers: the village and wicker
Villaines-les-Rochers? It’s no surprise if you haven’t heard of it before. There are only around 1000 people living in this little village. Its residents include a lot of artisan wickerworkers making a wide variety of items such as pretty wicker bird boxes:
From the osiery to wickerwork
If you want to discover the world of wickerwork, from growing willow trees in humid soil to the production of the raw materials (removing the bark from basket willows, soaking the twigs in water, etc.), then head for the Wickerwork Cultural Centre. The contemporary staging and a wide range of models on display make for an excellent introduction to the art. It’s also worth noting that the content is adapted to all the family.
The same goes for the signs along the interpretive trail (5.2 km / 2 hours) leaving from the Cultural Centre and showing the different types of willow (salix alba, salix fragilis, etc.) or how willow can be used in hedges or plant sculptures. You will also see that if you plan to use willow as an ornamental plant or as a natural hedge in the garden, then you should opt for short pruning in winter and light pruning in spring.
The origins of wickerwork…
Wicker comes from small willow trees grown on suitable soil (and so has nothing to do with rattan from other plants or with bamboo). The cuttings from annual shoots, known as “tacots”, are planted at the end of winter and carefully nurtured through the year and then cut down. There are several varieties of willow:
– almond willow (salix tiandra, known locally as “noir de Villaines”). It is soaked in a bowl of water and then woven, after having its bark removed;
– raw wicker is dried at once after it is cut. The bark is seldom stripped. Raw wicker provides different shades of colour (salix alba, salix viminalis, etc.);
– or basket willow.
The Indre Valley’s silty and damp land, warm climate and myriad caves dug into the rock have helped wickerwork thrive in Villaines-les-Rochers from the 7th century.
Using this raw material, and as well as making items specific to certain trades (baking, catering, hot-air balloon baskets, etc.), the wickerworkers are brimming with ideas to showcase willow in all its glory. They have been working with Hermès for decades now. For example, the cooperative made the “Kelly Picnic” and “Garden Picnic” bags for the luxury designer, illustrating the wonder of wicker using leather and silk.
Wicker souvenir gifts made in Touraine
Either alone or together in cooperatives, wickerworkers put their skill, talent and passion into braiding handmade baskets, bags, jewellery, lights, trunks, chairs, hampers, decorations and more. If you’re looking for an original gift for your friends and family then come this way.
The village’s Wicker and Basketry Museum gives you an insight into this exciting world along with an educational trail (5.2km/2 hours) and a bike path (21km/2 hours). Be sure to visit artisan shops too. Most of them provide workshops and classes alongside their creations.
- Villaines-les-Rochers cooperative
- Plume et Brin d’Osier (Christine Vincent – Saché, near Villaines-les-Rochers)
- Vannerie Romand’Art (Catherine Romand)
- L’Osier de Gué Droit (Séverine and Patrick Boyer)
- Les paniers d’Hélène (Marie-Hélène Métezeau).
Some professionals producing wickerwork have online shops and can deliver products to your home.