Every Process is Important

The willow used in our coffins undergoes a lengthy process before it can be used in basketmaking. Each process is labour-intensive and requires incredible attention to detail. From start to finish, every step is taken seriously.

Willow Growing

Willow is grown in beds which are only replanted every 40–50 years. They are arranged in rows, with as many as 17,000 planted per acre. Upon harvest, the stems of willow, known as ‘withies’, are cut after the leaves have fallen in November through to the following March. Once harvested and back at the farm, the withies are hand-sorted by length and checked for quality. The sorted withies are then bundled into ‘wads’ ready for the next stage of their processing.

Shades of Natural Willow

We hand-craft products in a range of natural willow shades; buff, Weatherbeaten Gold™ and natural white willow. These tones are created by treating the freshly harvested withies in different ways. For example, to produce the traditional buff willow, withy bundles are simmered in boiling water for 8 hours. This releases natural tannins from the outer bark to give our willow a natural red-brown colour. It also softens the bark, making it easier to strip.

Stripping & Drying

Once boiled, they are passed by hand through revolving brakes which turn rapidly to catch and strip away the bark. Water is pumped into the stripping machine to aid the process. The stripped willow is then spread out along the length of fences in the fields, to dry naturally in the sun.

When Weaving Begins

Before the stored dry withies are ready for weaving, they must be soaked in water. After soaking the willow bundles for 2 hours, the withy wands become more pliable. To make one of our willow coffins, the lengths of the willow are wrapped around the edges of a thick wooden base and arranged to point upwards to create the appropriate outline shape. This is known as ‘staking up’. The wooden base provides a smooth surface, which is necessary if the coffin is used for cremation.

The Weaving Process

The process of hand-weaving the sides of the coffin is known as ‘filling up’. It starts with the weaver completing several rows of ‘wale’ weaving. This tightly secures the upright stakes in place. If the coffin is to feature our hand-dyed coloured bands, these are now added. Then the sides of the coffin are filled using a weave process called ‘randing’. Once the main part of the coffin has been finished, it is ‘bordered off’. This involves weaving the ends of the upright stakes to form a secure border around the top edge. Handles are woven onto the sides. The coffin’s lid is created by weaving long thick lengths of willow, called ‘sticks’, and completed with beautiful plaited edging.


The finishing touches are part of what makes each Somerset Willow coffin special. Each is carefully fitted with a calico cotton liner and pillow. The lid is attached using entirely natural wooden toggle and loop closures. If requested, a beautifully engraved solid oak plaque is attached to the coffin lid, using twisted jute cord. Detailed quality checks are made on each of our Somerset Willow coffins. The coffin is finally placed in protective packaging for delivery.

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