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Basketweaving and Willow Trees in the Serra da Estrela

A lifetime ago, pre-pandemic, Francois and I came across a lovely stall at a market: not only did it sell gorgeous baskets perfect for picnics or future vegetable garden harvests, but the man responsible was sitting there, weaving a basket to add to his for-sale collection.

The thing is, Francois has been enamored with the idea of weaving for almost as long as I have known him.

When we were in Argentina, he got his mother to teach him to crochet so he could make a shoulder strap water bottle carrier from old plastic bags. Not exactly weaving, but I still consider it as fitting in the same basket. (See what I did there?)

At a woodworking workshop in Sintra, Portugal, the summer of 2017 when we arrived, he found out one of the participants knew how to use flax to make things, and soon enough he was running parallel sessions during free time to learn how to make pocketbooks woven from flax leaves.

A dream, a seed, and years of bidding his time

At the market that day, we got the seller’s contact details. He said he’d be happy to teach François, but when François made the trip about 45min away from where we were staying, he came back in awe yet disappointed.

“The place is like a museum, it’s incredible! You would love it. He made a car, one that he put a motor in and it runs! But it was a bit of a waste of time, I sort of watched him weave and learnt about it, nothing more.”

Earlier this year, I went for my first solo just-because outing since giving birth: coffee with a friend who happened to live in the village where that basket weaving museum is.

Upon request, I stopped to get the Master basket weaver’s number.

Stars, willow, and so many baskets

The stars aligned, and Francois ended up setting up an intro class – I think the 12 slots filled out within a few hours of him sharing the invite with our friends in the area, a testament to the amazing community that’s developing here!

He spent his next ten Saturday afternoons with three other enthusiasts, learning the craft – from a guy who has been doing this for more than half a century! – one basket at a time. I have to say, even the most “basic” one is a beauty.

The raw material comes from willow trees, so Francois planted various different types around our property. He did so with pride because our farm’s original name, “Quinta do Salgueiral” means the Willow Farm. It likely refers to what was, but now also to what will be.

(Tangent: That reminds me of the amazing movie The Arrival, with Amy Adam’s, where the idea of time as a circular concept is explored. Absolutely brilliant.)

The teacher, Fernando, is full of as many stories and anecdotes as tips and tricks about basketweaving. Sometimes, it feels like the craft comes as naturally to him as breathing, and he struggles to understand what his students are stumbling on. He must barely remember a time when basket weaving wasn’t part of his muscle memory!

What next?

Will Francois continue? I’ve no doubt we will soon have more baskets than we know what to do with… but I hope he pursues this craft. He has always been good with his hands (I don’t mean in the wink wink nudge nudge way, though that too), and basket weaving seems to both challenge him and make him happy.

And that’s really what life – and in particular the life we are building for ourselves here – is all about.

What about you, any interest in basket weaving? Would you sign up for an intro course if you came to visit? Why or why not?


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