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How Rachel turned passion for willow weaving into a Perthshire business

Rachel Kirk has moved to larger premises to create her eco-friendly baskets and sculptures.

Owner of Rachel's Willow Designs, Rachel Kirk.
Rachel Kirk, the owner of Rachel's Willow Designs. Image: Rachel's Willow Designs

A Perthshire artist explains that weaving practice and training into her willow sculpting business is the key to success.

Rachel Kirk, from Abernethy, had spent the majority of her career as a gardener, but she was intrigued by a video of willow sculptures that she saw online.

So, she decided to take some basketry and willow-weaving classes.

These classes paid off and in November 2021, Rachel set up her Facebook page Rachel’s Willow Designs.

She has now outgrown her home studio and is moving into a bigger workshop space.

Rachel specialises in hand-crafted, eco-friendly sculptures made out of willow trees.

She has shared her secrets to basket-weaving success.

How and why did you start as a willow weaver in Perthshire?

After 16 years battling the elements as a gardener in Perthshire, I was looking for a change and became fascinated by willow sculptures I saw online.

Owner of Rachel's Willow Designs, Rachel Kirk
Rachel Kirk was looking for a change and a chance to be creative. Image: Rachel’s Willow Designs

I decided to have a go at weaving and ordered some willow. To begin with, I couldn’t even get the soaking right and quickly realised that I had a lot to learn. So I signed up for regular basketry classes and I got hooked.

I wanted to start a new business and it was important to me for it to be eco-friendly and it seemed like a natural progression to start a willow weaving business.

How did you get where you are today?

For me it’s all about training and practice. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the generous teaching I’ve received at basketry class, on willow sculpting courses and at welding class.

Then it’s a case of putting it all into practice again and again.

Who has helped you along the way?

My family and friends have been very supportive, as well as other basket weavers. But I also realised that I needed professional business support.

I joined the GrowBiz mentor scheme, which has given me a mentor to bounce ideas off of.

It took a lot of practice to be able to weave willow bark. Image: Rachel’s Willow Designs

I’ve also had a lot of support from GrowBiz through Perthshire Artisans, which is helping me to increase my profile and has given me opportunities I wouldn’t have had on my own.

What was your biggest mistake?

I think my biggest mistake is being overcautious, so now I try to say yes to things even if they’re out of my comfort zone. And I’ve found that it gets easier the more I do it.

What is your greatest achievement to date?

My greatest achievement is going to happen in the next few weeks when I take on a workshop space.

I can’t wait to have a really organised area to weave in so that I’m not spending so much time and energy trying to organise the logistics of the business. It’ll make me more focussed and efficient.

How has the cost of living crisis impacted your willow-weaving business?

My costs are going up and everyone is watching what they spend.

Baskets and sculptures are a considered purchase, so I am trying to weave smaller, more affordable, items.

Rachel specialises in basket-weaving. Image: Rachel’s Willow Designs

What do you hope to achieve in the future?

I want to build a self-sustaining business. I want to take advantage of my new workshop to do more teaching, and also to explore different styles of basketry.

I’m hoping to create a wider range of sculptures on frames, using my newly gained welding skills.

Do you want to recruit in the future?

It would be lovely to have an IT expert on call and someone to deal with the paperwork, but the reality is that I couldn’t finance either of those, so I’ll just have to keep multi-tasking.

What is the hardest thing about running your own business?

I’ve found keeping a decent work life/balance can be very tricky and it’s hard not to feel burnt out, which doesn’t help my creativity.

It’s also frustrating having to gain skills which I don’t particularly enjoy, but are necessary to run the business, such as IT skills.

Any advice?

I would say start small, engage with customers and other business owners and find your tribe.

Rachel is still taking courses to improve her skills. Image: Rachel’s Willow Designs

Running a business by yourself can be very lonely, but by meeting with other small business owners and creatives.

I’ve found a sense of community, and also a source of support and help when I’ve needed it.