How to make a willow coffin

Making a willow coffin takes time and a considerable amount of skill. In the days before COVID-19, bereaved families were welcome to tour our farm to see how willow is grown and sorted before being transformed by our weavers into a beautiful wicker coffin. We also used to host open days for Funeral Directors . Many couldn’t believe our coffins were handmade given the accuracy and tightness of the weave!

Funeral Directors enjoying a tour of our farm

While the majority of our weavers have been with us for many years, (we started making wicker coffins over a decade ago) it has been rewarding to train new weavers in our workshop. We have taken on people with very limited weaving experience who are now making incredible willow coffins.

After a new employee has a good grasp of the willow sorting and grading processes, we tend to start a weaver on willow fence panels or garden edging. Working closely with a mentor, the simplicity of a panel structure is a great introduction for a weaver who is relatively new to weaving with willow. Over the months, skills and techniques are honed and perfected. The weaver can (if they wish) then start to work in our coffin workshop. 

Making willow fencing in our workshop

The casket making process

The first step in the journey in learning to make a stunning willow coffin begins with the lid. Every coffin lid here is made to fit a single coffin. Weaving a willow coffin lid requires similar skills and techniques to those used to make a fence panel. Once the weaver has mastered the lid, they can then work with a mentor to learn the skills required to make the rest of the coffin.

How to make a coffin
Weaving the lid

UK coffin regulations

The main body of the coffin starts with the base. Over the years, we have perfected a design which enables the coffin to look fantastic and have the strength to carry a weight of up to 30 stone. (Our coffins have passed rigorous testing for weight, strength and environmental impact by the Funeral Furnishing Manufacturers’ Association and have held weights far in excess of 30 stone.)

Many people do not realise that a crematorium is well within its rights to turn away a sub standard coffin which has not had the FFMA’s seal of approval.

Many skills to master

A weaver here will start with one of our simpler coffin designs. (It is easier to make a curved end coffin than a traditional shape willow coffin. The most complex design is our Rainbow Twist with matching lid and plait!)

Wicker coffin
Our Rainbow Twist coffin in a traditional shape

A willow coffin weaver needs to master a number of skills. Weaving the lid plait, making the handles an integral part of the coffin and inserting customised coloured bands are all part of the job. It is tough, physical work. And we should know. Both Jack and Mike Musgrove can weave coffins and they help out in our coffin weaving workshop during particularly busy periods.

How to make a coffin
Jack Musgrove weaving a coffin

We are really proud of our weavers. Their skill and work ethic are second to none. Depending on the size and complexity of the coffins, a weaver here can produce 10 coffins in a working week. To put that in context, when we run our coffin making course for experienced weavers, we allow 5 long days for students to be able to produce a single coffin. 

Finishing touches

Once a willow coffin has been completed it needs to dry. (A weaver needs to keep the willow damp so that it stays flexible.) Once dry, it can be lined. We use a biodegradable waterproof under liner with a natural calico liner on top. Even the lid is lined.

How to make a coffin
Lining one of our coffins

In addition to natural calico, we also offer liners in 15 different colours. As these are hand dyed (with natural dyes) time needs to be allowed for this work to take place. Our full time seamstress also makes mattresses, pillows and bows which can all be customised.

Making a coffin liner
Our seamstress at work

Funerals can happen at short notice, so we take great pride in keeping turnaround times to a minimum – coffins are usually ready to dispatch in just 48 hours.

Helping to weave

It appears to us as though willow craft and weaving is enjoying a resurgence. During the recent lockdown we were busy sending out more willow than ever before. While our willow weaving courses are currently postponed – an online service is available – we have opened our workshop doors once again to families who would like to help weave a coffin for a loved one. It’s a way for a family to make a really positive contribution. Families usually leave us in a much better frame of mind than when they arrived. They also see first-hand the incredible skills needed to make a coffin here.