Back/Pony Creels

This section includes a DVD of Donald MacDonald making a creel and a step by step guide based on the techniques of Donald Macarthur. Both of the Isle of Lewis and both now no longer with us. Creels have their own type of construction. They are made upside down and originally they were made by sticking the stakes into turf. Templates of wood with holes drilled came to be used instead. This template is still called a ‘ceap’ in gaelic which means turf. Alisdair Davidson explained that sometimes a creel maker would cut a piece of turf and take it inside to make the creel with. Similar to some Irish creels, there are variations in the start of the weaving and weaves used throughout the highlands and islands. Traditionally these were made of willow but when rattan became available that was taken up due to its superior resistance to salt and water rotting. Virtually all of the Scottish creels had rounded bottoms but Dawn found one with a flat bottom( like some of the Irish creels) in Kildonan Museum in South Uist, Western Isles.

The following show two different creel makers. One of the important differences between their methods is the way they start the weaving on the creel. Donald MacDonald uses what has been called a ‘mouth wale’, whereas Donald Macarthur starts with the twisted pairing in two places. The mouth wale is a simpler version than the one Joe Hogan uses on the Irish creel. They both  make the breugan, the gap in the middle of the creel and then they start the next section by inserting a second round of stakes on the right of the original stakes. Donald MacDonald uses a template for 24 stakes rather than the 20 of Donald Macarthur. By Dawn Susan.

Video of Donald MacDonald making a creel, c 2000 on Gisla, the Isle of Lewis.

Traditional creel making as demonstrated and taught by Donald Macarthur

Creels were made all over Scotland and styles varied between different makers. The techniques described here have been developed by Donald Macarthur from his remembering of his father’s creel making. Malcolm Macarthur was the last professional creel maker on the Isle of Lewis based in Siabost (Shawbost).

In olden times creels were made by sticking the willow stakes in the ground, in a square. This was then made easier with the use of a square template to put on the ground to put the stakes through. This template or ‘ceap’ in Gaelic was then made into something more substantial so that the creel could be made on any surface and moved around whilst being made. Creels are made upside down with the base being the last part to be done. The creel is then taken off the template and a finishing border may be added on.

Templates are generally constructed to enable the finished creel to be 16and ½ inches square, but can have 20 or 24 holes.

Originally creels were made with green (fresh willow with the bark on) or brown willow (dried willow with the bark on then soaked to be worked with) from willow locally grown. Creels came to be made with buff willow (stripped of its bark) imported from Somerset. Donald now teaches creel making with buff willow.

The photographs here were taken at a Creel making course taught by Donald at Uig Community Centre, 24/25 November 2005.

Dawn Susan, December 2005


To begin the creel 20 8` stakes are chosen. These are between 8-10mm at the butt end. Thirty-two inches are then measured off from the butt end and the rest cut off and discarded. These stakes are placed in the template holes. For easier finishing off it is wise to place the thinnest stakes in the middle holes on opposite sides of the template. Mark these sides with a pen. These sides will be the straight sides of the creel. The remaining sides will eventually curve over to form the base. [Figure 1 Starting the creel]


All the work on the creel is now done with 6` willow.

Keeping the shape of the creel is very important and can be quite a challenge to do. The corner stakes should be held out with the left hand while the right hand guides the weaver round it.

The creel is begun with a weave known as pairing. But this pairing involves using four weavers rather than two and the weavers are twisted between the stakes. This twisted pairing is begun by placing one weaver with the butt end behind a stake, which is the first stake to the right of a corner stake. The next weaver is placed butt end behind the next stake to the right. The left-hand weaver is taken in front of one stake and behind the next. This repeated with the other weaver, ensuring that both weavers remain at the front of the work after each stroke.

On the third side of the creel introduce two additional weavers with the butt end placed behind the stakes underneath the weaver it is to join. Each pair of weavers should be sitting one on top of the other by the stakes. Take the left-hand pair and twist them so that using the right hand the hand moves clockwise making the pair now lie flat. Repeat with the second pair. Going back to the original pair as they are taken in front of the next stake twist them in the same way so that the weaver that was on the bottom of the pair behind the last stake is now on the top of the pair. Twist again before going behind the next stake. Repeat with the other pair. [Figure 2 Second row; Figure 3 Detail of twisted pairing]

When the original two weavers become thin leave the ends on the inside of the work and continue with just two weavers in the more usual form of pairing. When these two weavers come round to the first side of weaving add in two more weavers and continue in the twisted pairing. Continue in this way until there are 7 rounds of weaving on each corner. Weave the ends through and under the last row of pairing. [Figure 4 End of the first seven rows]


The breugan is a space made in the weaving which can then be used as a handle or to thread the `iris` or creel strap through for carrying on the back. A creel was used as a measure for the selling or bartering of goods such as potatoes. A half creel was up to the breugan.

Take 20 6` stakes and after slyping the ends put each one beside each original stake to the right. Push these new stakes right to the bottom of the weave. These stakes now become weavers in a weave that is a form of French randing.

Using a 2-inch by 2 inch piece of wood (about 6 inches long) place the wood on the weave on the first right hand gap from the corner. Push the wood against the new stake on the left and bend that stake down so that it lies flat against the wood and behind the original corner stake and in between that stake and the newly added stake. [Figure 5 Donald demonstrating the position of the wood in the gap]

Repeat this with each new stake on that side starting with the next stake to the right. Weave these subsequent stake/weavers in and out on top of the preceding one. Leave the ends at the corner. Repeat with each side. [Figure 6. First side of breughan completed with all the ends at one corner; Figure 7. All four sides completed with each corner having five ends]

When all four sides are done, start weaving at any corner. Find the bottom of the 5 weavers sticking out and weave across the whole side in and out and finish at the next corner.  During this phase of the weaving when the weaving is on the round sides put pressure on the stakes to push them inwards slightly to shape the work. The corner stakes are also pushed inwards but it is important to not let them drift towards the middle stakes. Repeat with the other 4 weavers. On the straight sides, ensure that each side remain flat and does not bow out. Continue in this way weaving each side separately until one weaver is finished then cut all the weavers off so that each stake has the tip end of a weaver behind it. [Figure 8. French randing section completed]


This part is woven using paired weavers in either the twisted pairing as above or in the more usual way of pairing. In the latter way pairs of weavers are introduced into the work as a form of English randing. This is where once each pair has been woven to the tips the next pair is introduced to the work on the stakes which are the next ones along to the right of the first stakes used. [Figure 9. An example of simple pairing on the middle section]

Once 10 pairs of weavers have been worked there should then be a weaver behind every stake. The rounded sides should now be shaped so that the tips of the stakes of these sections are pointing towards each other.

The sides of the creel should measure 13 inches and it will usually be necessary to continue pairing for a while to reach this height. Ensure that the weaving does not end on one of the straight sides.


Working with the rounded sides, take the corner stake and bend it over. Slype the end and slot it in beside its opposite stake. Bend that stake over and slot that one in beside the first rounded stake. The height at the highest point should now be 15 inches. A large oiled bodkin is a great help here. Repeat with all the stakes in these two sides. [Figure 10. First pair of bent over stakes complete; Figure 11. First row of weaving on rounded side]

Now continue the weaving on the rounded sides only.

Start with the butt end of a weaver at the edge of one of the rounded sides. Weave it in and out curling it right around the end (corner) stake.  This is a single randed weave. Continue adding weavers in the same way and building up each side evenly.


When the weaving has come level with the first side stake weave that in going under the first pair of round stakes first. Slype the end and slot it down beside its opposite stake. [Figure 12. First side stake being woven in; Figure 13 Middle side stakes]

The two middle side stakes should be woven in over the top of the first pair of round stakes. When reaching the middle of the work it is usually necessary to twist the weaver, which creates a rope like weaver. The twisting has to be held tightly to maintain it but will then have much more flexibility in the weaving. [Figure 14. Detail of side stakes]

Once the gap is filled the creel can be pulled off the template.


Cram two weavers down beside each of the stakes 2 and 3 of any side. Weave using the usual pairing until the next side. Add in two more weavers at stakes 2 and 3 of this side and weave with the twisted pairing method. On the third side add in two more weavers in the same place and leave the original two weaver ends inside. Continue with the twisted pairing weave. Repeat this pattern so that there are two weavers added in on every side. The last ends need to be threaded through the work to complete the twisted pairing pattern ending with the ends on the inside.

Gaelic Terms

Breugan – the open work on a creel, used to pick up the creel

Caol – willow/osier

Cliabh – creel

Ceap – template

Iris – creel strap

Slat – a length of willow

Staingean – stakes

Dluth – randing

Also see Alisdair Davidson’s method here


Interview with Alisdair Davidson by Julie Gurr 2013

See also Back and Pony Creels of the Highlands and Islands

This article is filed under How to make