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Basket Weaving

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Don't you just love baskets? After all, they are both useful and beautiful! These objects are woven out of natural materials, like reeds and vines.

Baskets can hold any kind of object -- newspapers, candies, pens or kitchen gadgets. Pot a plant in a basket. Use it as a laundry hamper. As you can see, there are plenty of uses for baskets big and small.

"Some baskets are so tightly woven they can store water," says Ohio basket maker Linda Braun.

Baskets come in many shapes and sizes. This basket was made by Linda Braun using a pattern by Lyn Siler.

Baskets have been used as versatile, strong and lightweight storage containers for thousands of years. Basket weaving can be traced as far back as 5000 BC, when they were used for storing grain. "Fiscus, the Roman word for a 'basket used to collect taxes,' is the root of our word fiscal," says Braun.

Baskets can be made from any pliable material. Most often, natural plant materials such as cane, rush, reeds, grapevines or honeysuckle vines are used to make baskets. Woods such as oak, maple, cherry, ash and cedar are used to make sturdy baskets, or are made into basket handles.

Any reed material can be colored with natural stains or commercial dyes to add interest. Nearly all materials are wet while the weaving is done.

Weavers can make their baskets in almost any space. Many people weave on the kitchen table, in their lap or anywhere they can find space. Others have a workshop where they do their craft. "I began weaving on my mother's drop-leaf maple dining room table," says Judith Jones in Indiana. "I now have a nice workshop in my basement."

Those involved in this activity say interest in basket making is growing.

"I think it's gaining in popularity. It's very satisfying to make something that is enjoyed not only by yourself, but by others," says Jones. "I think many people are becoming aware of the history of basket making -- not only as a necessity, but as an art form."

Basket making is rewarding for many different reasons. Weaving is relaxing and a distraction from everyday worries. Through their hard work, basket makers end up with a product that can be used for storing or carrying almost anything.

"I enjoy basket weaving because I like making things with my hands," says Tony Stubblefield, a medical illustrator in St. Louis. "I not only enjoy the process, I also can enjoy the final product. A basket is something I can actually hold in my hands and turn around and touch -- you can't really do that with a painting. There are so many styles of baskets that you never have to worry about getting bored with any one technique."

This is an easy hobby to get into. Materials are inexpensive, and you don't need many tools. For example, the materials needed to make a reed basket aren't very expensive -- about $6 to $8 per pound. Grapevines or items collected from the woods are even less expensive. An oak basket is more expensive to make.

"Ash and oak aren't readily available and therefore cost more," says Billie Dorris of North Carolina. If you have the ability to cut and prepare your own materials from the tree, it is less expensive but more work!

A few basic tools are required for basket making. You need a ruler and scissors to measure and cut reeds. Clothespins are used to hold the work in place while the weaving is done. A small screwdriver is used to open spaces and to tuck in the spokes. You may also need a pan for holding water, an awl and a pair of needle-nose pliers.

Most people don't have to buy any tools to get started. "You can find everything you need in your house," says Irene Weisner, a member of the a weavers guild. For example, you can use a knitting needle instead of an awl and scissors instead of pruning shears.

At some point, you may acquire more tools. "The more you weave, the more tools you seem to acquire," says Dorris. "Especially if you are a tool junkie like me."

All baskets are still woven by hand. "We haven't yet invented a basket-making machine," says Braun.

Making baskets requires a certain amount of strength and dexterity in the hands and arms. More strength is required if you harvest your own materials, such as oak or cherrywood. "Some physically challenged persons are excellent basket makers," says Jones.

Some basket makers keep their baskets for personal use or give them away as gifts. Others find their hobby earns them some income. While some baskets can cost as little as a few dollars, more collectable examples can sell for several thousand. Baskets are priced according to the level of expertise of the weaver, the cost of materials used, time used and the size of the basket.

"My most expensive basket is $200," says Dorris. Her least expensive is $20. Many people will sell small baskets for less. Her best-selling baskets cost $40. Baskets made by nationally known weavers will cost considerably more.

If you really like making baskets, you could pursue a career in the field. You could open your own store and sell the baskets you make as an entrepreneur. If you don't want to make baskets full time, you could work part time at a different job and sell your baskets on the side. You could teach others how to do the craft, or earn some extra cash by helping to harvest some of the materials used in making baskets.

Getting Started

Start with the basics. Learn the basics at a class or by studying some books on the subject. Courses are often offered by basket makers at recreation centers or even local colleges.

"Learn the basic structures before doing creative, sculptural pieces," says Weisner. It's just the same as learning how to spell before writing, or learning how to warp a loom before weaving.

If you're just starting out, it's best to use commercial products, like cane, says Weisner. That's because they are consistent and reliable. After you've got some experience, you can work with materials you gather yourself, because you'll be able to deal with "lumpy, bumpy, natural bends."

Don't be disappointed if one of your baskets doesn't turn out. Just try again. "Just because something didn't work out to your satisfaction this time doesn't mean that it won't the next time you try it," says Billie Dorris in North Carolina.

"The best advice I can give is to just keep at it," says Dorris. Like anything else, the more you do it, the easier it gets.

Start making baskets by following a pattern. After you've figured out how the pattern is put together, try experimenting.

"There are very few hard and fast rules," says Dorris. "Frequently, it's an experiment to see what will work and what won't."

Be observant. Some ideas for baskets come from the least expected places. Check out your local craft store for books, patterns and materials. Craft store owners will know if there is a local club in your area. They can also offer advice on which books might be suited to your level of expertise.

Make baskets for your friends. "Handmade articles are cherished gifts," notes Braun.

Stubblefield agrees. "They also make great gifts. All my friends bug me about when they are going to get another basket!"


Central Pennsylvania Basket Weavers Guild
104 Milltown Rd.
Landisburg , PA   17040-9306

Handweavers Guild of America, Inc.


Basketry Information
A basket fan's Web site with details on clubs, exhibits and more

Discover the interesting techniques this company uses to make baskets

A basket fan's website with lots of links

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