Traditional local materials include coppiced willow and hazel, cedar roots and bark, beargrass, cattail, iris, nettle, and other reeds and 'weeds'. We are still learning about these traditional materials, and the proper ways to harvest them so that they regenerate from year to year.
You can buy processed basketry materials from various sources. But for practicing, nothing is easier to obtain than our persistent pest, invasive English ivy.
Ivy Basket Instructions:
This Ivy Basket is an adapted from several children's craft techniques; the basic hoop-and-rib structure was a basket Erica made in an elementary school class. Each step is very do-able, the basket begins to take recognizable shape within an hour, and the whole thing can be done in less than a day. For teaching very young children, it can be broken down futher into three intrinsically interesting projects:
- Making leafy "crowns" out of ivy
- God's Eyes: wrapping yarn or other cords in a diamond pattern around crossed sticks
- Weaving: under-over-under-over, can be used to make anything from potholders to shelter to sailing ships.
Here's how they go together into a basket:
The woven strands support the ribs, and vice-versa, creating a basket where the rim hangs from the handle, and everything else from the rim.This illustration shows a basic fiber, such as an ivy stem stripped of its leaves. Ivy can be harvested in backyards, parks, and roadsides. Most people will thank you for removing it, but it's always polite to check first.
Colored yarn or pale bleached reed/bark fibers make an interesting contrast for the diamond/Gods-Eye joint, or for the first section of over-under weave (shown, bottom) surrounding this joint.
Step By Step:
1 - Make two twined hoops, about the size to fit around your head. Use sturdy material.
2 - Decide which hoop will be the handle (you can mark it with a strand of colored yarn if you like).
3 - Tuck the other hoop (the rim) into the handle (marked hoop) so they cross at right angles. (Handle outside, rim inside, for strength).
4 - Wrap each crossing joint by passing a strand around underneath an arm, back over itself and the next arm, and around underneath that one, over and over, to make a diamond-patterned "Gods-Eye". Use colored materials if you like.
5 - Tuck the end of the wrapping under the last side (half-hitch), and leave it.
6 - Find stout strands to use for ribs, and tuck them into the "pockets" created by the diamond/Gods-eye joint*. Leave ends long to adjust later if needed.
7 - Find a long flexible strand for a weaver. Tuck one end in somewhere, and begin weaving over-under-over-under alongside the diamond joint. Around the rim, through the ribs, up to the other rim, and back down. (My favorite place to tuck in the first weaver is between the strands of the thick middle rib (bottom of the handle.)
8 - When you run out of that weaver, tuck its loose end into itself (you can run it down the "tube" alongside one of the ribs if you like) and start another weaver on the other side (around the other handle joint). This is a good time to check the shape.
9 - Continue adding weavers as you need them, working back and forth from one side to the other. Finish in the middle.
10 - Decorate with fresh ivy leaves, flowers, yarn, or other materials, and give it to someone as a gift.
The ribs will tuck neatly into the pockets created by the God's-Eye if you're lucky. If that doesn't work, jam them into the rim and/or the handle joint any way you can. Don't cut the ribs until you must. Pull the ends through until the rib is where you want it, and leave a few inches dangling for later adjustment. Some people prefer to insert the ribs and then wind the Gods-Eye binding a few more times to incorporate them. I personally just hold onto them with my spare fingers and start weaving; within a few passes, we stop struggling.
One student had so much trouble with these ribs, she decided to join them at the base instead of the handle joint. The result was a serviceable basket, perhaps not quite as strong, but very pretty. When she had added her ribs like spokes from the bottom of the basket, she had to start her weave at the bottom and work up in a spiral instead of working down from the joints.
I encourage working both joints toward the center so the flat section arouin the center is the last part. This keeps the weave symmetrical, and if you run out of a particular material, you can switch to something else without ruining the basket.
Note that with the rim inside the handle, and the weavers running back and forth between the two sides of the rim, you have a very stout basket. The woven strands support the ribs, and vice-versa; the rim hangs from the handle, and everything else hangs from both the handle and the rim.
The trick with baskets (as with pottery, painting, sewing, and other arts), is to hold your intention in your mind while you work. This means frequently setting down your work and stepping back to see how it's doing. (While you're working strand by strand or stroke by stroke, you lose sight of the whole.) Basketry and weaving are good "cottage industries" that fit into a busy life: every interruption is a reminder to check your progress.
Keep the final shape in mind, work symmetrically, and if anything starts to look warped, either adjust it or adjust your final intentions. There's nothing wrong with creating a long, shell-shaped, or pear-shaped basket instead of a round one. Long flat baskets are great for carrots or flowers. Round ones work well for berries. Loose baskets can be lined with a leaf to carry even the finest harvest.
Perfectly symmetrical baskets can be purchased for pennies at thrift stores. Don't feel obliged to imitate them. Feel free to make your first basket as obviously "handmade" as possible. Remember that, like all things, it is destined to return to the earth from which it came. The fact that you made it will give it a keepsake value far exceeding its price to your doting family.
Give It Away:
There is a common tradition in basketry of giving away one's first project. It's a good practice. It provides an excuse to keep crafting, encourages reciprocity and skill-swaps, and helps first-time crafters overcome the "preciousness" that is the bane of art. If you know you'll give it away, it's much easier to relax and remember this is practice; you can always make another.
If you are proud of it, give it to someone in your household for Easter or Mother's Day. If it embarrases you, consider leaving it on a doorstep anonymously for MayDay (May 1st). Even the homeliest basket makes a pleasant surprise when filled with spring flowers, and nobody knows the culprit.
Nothing lasts forever. The price of using ivy, with its minimal processing and instant gratification, is that it dries to a somewhat brittle, dessicated fiber. You can try oiling it or keeping it on a high shelf, but I don't usually bother. When it's done, it's done. If nothing else, this is an excellent way to dry out invasive ivy stems so they don't re-grow in your compost pile.
If you find you are wearing out your baskets faster than you like to make them, it's time to graduate to more durable materials like willow-wicker, cane reeds, or cedar.
But don't forget to keep pulling up that ivy.
Spreading the Fever:
(It rhymes if you're from Boston...)
A lovely young lady named Eva
Wanted to become a weaver
She came to my door
And now she's spreading the fever.
These happy folks have just removed a mountain of invasive ivy from Kelly Creek, in October of 2009. In an hour-long workshop, led by a volunteer who was recently trained herself, they created these lovely baskets.
Notice that each person has done the ribs and weavers differently - each basket is unique, and they all work!
Community groups are welcome to use this activity for volunteer work-parties, school activities, or other non-commercial purposes with my blessing. Drop me a line if you want some instructional handouts, or to inquire about bringing me in as a guest instructor.
Please contact me for permission before using this activity commercially; you may want to consider the improved instructions I have available in print form.