BASKETMAKING

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Baskets are useful for storing a variety of items. However, they are important for other reasons as well. A beautifully made basket is not only a container. It is also a thing of beauty that helps to lift the spirit. Making a basket can provide the opportunity for a person to express their view of the world in an artistic way. Some basket makers make baskets that look like strawberries, ears of corn, or thistle. A few basket makers add feathers, beads, antler, colored splint, braided sweetgrass, ribbon, cord, plastic, or fur to make an artistic statement. The sale or bartering of baskets can provide a means for a person to make a living. The making of baskets can be a reflection of how one must adapt to new situations and adopt new styles and materials in order to meet the needs of today. Basket making is an example of the importance of being flexible and willing to bend or change established techniques and materials in order to create variety. It is an example of how the traditions of the past can be adapted to meet the needs of today.

 

Basket makers are always coming up with new shapes and sizes to meet the needs of the people.  Sewing baskets are large enough to hold sewing implements and might even have partitions or smaller baskets sewn inside in order to organize and protect the contents.  Thimble baskets are small enough to hold a thimble so it won’t get lost or damaged.  Scissor guards are made to protect the points of the sewer’s favorite pair of scissors. Button baskets can hold buttons or anything that a person might value and not want to lose.  Darning and knitting baskets have a hole at one end so that thread, string or yarn can be pulled out without tangling. The hole also provides a place to store needles.  Various baskets have been designed to hold needles, postage stamps, laundry, groceries, gloves, handkerchiefs, feathers, letters, hair brushes, combs, whisk brooms, lunch, fruit or flowers. 

Some basket makers use black ash splint and sweetgrass to make ornaments, mats, toys, birds, purses, waste baskets, pin cushions, hats, or hat pin holders.  Wedding baskets are a necessity at traditional weddings where the bride and the groom exchange baskets.  New designs are still being invented. Basket making is constantly evolving.  

Baskets can be made in lots of different shapes and sizes depending on how the basket will be used. Corn washer baskets have an open weave on the bottom so they can be used as a sieve when rinsing corn kernels. Water passes through the bottom holes and the corn stays in the basket.

 

PROCESS OF MAKING A BASKET

Many baskets are made of black ash splints. Some also use sweetgrass. Splints are strips of wood that are cut into just the right thickness and width for making a strong woven basket.

The making of a basket is a complicated process, involving a number of people.

1. First a black ash tree is thanked and cut down.  The bark and branches are removed and then the log is scored lengthwise.  The back of an axe handle is used to pound the log.  The vibration of the pounding causes the growth rings to separate and lift up so the pounder can pull strips of wood from the log.  The black ash strips are dried and stored until it is time to use them. 

Once these materials are gathered and prepared, the basket is ready to be woven. Various weaves are employed. The tightness and evenness of the weave contribute to a well-made basket.

2. When it is time to make a basket the wood splints are moistened so that they will bend without breaking.  Then the splints are made thinner by first splitting the top of the splint with a knife and then pulling it apart. The thin splints must then be smoothed and cut to size for weaving.

3. If a basket is to be colorful, splints must at this point be dyed. When sweetgrass is used, this too must be gathered, cleaned, and sometimes braided for extra texture. It is dried and then remoistened when it is time to use it.  If a basket is to have a handle, either a hickory handle is carved or one is braided from sweetgrass.

4. Now, the basket maker is ready to weave the sweetgrass and the splints around the block to create a basket that will be used and appreciated for a long time.The basket maker uses a wooden block around which he or she forms the basket.  Blocks may be passed down from generation to generation by family members.