It’s high summer here now, but back when I shot this video of basket-making, it was still cool enough for long-sleeve shirts, etc.
Daniel has just finished editing the next installment, weaving a rectangular basket, part 1. There’ll be more of these, I’m finishing up handles and rims these days, between other stuff.
I’ve had this ash log for a month now. I’m just about done pounding splints from it. I had made some chair parts early on, too, but most of it is basket stuff. I have two more 5 or 6-foot sections to work up. And about 16 baskets in the works. Below is one of the remaining billets, you see it’s as straight as a tree can grow.
But not all the material in it is usable. The first 1 1/2″ below the bark grew so slowly as to be useless. Those splints were breaking on me as I tried to pound them. I reached a point where I gave up, there’s only so much time in a day, and it’s not worth fighting over.
The good parts of that stock I split into three billets, and shaved them to then pound them apart.
I use a 3-lb. hammer to pound the billet along its top & bottom surface. Overlapping hammer blows all over.
Then I hang an end of the billet over a rounded piece of wood (in this case, a reject chair part) and smack it. The growth rings then begin to separate.
Then start pulling them apart. Over & over.
Coil ’em up and soak in water before using. Can be stored for ages & ages.
When it comes to the basket-making, I approach it differently than I do the oak furniture I make. When I make furniture, I try to keep close to the originals I study. I don’t mix a Connecticut carving on a box based on one from northern Massachusetts for example. But with the baskets, I’ll pick this or that characteristic and throw them into most any combination.
Many baskets are woven with a continuous weaver going around and around the basket. To be able to alternate the “over/under” scheme as each row climbs up the basket, you need an odd number of uprights. Often this is achieved by splitting an upright, like the one here just to the left of the right corner of the basket.
Another way to get the continuous weaving is to add a “twill” or a skip in each row. At one point, I go over two, instead of just over one. Then each succeeding row this “skip” moves over one upright. The finished effect is a spiral trailing around the basket. No split upright, continuous weaving. You see it here about 11 rows up on the right, then winding to our left.
From the book Shaker Baskets by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor I learned about added uprights – a method the Shakers used to get an odd number of uprights. The first weaver has a long tail winding up at a corner, and when the weaver comes around, it treats the end of itself as the odd upright – it’s the narrow one here at the corner. It comes down from the top, turns left as it begins weaving around the uprights.
Time to finish some of these so I can make some more. All this basket stuff will be covered in videos – I’ve shot lots of it.
My basketry library is pretty small, but all of these are must-haves if you’re interested in this sort of basket.
Legend of the Bushwacker Basket, Wetherbee & Taylor, Appalachian White Oak Basketmaking, Rachel Nash Law & Cynthia Taylor, Key into the Language of Woodsplint Baskets, various authors, Shaker Baskets, Wetherbee & Taylor.
I used to make baskets a lot, often a dozen at a time. Now, I tinker with them. I wish I had more time for them, they are something that really connects with me. I think I’m happiest making things to put stuff it, baskets, chests, boxes. Hmm, a theme. But the baskets – the scraps are godawful unruly. After sorting & weaving two baskets, there’s still scraps.
Pounding ash splints is so much work, I hate to throw any of it away. So I tend to save as much as I can, thinking – “well, I can make a smaller basket with the scraps.” Sure. But, I had a shelf full of bits & pieces, and was able to soak the material enough to unravel it, then sort it by width, thickness & length. Some goes for the uprights – these are heavier thickness, slightly wider. Thinner narrow stuff for the horizontal weavers. I wove one round bottom basket, and one rectangular basket. These will be the basic models the students will look at next weekend when I teach a 2-day class with Plymouth CRAFT. But I’ve been looking at lots of examples in preparation.
One thing basket makers know is “over one, under one” – that’s the most basic weaving when you are winding the body of the basket. But, to get that weaving to work, you need an odd number of uprights. Or some forethought. One way around it is to use an individual weaver for each row. So row one is over one, under one. Row 2 is under one, over one. and they alternate each row. This can be quite effective, a lot of Native baskets in New England are done this way. You can alternate wide & narrow weavers for very striking effects this way. But, it can be slow, and there can be some waste, when you have some longer weavers that you need to cut down to size. Here’s a couple of mine done that way.
A Native one we saw at Harvard’s Peabody Museum – made here in Southeastern New England:
Using a continuous weaver means you need the odd number of uprights. Here I used the most common method to create the odd uprights – I split (halved w scissors really) one upright, you can see it on the front side of this basket (2nd from left) – once you do that, you can just weave a spiral all around the basket, and each successive row will alternate from the previous row. Overlap a new weaver as the old one runs out, and keep on going. You need to taper the end of the weaver near the top edge of the basket, because the weaving is spiraling up the basket.
Some don’t like to split an upright. You can intentionally put a skip in the over one/under one, and go over 2, then shift this “over 2” one upright over each time around the basket. This creates a spiral winding around the body of the basket. some call this a “twill” but I think of a twill as when you weave the whole basket with over 2, under 2 and skip a step all around. Another day perhaps.
Another technique I learned was in the book Shaker Baskets by Martha Wetherbee & Nathan Taylor. The Shakers would start the weaving with a piece that laid in beside the uprights, then turned to become the first weaver. So one end of it acts like the odd upright, then when the weaving makes the first trip around, it weaves over itself. Then keep going. This is the one I use most often in square or rectangular baskets, in round ones, I split an upright. Hard to see in this photo, but there’s a very narrow upright right on the corner, that comes down and turns to our left to become the first actual weaver. There’s a single weaver that makes one trip around before it, just to confuse you.
Last week was basket week – and today I’ve started some new work, but I’ll show you what I did last week. Basket work will go on, but as a time-filler. I have enough baskets woven, or started, that I can pick them up here & there for an hour or two. Like many woodworking projects; most of the effort in basket-making is preparing the materials. I have written before about pounding the splints from an ash log – here’s links to old posts on the subject. I have some new posts coming up about peeling the splint, but in the meantime…
But right now, this post is about weaving up the basket bodies. Handles and rims are for another time. The basket itself is made up of the uprights and weavers. “Uprights” is something of a misnomer, because although they bend up to be the sides of the basket, they also form the bottom.
Uprights are generally heavier (thicker, and wider most often too) and weavers thinner and narrower. So a big part of the work is sorting and sizing the material.
If the splint is too thin to divide (or peel) then I scrape it smooth. This makes it less fuzzy, and also thins it some. Better for weaving. These pieces are uprights in the basket. To scrape it, I pull the splint across a piece of leather on my knee – then hold the knife in place to scrape it as I pull back…don’t do it w/o the leather! My them braces the knife blade so it stays stationary.
Then you have to trim them to the desired width. The baskets I was working on last week had around 25-30 uprights. Round baskets have 16, another time. those pictures are on a different camera.
Once you have all your uprights and weavers; you lay them out, this basket has long and short weavers; to form a rectangular bottom. I start with 3 going each way, and weave them one under the other, this way & that. Then add pieces side to side, and north & south. Here, I am weaving a single thin weaver around the perimeter of the basket’s bottom. This binds them together, keeps them from shifting around as I begin weaving the body. Some refer to this piece as a “keeper” – it keeps the uprights in place.
Some baskets have independent weavers – each horizontal row is a separate weaver. This is easy to do, but wastes a lot of material. So there’s lots of ways to weave a continuous spiral around the basket. But to do this and keep alternating where the weaver goes under and over the uprights, you need an odd number of uprights. You can split one, or add one. (or do one of several other approaches – but I usually split or add) – Here I added an upright, and tapered it to become the first weaver too. It’s towards the upper right hand corner of the photo – follow that bendy upright, and you see it weaves into the others. Then you just keep adding & overlapping each new weaver as one runs out. I overlap them for 2 uprights.
Then you just keep on weaving. I periodically dunk everything in the water, especially outdoors in summer. I want this stuff damp. Once I’ve gone around a bit, I gently bend things up and then cinch the weaver in tight as I go.
A basket like this has an “open” bottom – there are spaces between the uprights. That’s the most common form I make. but there is one we have around the house that is closed or “filled” in the bottom.
Next time I’ll show you how I lay that up.
Don’t forget – the spoons are posted and ready to go. The spoon rack I had sold, and one reader asked if I would make another – of course I will! Anytime you see something like that – if you missed it, and would like to order one, I’d be happy to oblige. https://pfollansbee.wordpress.com/spoons-more-august-2014/