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Category: Basketry

A Change of Mind

A Change of Mind

On Friday last week, I washed my dirty car and filled the gas tank because I was planning to attend the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) meeting the next day. I searched thorough my supplies of cord and wire, beads, and tools I might need for the looping project they were doing this month.

Looped Suncatcher

I have done looping, sometimes called knotless netting, several times before, so I got out a piece I did years ago using wire and beads with some wisteria vine as an example of what could be done. Last year in a workshop, I did a small amount of looping with wire on a piece of jewelry, so I stuck that in my bag as well.

Looped wire over beads

I put my comfortable old lawn chair in the car. I hard-boiled an egg and made egg salad sandwich filling before I went to bed. I wanted to get to bed a little early, but as usual I was doing something interesting, and time sped by.

When my alarm went off at 6:30, I turned over and snuggled in for a few more minutes of rest. When I got up at 6:47, I contemplated the 75 mile drive into Oakland where the meeting is held. Anymore, it’s not the distance so much as the amount of traffic on the interstates, and the cutting in and out by drivers going over the speed limit significantly more than I am.

I used to enjoy the distant views of Mt. Diablo, and the hills on the Altamont. This time of year there is usually a flock of sheep working a field in Tracy. I can’t even glance at these sights anymore. The other cars on the road now require my complete attention, and it is more tiring than enjoyable to drive into the Bay Area.

I have begun to think about how much energy my various activities consume, and I find myself planning what I will do each day on how much energy I feel I have to work with, and how important I think the planned activities are.

Even though I felt some sadness that I would not see some friends, I decided to go back to bed for another hour.

After breakfast and reading the newspaper, I unpacked my supplies and sat down at my work table to see what I could do with them. I had picked out some Rat-tail, a shiny, slippery, polyester cord. I tried tying it to a piece of driftwood, and after two rows of looping, determined that it was not going to turn out well.

But while working with the material, I wondered how it would work on a twinned project like the ChapStick holders I like to make. I used the strips of Rat-tail I had undone from the driftwood. It was difficult to get the holder started because of the slickness, but I liked how the cord was to work with after I had several rounds completed.

Rat-tail cording in half finished ChapStick holder

When I got hungry for lunch I made the egg salad sandwich I had planned to take to the meeting. After eating, I took care of a few little chores I had been putting off all week. At that point I became aware that I had some indigestion, and I was glad I wasn’t in Oakland needing to drive all the way home to Stockton.

A bit of peppermint soothed my stomach, and a nap seemed like a good idea. I can tell you that I know six hours of sleep at night is not enough for me anymore. But, as a life-long night owl, I haven’t mastered getting myself into bed early enough when I want to be somewhere in the morning.

Sometimes a hesitation and change of plans, even when it feels like laziness, is the best option for that particular day.

 

 

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Two Baskets from My Garden

Two Baskets from My Garden

A month ago, I removed the dried leaves from my Watsonia plant, which grows in the center of my garden. You can see it in bloom with its scarlet flowers in the banner at the top of this page. Watsonia is from South Africa, a member of the lily family which grows from croms, similar to bulbs.

In the Central Valley climate this plant blooms from May into July. The eighteen inch long leaves dry up in the heat of August. I usually wait until January to remove them. But this year, I decided to remove them as I was clearing out other things in that area. As I worked, I could see the tips of the new shoots for next summer beginning to emerge from the croms. I had to be careful not to damage them.

I have had this plant for nine years, and I haven’t dug it up to separate the bulbs because it seems to be fine — “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” — being one of my favorite themes. So it has now become a very large plant producing a huge bin full of dried leaves.

I wanted to sit down immediately and make baskets with these leaves, but the week ahead was full of dental and medical appointments, and urgent home repairs. The desire to work with this material was an actual physical longing to experience handling the leaves.

To make a basket from these leaves, or any plant that has dried, they must be soaked to make the material pliant, so it doesn’t break when handled. I have a small square fountain at the edge of my patio, and when I finally found a day, two weeks later, with time to play, I dropped a hand-full of Watsonia into the water to soak.

Damp Watsonia is very tough. I wove a square base in the center of nine leaves crossed by nine more, with equal lengths of the leaf on either side to make spokes for the sides of the basket. I tried to press the leaves close to each other because I knew they would shrink up when they dried, but Watsonia doesn’t want to be packed closely. This first basket was made to familiarize myself with the best way to use the material.

Sample basket made from Watsonia

I used twining around the woven square to secure the position of the leaves for the base. Twining is using two strands of the material that twist between each spoke, and once you get the hang of how to do it, it is very easy. When I got near the end of a leaf, I laid the cut end of a new leaf along side of the short one and used them together until the short one ended.

On my sample basket, I found that the material did not want to make even corners where I thought it should, and two of them are rounded not square. The first two inches of twining are open spaced, but the rest of the basket has the rows close together.

Tray like basket made from Watsonia

I made a larger basket allowing the nine by nine plaited bottom leaves to space themselves, and began the twining with the expectation that as I worked the Watsonia would pull together into upright sides. By the second day of working on this basket, I realized that steep sides were not going to happen, so I have more of a tray- type basket than I had envisioned.

Finishing the rim can be done several ways. On the smaller basket I bent the spokes inward and stuck them down through several rows of twining. On the larger basket I carried each spoke along with the twinner for an inch or two. Additional finishing involves clipping off the exposed ends where new twinners were added and cutting the ends of spokes after they are secured. On these baskets I left some of the narrow pointed ends of the leaves sticking out to add a decorative interest

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Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

Shell Mandala

A few years ago I stopped by an estate sale near my neighborhood where I spotted this interesting item on a table with kitchen utensils. What attracted me were the Cowry (Cypraea) shells that are found in warm waters with rocky shores. I have some in my shell collection that look like these; I found them in 1981 on the Hawaiian Island of Kauai.

There were other items of interest at this sale, and I put it back on the table. By the time I was ready to pay for my other finds, the guy conducting the sale had decided he had made enough already and was giving people grocery bags to fill up with whatever items they liked for a dollar a bag.

I looked at the shell thing again, and although it isn’t the type of decor I usually choose, I decided I wanted to rescue it because I appreciated all the work that went into making it.

Detail of Shell Mandala

It appears that the material used was raffia wrapped around a thin strip of something natural that is strong but flexible enough to make the circles, star shape, and the zigzag inside the outer rim.

The fan-shape weaving is Teneriffe Lace made with thin threads of raffia. I’ve never even contemplated trying to do this, but one of my basket-maker friends does this. She combines it with pine needle basketry and gives them for the Christmas gift exchange.

Detail of gift with Teneriffe Lace

 

When I got home, I hung this mandala under the wall clock in my dining room where I see it several times every day. I’m referring to it as a mandala because of its circle design. Many different faiths use mandalas with meditation. They are thought to integrate and stabilize the personality. A little of that each day is a good thing, right?

 

 

This month, even though I’m still cleaning up the yard mess from spring, my focus is on shells. I’m looking forward to seeing lots of beautiful shells at the 2018 convention of shell collectors at the end of the month.

 

 

 

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The Whirlwind at Grandma’s House

The Whirlwind at Grandma’s House

Baskets have been made all over the globe for thousands of years, usually with a specific purpose in mind. Some were for storing foods, used as cooking pots, to separate grain from chaff, or as containers for carrying things from place to place.

Last summer at the Ship Wreck Museum in Key West,

Baskets around jars.

I saw basket covered wine jugs that had been recovered from wrecks. The basketry probably protected the jugs from breaking on the long ocean voyages, and provided a handle.

Traditional baskets were made from whatever natural materials were at hand using tree bark, branches, grasses, and even roots. Today there are basket makers who still follow the traditional shapes and designs, but there are others who use basket materials and techniques to make more sculptural forms that are not intended to be containers that store things.

I usually begin a basket by deciding I want to work with a certain material, maybe yarn, some cord I like, or something I find in my yard or at the beach.

In late summer of 2011, my three granddaughters and their parents made a quick trip to the Bay Area for a family wedding. They stopped by my home for a one day visit before heading back to Camas, Washington.

My granddaughters with their uncle and cousin

My other son, who lives a bit north of Sacramento, brought his family here and we had a cookout.

While the adults sat and talked, the four children ran around my big yard making up games. At one point they asked for a deck of cards. The kids had so much energy, the day went by like a whirlwind.

Walking through my yard the next day, I picked up a long green branch with a few leaves which appeared to have been torn off the sycamore tree. I suspected someone was swinging on it like Tarzan. Then, I spotted four playing cards a short distance away.

Grandma Meets the Whirlwind

Instead of putting the branch into the green waste bin, I wound it around a few times until I had a shape I liked. I inserted the playing cards, still in the shape of my grandson’s hand, between two circles of branch, and named it “Grandma Meets the Whirlwind.”

This is the quickest I have ever made a basket. It reminds me of a perfect day with all my family.

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Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

Establishing a Consistent Studio Time

In my mind at least, I have been putting almost everything else first before time to make art. Of course, my sons might have a different perspective on this. When they were little, laundry, cleaning, cooking, gardening, holiday preparations, and church filled my days, while handcrafts were done in the evening while they watched TV. Loom weaving filled any spaces between the other tasks.

The exception was in the summer of 1980, when the boys were old enough to get up, get dressed, and fix their own breakfast. I could hear them in the kitchen below. My looms were on the second floor of our home in Livermore, and the only time it was cool enough to weave was early morning, so as soon as Ray left for work, I went upstairs to weave tapestries. This arrangement worked so well it persisted until 1984, when I became a student at the community college, at which point everything else plus college came before making art.

College led to working, which also came before art making. When I bought a home in Stockton twenty-one years ago, I was no longer married. I cooked and cleaned less, but taking care of my large yard started filling my hours, increasing each year as I planted interesting new trees and flowers. Now the challenge in the garden is mostly physical—can I still manage it.

Originally my looms were in the house and the art studio was in the small apartment behind the detached garage. I rarely worked out there – it was either too hot, too cold, or I didn’t want to be there at night. And I was working full time, plus commuting to Livermore.

In 2009, I moved the art supplies and tables into the house so my son, Chris, could remodel the apartment for my mother and later my friend Robert, who lives there now. If you have read my memoir, “Looking for Connection,” you know all this, but if you want all the juicy details you can get them here.

So, my studio has been in the large room between the kitchen and the hallway to the bedrooms for the last nine years, and I walk through it countless times each day. I’m sorry to say, all the other things still come first. I have failed to establish a dedicated studio time. I can understand why artists set up a studio away from their home, so they are not distracted by the visual “To Do” list.

I have made some art in my space in the house,

Copper earrings with beads

but it has usually been because I was taking a course online, had assignments from a local class, or was finishing a project from a workshop I attended. For example, on Saturday, to avoid an unfinished project, I completed these earrings that I started in Visalia two weeks ago.

I am still trying to establish a consistent studio practice because it is the only way I will use the luscious materials I have accumulated. More importantly, it is the only way I will access the creative energy and burning interest that I need to sustain and guide me through my remaining years.

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Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Studio Report — Why You Should Work on Unfinished Projects

Two months ago I wrote about my sudden decision to dismantle my large counter-balance loom, which was taking up about a quarter of the floor space in my studio room, and put it in my backyard storage. If you missed it, that blog was titled: “Catching an Idea by its Tail.”

Into that space I moved my drawing board, rearranged several small tables, and cleaned off my large work table. I now have three good-size work tables where I can make a series of small to medium size pieces of art, or larger items which use the whole table.

Drawing board in center with computer cart on left.

Under my large work table I have a huge basket of fabric scraps, a lidded basket of yarn, as well as smaller containers of natural materials, a box for stencils and other odd things for mark making or stamping.

I weeded my book cases in this room. I organized paper by color and size. I cleaned out several file drawers and shifted things around so I have more space for images I’m clipping out of old magazines.

Twinning project on big table, looking across the room at drawing board

 

 

Tall table with wheels next to big table, in front of filing cabinets

 

 

 

 

 

 

In January, once the sycamore leaves were out in the street and picked up, the rest of the yard was calling me. Grape vines needed cutting, three butterfly bushes got pruned, and I took a trip to the dump. This week the sage is getting cleaned out carefully—I encountered two black widows on Sunday.

If I’m spending three hours a day in the yard, I don’t have the energy to start new creative work.

I expected to make art on the days it rained. Guess what? It’s not raining, the sun is out, wild flowers and weeds are on the grow.

By the middle of January, I settled into a pattern of doing yard work after noon, a late lunch, some time on an art project until dinner, then, cutting up old magazines for an hour or so. I want to get images and words for collage harvested out of the magazines so I can use that shelf space to organize the ephemera (junk) I pick up wherever I find it.

I set up an easy tracking system to record what I do in my studio, hoping I’ll feel guilty if there is nothing to write down all week.

I decided to look at three unfinished basketry items I had been ignoring for months. I finished a small knotted item first. Then I took out the much larger twined thing I had started maybe four years ago. I had abandoned the original idea sometime after the bottom was done. About two years ago, I made a new plan and added the spokes all around, worked up about an inch, but put it away because I needed more time to work on my book.

So I’ve been cutting and cleaning in the yard, twinning in the studio, and ripping up magazines before bedtime. The chatter in my head is “the tables are empty, you aren’t making art.” There is this feeling like something is missing. The push to meet a deadline, the drive to complete something (for the writer’s group once a week) isn’t there, and I miss it because I’d gotten used to that feeling. This year the feeling is different, more low-key. Instead of having a calendar of dates to be met to get the book published, I have a relatively open agenda of “let’s see what happens.”

Friday night, I decided to empty out and put away the large carrying basket the twinning project had been waiting in for the last three years. When I got to the bottom, under the extra yarn, I was surprised and delighted to see my scissors with the blue handles that I have been looking for these last two years. Last summer I had declared them lost.

Blue Handled Scissors

 

So, what treasures might you uncover if you work on your unfinished projects?

 

 

 

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Baskets Made with Willow

Baskets Made with Willow

Ten years ago I went to a basket making retreat in Oregon because I wanted to try working with willow. The woman, Jo Campbell-Ansler, who taught the three-day class is from Iowa where she grows and harvests the materials she uses. Not all willows are good for basket making. Several days before the workshop, she arrives with long willow rods from her farm so she can soak them.

I had heard that working with willow is hard on the hands, and I was somewhat concerned about whether I could do it because I’ve never had strong hands.

The first thing we did was work each damp rod back and forth around our knee to gently loosen up the branch so it would be more flexible. One end was as big around as my little finger and the other end was the size of a bamboo skewer.

Our teacher took us step by step to construct the basket.

Willow Collecting Pouch

The willow we used came in a variety of colors from yellow-green, to a brownish-green, and red. The finished basket is very colorful. It is called a gathering pouch.

I found that I was able to work with this material; I just had to take my time and not get frustrated if the spokes didn’t stay where I put them on the first try.

After that first class, I decided to try growing some willow. There is a company that sells shrubs and trees, and they grow a number of varieties of willow, indicating which ones are good for basket making. I confidently ordered four starts and planted them in several places in my yard.

They seemed to grow that first summer, but didn’t do well the next year. Willows like water. Lots of it. That is why I saw them growing along side streams in Oregon years ago. Sprinklers two or three days a week for twenty minutes in California’s hot central valley doesn’t provide enough water. Even my well established pussy willow died in the drought.

About three years later I took another class with this teacher and made a different style of basket. The second class was a one day class and I didn’t finish the basket in the class, but completed it at home.

Willow Basket

I really liked the feel of working with willow and how the rods pack together and sort of accommodate each other, unlike reed which is a uniform size and wants its own space.

I’m glad I did those classes when I did because I don’t think I could work with willow now due to having pain and difficulty with my hands every day.

 

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Oregon Willow

Oregon Willow

About 25 years ago my older son, Chris, and I took a road trip to Idaho. We went through a corner of Nevada and entered Idaho from the south. It was the kind of trip where you stop when you encounter something interesting such as a red house by the side of the road selling antiques.

We stopped in parks and saw fish in the steams. We ate at local diners that had obviously been there for many years.

We only had four or five days and crossed into Oregon near Oxbow to start toward home. Driving along a meandering stream, I saw bushes growing on the banks and I wondered what they were. After a few miles, it occurred to me they might be willow because willows like a lot of water and this was dry area except for the streams.

Finally, I pulled over to investigate. The branches were thin but strong and flexible. I cut a few and picked up a broken branch near by.

Oregon Willow

That evening in our motel, I tied together some thick ends to make spokes, then, I wove a loose, open circular basket, inserting the stick as a handle.

The whole story is one of many in my soon to be published memoir, “Looking for Connection.”

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Mid-life

Mid-life

At the Bay Area Basket Maker’s retreat in August 1991, one of the members shared some daylily leaves and showed me how to make a basket by soaking them to make them pliable. I liked the feel of working with them.

A few months later while cleaning the garden, I put a handful of leaves in water to soak. That evening I started a basket by weaving a grid with 24 leaves to make spokes. Then I switched to twining, with two leaves twisting inside to outside between each spoke. As I worked my way around, the center woven section raised up as it dried. For some reason I don’t understand, the basket was not round but became an oval shape, somewhat narrow and softly pointed on one side.

Mid-Life

I twined around until the spokes on the narrow side became too short to continue. I worked each short daylily spoke into the next twist making a rim. When I got to where the leaves were still long, I stopped and looked at my work. I liked the way it looked, so I ended the rim, with the long leaves as they were.

Looking at the finished basket, I saw a metaphor for my life at that time. Part of it was completed, but half the spokes still had usable length. At the age of forty-nine I had just completed my master’s degree, my sons were young men making their own decisions, and I was considering leaving my marriage.

It looked like there was life ahead of me to explore and live.  Maybe I was half-way through.

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High Adventure

High Adventure

High Adventure

The summer of 2005 stays in my mind as one of total freedom. I had retired from my Creative Art Therapist position with the VA at the beginning of the year, and I had no obligations, nowhere I had to be.

In the hot evenings with doors and windows wide open, fans running, and the stereo playing my favorite music, I felt like I was on a “High Adventure” making baskets for an upcoming fall show with the Bay Area Basket Makers.

Constructing baskets with natural materials often means working with dried leaves and vines that have been soaked so they are pliable.

I recall standing next to the kitchen sink, where daylily leaves soaked, making a sopping mess on the counter at midnight. These small baskets formed quickly and dried overnight. See a daylily basket on my July 11 blog here.

Working with heavy materials needed more soaking time, took longer to make and needed to be kept damp, or rewetted if they dried out before being completed.

Since money was tight, I used what I had. Some materials I’d picked up from other basket makers who were giving them away. The base on the basket above is something off a palm tree which flattens out when soaked.

I used a heavy cotton cord to stitch a circle of date fruit stalks onto the base. I proceeded to use figure-8 coiling to build up the sides.

When I needed to start a new piece of cord, I left the end of the old cord hanging out after I knotted the new cord to it. After the coiling was finished I added beads and washers to the ends of cord at various places around the circular shape.

When the base dried, it curled up around the center shape very nicely. I can’t plan that – I take what the materials do.

Which is why working with odd materials from nature is a High Adventure.

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