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Category: Basketry

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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California State Fair

California State Fair

Nest

I’m pleased to share that I have two sculptural baskets on exhibit at the California State Fair in Sacramento beginning today, through July 30th.  They are in the California Crafts Exhibit in Building 8 at Expo Center. This is the second year that basket making has been a category in the Adult Crafts Competition.

I made “Nest”, shown above, during the Bay Area Basket Makers annual retreat in the Sierras in August 2015. I had made a beginning for some sort of container at an earlier retreat by sewing with waxed linen a few date fruit stalks on to a thick piece of something from a palm tree. I didn’t have any definite plan in mind at that time, and after the retreat the start of the basket sat on a shelf for two years.

My goal in 2015 was to complete started projects, that, for whatever reason, I hadn’t finished. The first thing to decide was what technique I wanted to use on this basket. Twining is my preference most of the time in the last few years. I had some odd bundles of sea grass and cordage I wanted to use, which would need a strong spoke material to twine around.

What can I use as spokes that will work with the sea grass, and how can I attach them to the palm base? This necessitated a search to see what I had on hand. I have three or four plastic crates of odd materials that might be interesting to work with. Three crates down in the stack I found a bag of braided nylon, probably from an estate sale years ago, which was strong and flexible.

I cut lengths of the braid twice as long as the height I wanted to make the sides. I worked each piece under the row of date stalks and pulled it up even to the other end making two spokes next to each other. I began by twining once around the spokes with a scrap piece of string to hold them in place until the sea grass has been twined for several rows. Getting this started is like wrestling an octopus—spokes going every which way.

As I worked up the sides, they began to undulate like waves. I was so excited to watch this basket grow—it certainly wasn’t planned. This is the delight of combining unusual materials together and allowing them to interact with each other.

The second basket on display at the Fair was discussed on the May 16 post at http://marilynericksonart.com/2017/05/16/basketry/how-do-you-decide-what-to-make/

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Gift from the Jay Bird

Gift from the Jay Bird

Jay Bird’s Gift

In July 2005, I was making baskets out of daylily leaves. I gather dry leaves when cleaning up my yard and store them in a box. To make a basket, I soak the leaves in a container of water for 20 – 30 minutes.

I select the longest and strongest leaves to begin with and plait the center of the leaves – over one, under one, to make a base up to about three inches square, with equal lengths sticking out on each side.

Then I begin twining around this base. After one or two rounds, the basket will naturally start to form sides. I continue to work around the basket adding in new leaves a few twists before the old one runs out.

When the spokes become short, I snuggle them into the next twist or two. If they all get short at about the same time, they can be folded into the next twine one at a time as you get to them to make a rim. Another way to end is to stop twining and tie the two leaves in a knot to hold them, then fold the spoke ends inward and work them into the rows below.

I’ve planted trees and flowers in my yard to the point where I have habitat for many different birds – mocking birds, wood peckers, warblers, crows, humming birds, parrots, juncos, starlings, doves, sparrows, black phoebes, and scrub jay’s. I’m in the flyway for birds that migrate and I see flocks of robins, finches, cedar wax wings, and others.

They gift me with feathers to use on the baskets. I especially like those from the Jay birds.

 

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Tied Up in Knots

Tied Up in Knots

The idea of tying knots is that they will hold something together and it won’t easily come apart. Fishermen and sailors use a lot of knots for different things—tying the sails, tying up to the dock, tying a lure on a fish line. People have been tying knots for thousands of years.

In the 1970s, macramé was being used everywhere from plant hangers to purses. Among other things, I made a coral color vest with Aunt Lydia’s Rug Yarn, all in macramé.

Ten or fifteen years later my basket maker friends were making small baskets made of half-hitch knots over a Styrofoam shape. After making a few of those, I carved an odd shape out of a piece of packing foam and started knotting. It turned out to be somewhat of a fish shape, but without fins. Totally useless but fun to do.

Fish

I discovered that knotting has a practical use for me. I sometimes have trouble staying awake if I’m sitting and listening all day in a class or conference. If I take a small knotting project with me, I can tie knots with the item in my lap while I listen and I don’t fall asleep.

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A Basket with a Twist

A Basket with a Twist

One of the first baskets I made using twining (tw-I-ning) came out very different than I expected. The basket developed a twist instead of having straight sides. Twining is a technique using two lengths of yarn that circle around the basket, crossing each other in between each upright spoke. Cord, wire, or strong natural materials can also be used for twining.

Twist

In this basket, for the upright spokes I used six medium-size cotton cords alternated with three large-size pieces of sisal rope giving me a total of thirty-six spokes. This arrangement creates the interesting effect of two different size columns going up the basket.

One piece of yarn is behind spoke number one and the other yarn is in front of spoke number one. I bring the behind yarn forward between spoke one and two. Then I place the front yarn over the one I brought forward in the space between spokes one and two. What started as the front yarn is now the back yarn going around spoke two. I bring this yarn forward in the space between spokes two and three which starts the movement over. So, the two pieces of yarn are crossing each other between each spoke. This is repeated around the basket until it is the desired size.

Once the basket maker becomes familiar with this movement, the work can go quickly, depending on the fibers used.

The twist in the basket is often not easily noticeable until you are some distance up the sides of the basket. I’m not exactly sure why the twist occurs. I think it is partly due to the grouping of different size spokes.

The way I hold the basket as I’m working also contributes to the twist. I hold the basket upside down with the spokes coming toward my body. I’m going around the basket in a counter-clockwise direction, because it is upside down. I hold three or four spokes in my left hand, while I manipulate the two weavers with my right hand.

I have gotten some version of this twist effect on a number of baskets. They all look different depending on the type of materials.

But this first one is still my favorite.

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How Do You Decide What to Make?

How Do You Decide What to Make?

I Don't Want to Be Square
I Don’t Want to Be Square

Getting started on a new project is difficult, even when one is excited about exploring an idea. This month I’ve been creating a website as a place to show my various forms of art work.  And I must say that I find creating electronically is more frustrating than creating with hands-on materials because the ways of computers and i-Phones are not intuitive for me.

Picking things up off the ground as I walk along has been a life long habit which likely started when my grandfather asked me to pick up worms after it rained to use for fishing bait. My mother used to tell the story of how I would make her stop on the way to the corner grocery if I saw a dead worm on the sidewalk to save for Grandpa. I was six then.

When I started making baskets in the mid-1980’s, picking up materials for the baskets went into high gear. I remember one year in Livermore, California, palm trees were being trimmed, and I picked up several huge date fruit stalk things and put them in the trunk of my car. The trimmers were amused and invited me to take all of them!

This winter during a week or more of wind and rain, the palms in the yard next door were shedding narrow green strips of fronds in addition to the dead brown whole pieces that usually come down. So of course, I started bringing these green strips inside. I realized that if I didn’t make something with them while there were still green, they wouldn’t be as interesting to me later.

One afternoon I soaked what I had and started a basket using a technique I learned at a workshop last April. It took two or three afternoons, but I was pleased with the result and glad I had made time to use them. This is twined with thin copper wire and measures roughly 6 inches by 6 inches, and is five inches tall.

I belong to a group of basket makers, Bay Area Basket Makers, who meet in Oakland once a month. I also belong to the Lodi M & Ms, which is a mixed media art group who meet twice a month in the Stockton / Lodi area.  At both of these meetings members bring things for show and tell, and we Oooh and Ahh, maybe ask about materials or technique.

Sometimes it is obvious why an item was made, like a travel journal, or a booklet to give as a birthday gift to someone. However, I rarely hear anyone talk about how they decided what to make. Even with a gift, why did they make that particular item? What inspired them?

This question of deciding what to make is where I frequently get stuck. When I can’t decide what to make with all the materials I have at hand, I usually go outdoors and work in the yard because there I know what needs to be done.  Do any of you have this problem?  How do you decide what to make, what to express, what materials to start with?

Let’s have a conversation —

 

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