The Challenge Basket
The program for the January meeting of the Bay Area Basket Makers (BABM) was to distribute materials for making a Challenge Basket. We each brought basketry materials to share, and we each went home with a grocery sack full of everything from waxed linen, to reed, beads, a leather strap, seagrass, yarn, and more.
The first challenge for me was getting to the meeting! Last year I didn’t get to any of the meetings for various reasons. I even missed the Christmas party due to neck and shoulder pain from overwork in the yard the day before.
Some of the members got right to work on their baskets at the meeting, but I decided to bring the sack home and do a small amount of planning before I started. I looked through my large collection of baskets I’ve made in classes, gotten from other BABM members, and bought at estate sales for ideas on how to begin.
I knew I wanted to use the twining method of building this basket because it is my favorite technique. I actually discovered I had a basket from an unknown maker that probably was a challenge basket because of the variety of odd materials and the different techniques she used.
Twining requires spokes so the two cords can twist between them. I needed to sort out which materials in my sack would make good spokes. Because of the volume of stuff to work with, it was going to be a large basket. I decided on a length of the spokes I wanted, and cut them from the heavy paper cord and the black plastic strapping in my sack.
We were also allowed to add a few additional materials of our own. I needed more spokes, so I rummaged around in my stash and found some plastic wrapped wire I had from my father’s wire stash which I inherited in 1996 when I moved my parents to California from Ohio.
Starting this kind of basket is the most difficult part, in my opinion. The spokes need to be held together as the first row or two of the weaving elements go under and over each one. It can also be started by plaiting the elements over and under each other, but if they are very different that doesn’t work so well. If the spokes are different, they should be alternated around the basket. I stared by holding the materials together with clothespin type clips and weaving under – over with a thin, coated wire for about three rounds.
I twined with seagrass until the bottom was the size I wanted for the base. Then I did two more rounds of seagrass while bending the spokes upward. At this point I started using the variety of other materials, each for about two or three rounds. After about eight rounds the basket looked like this.
Some of the materials, such as reed, had to be soaked to make them pliable for twining. The things that came off palm trees were soaked and then cut into thin strips. I decided to knot the ends of yarn together when I got to the end of them, and I left them hanging on the outside of the basket. Reed and seagrass ends were tucked inside. Once I was working on the sides the twining was pure fun! I had forgotten how fast it goes and how much enjoyment this gives me.
As the basket grew, I needed to add a few more spokes because the spaces between them had gotten too wide in a few areas. Some basket makers work hard to keep the shape of the basket in a traditional shape, but I prefer to see what the materials want to do. Especially when a large variety of materials is used, the basket has a mind of its own.
As the weaving nears the top of the basket, how to finish the top is the challenge. I had decided as I was choosing my spokes that I would most likely tuck each spoke into the next one over as the easiest finish. The black strapping spokes were turned over the last inside row and tucked into their own space. The wire spokes had little metal connectors on them and I wanted to leave them on the ends as a novel embellishment. I easily wound each wire around a tiny knitting needle for a funky finish.
At this point I still had beads to add onto some ends of waxed linen on the other side from this photo. I also cleaned up loose ends inside the basket, and shortened some of the yarn ends near the bottom. The cork from Robert’s New Year’s Eve champagne was sitting on my work table and got included in one of the early rounds of yarn. 2020 is off to a good start, I’d say.