When 11 members of the Young Farm Wives of Oak Harbor, Ohio, gathered in the agriculture room of Oak harbor High School in April, they were on a mission: to learn how to weave a basic spring basket. It was their sixth project in several years, taught by the Maumee Bay Basket Weavers Guild.
Across the room, Guild members worked on their own projects. Lydia Lenning was weaving an antler rib basket and her daughter, Helen Fisher, was making a flag basket. Both of their projects involved advanced weaving techniques.
With the motto "So many baskets, so little time," the Maumee Bay Basket Weavers Guild promotes and shares basket-making experiences as often as it can.
The 25-member organization was formed in 1992. Throughout the year, members teach basket making and techniques of weaving to the other groups for a small fee.
For the beginning weaver, making a basic basket is a three to four-hour project. That night guild member Brenda Fussell had measured out the natural reed and the handles, and had dyed decorative pieces of cane for the tulip design.
Assisted by guild president Carol Bates and the guild secretary JoAnn Flanagan, Mrs. Fussell and the guild members quickly began teaching this historic art.
To start a basket, the handles are sanded so they are not rought. Then, "measure the handle to find the center to begin the basket," said Mrs. Fussell as she instructed Michele Miller and Karen Risch, Young Farm Wives members. "Laying out the bottom is like the spokes of the wheel. The spokes are the base of the basket. you weave with weavers - which can be reeds, cane, willow, or other materials."
The weavers are kept moist to make them pliable as the basket maker weaves up the sides to end the basket. To put the rim on the top, three rows of round reed are added, like the tulip design for the spring basket they were making.
"We use no nails," Mrs. Fussell said.
The materials for weaving are as diverse as ash, birch bark, willow, vines, cedar, sea grass and imported reeds. Advanced basket-weavers in the guild even make baskets from pine needles.
"The naturals we gather ourselves," said Helen Fisher, who loves to make Native American baskets. "Some (natural materials) can be purchased. The indians would make out of river cane. We don't have that."
Once you are proficient in making a basic basket, there are a variety of designs to try.
The Chitimacha tray baskets have an intricate pattern made with colored reeds; Helen Fisher often makes them. The Chitimacha Indian tribe was from Louisiana.
"Each tribe had its own special designs," said Mrs. Lenning, who designed the basket the guild will make in honor of Victoria Cataract. Learning about the history of Victoria Cataract, who was the last Chippea Indian in northwest Ohio who was a basketweaver, has become a guild project. Ms. Cataract made baskets to exchange for food and clothing for her family. Her cabin was where Chippewa Golf Course is today in Curtice. She used natural dyes such as blood root or red beets. Today commercial dye often is used to color reeds.
Joanne Flanagan's Victorian laundry basket is a quadrifoil weave, which is a cloverleaf design starting in the center and repeating on each corner. It is one of the most difficult designs.
Carol Bates makes trapper baskets decorated with muskrat and raccoon fur. "My husband is a hunter and a fisherman," said Mrs. Bates, who used white oak and flat natural reeds for the basket.
Intricate deer-antler baskets are ribben baskets with leather lacing, and each is completely different based on the configuration of the antlers. "The antlers are found when deer shed (them)," said Mrs. Lenning.
Helen Fisher also makes Nantucket baskets. "These were made by men who manned the light ships (that were) used to show the way to seafarers and mariners," said Mrs. Fussell. "While at sea they wove baskets."
The cost of this hobby is determined by the cost of materials and the classes you choose. "A Nantucket class would be at least $100," says Mrs. Flanagan. "But you would learn something from any class." There are also basket-weaving conventions around the country.
Contact Kathie Smith at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6155.