Baskets are, and have been from time immemorial, so essential in the carrying on of our domestic life, that it is worth considering what styles are most suitable for various purposes, and what pleasures and profit may be derived from making them. The accompanying cuts are of simple reed baskets suitable for country use. While of unpretentious design and of inexpensive material, they offer suggestions for receptacles for flowers and vegetables which may be elaborated to suit the worker's individual taste.
The great secrets of success in basketry are careful judgment as to form (and in this the fitness for purpose must be considered) and neatness of execution. A basket may be coarse, done with large material, and yet not produce a rough effect; but it must be solid, and tightly woven or it will soon begin to yield and grow "wobbly" when it is used. The work depends so much on the care of materials and the patience of the worker, and so little on tools - all that are needed being a pair of scissors, a rule, and a coarse knitting needle - that it is well to emphasize the importance of a little time being spent in getting the reeds just right before starting to weave.
A few general remarks may be helpful in regard to the choice and preparation of material. Reed, varying in size from No. 00, which is about as thick as knitting cotton, to No. 6, which is as large as a lead pencil, may be procured by the pound from kindergarten supply stores. In selecting it, care should be taken to get bundles in which the strands are white and flexible. Nos. 2, 4 and 5 are suitable for the baskets shown here. If it is desirable to introduce color, the completed basket may be dipped in dye or painted, but it is well to limit the color schemes to greens and browns.
In working in a pattern in color, dyed reed may be used. So-called Easy Dye, and Rainbow Dye, of light green, afford pleasing shades, and if the reed is boiled about ten minutes in the dye, the color will be fairly permanent. Golden brown in the same dyes is satisfactory. For those who are so fortunate as to know the old methods for dyeing with walnut bark, saffron, logwood, etc., artistic effects may be promised which will more than repay the labor expended; but color should be used sparingly, and in lines and simple bandings, rather than in elaborate patterns. Perfection of execution is due largely to the condition of the material when the work is being done. The reeds must be rolled two or three at a time into coils, and soaked about ten minutes in hot water until they become pliable, to insure a fine tight weave. The accompanying pen and ink sketches show the method of starting the round bottomed baskets. The oval-bottomed flower baskets are more difficult, and should not be attempted until some skill has been attained. The drop-handled flower basket is a particularly good model, as the folding handles make it easy to pack in a trunk.
In working at any basket it is well to insert extra spokes where the basket turns up, sticking in each almost to the center of the bottom.
Round Bottom with 6 Spokes.
Round Bottom with 8 Spokes. Oblong Bottom.
If necessary a knitting needle may be used to enlarge the space before pushing in the spokes. If it is desirable to give a spiral effect in the natural color and brown or green, an uneven number of spokes must be used, with one weaver of white and one of the desired color, crossing between the spokes. Up and down stripes may be obtained by using an even number of spokes, and weaving with two strands. All such designs should be bordered by a heavy band of the natural color or of the dark color or the pattern will lack character. Beginners should be chary in the use of color.
2 Strand Weave in 2 Colors. 3 Strand (Triple) Weave in 2 Colors.
Care must be exercised in putting in handles, and in finishing the upper edge. A glance at the cuts shows the handles as being interwoven into the sides of the basket, and a close analysis of the real articles would show the ends as being carried into the bottom so that the basket will hold a considerable weight without the handles pulling loose. In the melon-shaped basket, the handle is part of a circle forming the backbone, so to speak, of the whole structure. Another circle intersecting this forms the top of the sides.
Potato basket Melon shaped basket. Oblong flower basket. Drop handle flower basket.
While all these baskets are for practical use, they are quite unlike in the purposes for which they are intended, and a reed bird's nest or bird-house might, perhaps, be excluded as not being a real basket. It is, however, eminently fitted for country use, and after a few weeks'
exposure to sun and rain, the reed will take on the silvery tones of weather-beaten wood, and seem a part of the landscape. Among our wild birds, bluebirds seem particularly willing to adapt to their own use a ready-made domicile, and even, it is said, to return to the same one year after year. This nest need not be very large, and may be fastened to a bough within sight of the house, as the bluebirds do not fly from their human neighbors. In Scandinavia such nests are very common, and the return of bird couples among the smaller feathered friends is counted upon, just as is the annual visit of the storks, who find their rooftree homes prepared with a foundation of a cart wheel by their hosts, ready to be added to with each successive spring.