Basket making is a craft that is ageless, one that is found in every part of the world. It is a popular camp handcraft because so many natural materials for basketry are found in camps, and because the articles made-from sit-upons to pack baskets-can be used in outdoor living. Tea baskets, fish baskets, flower baskets, market baskets, potato baskets -these are but a few of the fascinating array of baskets that those who have lived close to the land have used for generations. The word basket comes from the Old English, and means a vessel made of vegetable fibers. Thus, reeds, vines, splints, rushes, sweet grass, lauhaula and palmetto leaves, long needles of pine, straw, or cornhusks may be woven into baskets of many shapes and uses. A wastebasket for tent or cabin, a mat for the tent floor, a screen for the primitive bath shelter, a market basket for the food shoppers, a mail basket for outgoing letters, or sit-upons for campfire use-these may be the results and rewards of basketry.
Because in most camps it is possible to get materials for basketry in the natural form, it is very important to be conservation-wise in the gathering of materials. Here, as in all use of natural materials, only those leaves, vines, stalks, or grasses that grow in abundance should be gathered, and these should be harvested with restraint, so that more of the material is left than is taken, and what is taken is cut carefully so that it is not missed. There is no point in denuding the swamp of cattail leaves and stalks for this year's campers to use, with the result that future generations of campers as well as future generations of red-winged blackbirds will find nothing where the cattails used to grow. Here again, the need for linking nature lore and good outdoor citizenship is a vital part of craft activities.
There are three general types of materials used in basketry:
Round materials: reed, vines, etc., such as rattan, a plant from the Far East; reed, the pith of rattan; vines such as honeysuckle; supple shoots of willow, etc.
Flexible materials: grasses-sweet grass, rye, broom straw, etc.; pine needles, especially from the long-needle pine; husks-cornhusks, etc.
Flat materials: splints-long narrow strips pounded and cut from ash, maple, oak, etc.; rushes-cattail, etc.; strips of large leaves, such as palmetto, lauhaula, etc.
Preparation of natural materials varies with the type of material used, and generally calls for some experimentation. Good conservation practices are essential in using natural materials; use only what is in abundance, and use only a portion of the supply. The establishing and caring for willow groves and cattail plantings will provide interesting projects for campers, and will teach outdoor citizenship and appreciation as well as ensuring supplies of materials for future groups of campers.
In general, pick material while still green. Dry slowly, turning often. Most materials will need to be moistened or soaked before they are used in making baskets.
Willow shoots should be gathered in the spring, as the shoots are brittle in the fall.
Splints are obtained from logs that have soaked for a month or more so that the layers are loosened. The bark is stripped off, and the log pounded lengthwise with a mallet, to separate the layers. The width of the strip may be guided by lengthwise cuts down the log. An ax edge is used to pry layers apart as the work proceeds. The heart or core is used for handles, rims, and so forth.
Cattails and rushes are gathered before they mature, usually in the summer. They should be dried slowly, otherwise they are brittle.
Cornhusks should be dried slowly in the shade. They may be dyed with natural or commercial dyes. The inner pieces are softest, and are used for fine weaving.
TOOLS USED in BASKETRY
Sometimes the husks have natural colors, and these are used to make color designs. Grasses are dried in the sun, slowly, being turned often. Pine needles may be used green or dried. If dried in the sun, they turn a warm brown; if dried indoors, they retain a soft green. Vines are used as weavers; they should be dried for a long time.
Gathering, preparation, and use of straw, corn, grass, and rush is very completely and interestingly covered by Margaret Shanklin in Use of Native Craft Materials. This book should be on the camp library shelf.
This is a method of weaving a long, supple strand, or "weaver," over and under a series of spokes which form the framework.
1. Cut 8 spokes from reeds or similar materials. Arrange them in a cross. With awl or pointed knife, make slit in the center sections of 4 spokes. Point one end of each of the other 4 spokes, and insert in slits, pulling them through to make the cross (Fig. III-2).
2. Take a long, well-soaked weaver of willow or vine, and double it back for about 10 inches. Wrap the fold around one set of 4 spokes, so that there is a short and a long weaver, one on top of the 4 spokes, one underneath (Fig.III-2). Weave over and under the sets of spokes, using both weavers. If the short one starts under the first set, it will go over the second set , under the third set, over the fourth, etc. At the same time, the long weaver is going over the first set, under the second, over the third, and under the fourth (Fig. III-3). Continue for three rows, or until short end is woven in place. 3. Spread spokes evenly, and continue weaving with the long weaver, going under the first and over the second and third spokes, under the fourth, and over the fifth and sixth (Fig. III-4). Continue until base is desired size. Keep base wet, so that spokes are pliable.
4. To turn up side: be sure base is wet, so spikes will not crack. Turn spokes up at right angles, continuing weaving as in step 3. Pull weaver tight to make basket turn in; hold spokes at angle to make basket wider.
5. To add new weavers: turn end of old weaver (a) toward outside of basket, and insert end of new weaver (b) about 3 spokes back. Continue with new weaver (Fig. III-5).
6. To end weaver: cut end of weaver on a slant, with stick end down beside a spoke (Fig. III-6).
7. To finish spokes: start with any spoke; carry it toward inside of basket, behind 2 spokes at the right, and tuck down into the weaving beside spoke (Fig. III-7). Repeat this step with each spoke in turn, until all have* been tucked into weaving. Press down evenly, and trim ends of spokes inside the basket.
Variations: Add a ninth spoke just a little longer than half the length of the first spokes. Stick this extra spoke in anywhere, after step 2, when the original spokes are spread evenly. Now the weaver can be woven over and under single spokes for the entire basket, as there will be an uneven number of spokes (Fig. III-8 a).
For a larger base and basket, spokes will need to be added to the base (Fig. III-9), as the original set of spokes will spread too far for firm weaving. Add a set of pointed spokes between the original spokes, pushing them down hard into the core weaving of step 2. Continue weaving by either method described above.