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Basket Weaving Made Easy
Discover The Joys Of Basket Weaving! New Hands On Guide Covers Everything You Need To Know To Become An Expert.
Unlike our Appalachian forebears who had to trek to the forest to fell just the right oak and then split it and dress it into thin pliable splints, we need go no farther than the mail box for materials. Round and flat reed and wooden hoops are available through the mail and make excellent substitutes for hand-split oak. You will need :
All of the tools you will find handy are probably already around the house. A sharp knife, either a good pocketknife or a razor knife, is a must. Also lay aside a ruler, half-a-dozen spring clothespins or small spring cabinetmaker's clamps, an awl or knitting needle, and a bucket of warm water.
Before beginning it is a good idea to understand a little about the design of ribbed· baskets like this one. Though craft guilds have passed the skill down through the centuries, no firm mathematical instructions have emerged. This is because the basket is literally designed and shaped as it is made. No two basketmakers will pull their splint weavers to exactly the same tension and weave with precisely equal tightness, and with the egg basket the number of ribs is determined by the tightness of the weave. The tighter the weave, the more ribs will be required.
The first steps in the construction of this particular basket call for inserting three pairs of ribs. As you proceed, you will have to add more ribs, always by pairs, as space demands. You end up with eight pairs if the weaving is the same as the basket shown here. If your weave is especially tight you may need more than eight pairs. The idea is to have an even weave length throughout. That is, if in the beginning a weaver goes over and under three ribs per inch, the same three-ribs-per-inch pattern must be constant all the way to the end when the weaver is crossing the bottom at its widest point. If you find that the weave is getting longer, say two per inch, you must insert additional ribs on each side to shorten the weave.
This is an easy concept to grasp if you think about the relationship of the ribs. It is also the most important thing to understand about egg basket construction. At both ends the rib points to the junction of the rim and handle hoops and curves between to shape the bottom. Where all the ribs' ends meet on either side of the basket, they are obviously very close together, calling for a tight weave to go over and under them. By the time these same reeds curve around the very bottom, however, they are far apart. Since the space between the ribs should be the same throughout, more ribs must be inserted as you weave your way toward the bottom.
Step One: The wooden hoops become the basket's rim and handle. Place the· vertical handle hoop inside the horizontal rim hoop, crossing them at a 90-degree angle at the two points of their intersection. The handle hoop should cross so that one third of its height is on one side of the rim hoop and two thirds is on the other side. That is, do not cross the hoops at their exact centers. Clamp them at two points with a clothespin each. The one-third side will be the handle by which the basket is carried.
Step Two: Both rim and handle of this basket is trimmed with dowels of round reed and these dowels should be clamped in place before the rim and handle are lashed together. The rim dowel is a continuous reed, 25 inches long. Cut this round reed and dump it into the water. Now cut two more reeds, each twelve inches long, for the handle dowels. Soak them too. When the rim dowel is pliable, clamp one end atop the rim at one of the hoop intersections. Keeping it flush with the top of the rim, wrap it around the rim hoop until its ends meet. Trim the ends, if necessary, so that they meet but do not overlap, and clamp the rim dowel atop the hoop with clothespins. Now reach for the handle dowels and run one along each side of the handle, holding them with clothespins. The handle dowels should end at the rim dowel.
Step Three: The Eye of God Lashing is complete, and the leftover lashing reed is clamped tightly. This will become the first weaver. Notice how the rim dowel is held to the rim hoop.
Step Three: Cut the first three pairs of ribs, two each, to sixteen inches, seventeen inches, and eighteen inches. Their ends should be cut to a flat taper. Put them in the warm water to soak. While they are in the bucket, add two flat reeds to the water, retrieving them when they are soft enough to work with. These lashing reeds will be used to hold the rim and handle together. The basket uses a fourfold bond lashing sometimes called the "Eye of God" at each rim hoop-handle hoop juncture. Begin wrapping the lashing as shown in the "Eye of God" diagram. Make four or five complete revolutions, pulling tightly after each, and lashing over the rim and handle dowels as you go. After finishing one side, clamp the long end that is left of the weaver to the rim and do the other side. When both lashings are completed you can remove the clothespins that hold the rim and handle dowels.
Step Four: Fetch the three pairs of ribs from the bucket and lay them out according to their length. Locate the eighteen-inch pair (We will call this pair #1) and insert the ends of each into the pockets formed by the Eye of God lashing. One end will get tucked into the lashing on one side and the other on the other side, the rib looping around the basket's bottom and splitting the 90-degree angle made by the hoops in half. Now insert the sixteen-inch pair (Pair #2) in the same fashion, dividing space between the rim hoop and pair #1. The seventeen·inch rib pieces (Pair #3) follow, on the other side of Pair #1. The ribs should be tucked securely in the Eye of God. The basket's bottom should now be roughly shaped, and you can check to make sure that both sides of the twin bottom match. They must be symmetrical now to guarantee that the shapes wiIl be even as more ribs are added.
Steps Four and Five: The first three ribs have been inserted into the Eye of God and weaving has begun.
Step Five: Release the clothespin holding the weaver down on one side and begin over and under weaving. You will be weaving your way around the Eye of God, over and under each rib, treating the hoops just like a rib. When you reach the rim on the other side, weave over the rim and around the rim dowel and back down again. Continue weaving in the opposite direction toward the rim side where you started. Push the weavers tightly together as you work your way from rim to rim, especially where they wrap around the rims. When you have about three rows in, clamp the weaver to the rim and repeat the weaving around the other Eye of God.
The weavers are taken around the rim dowel in this fashion when weaving direction changes.
Note:: While you are weaving in these first three rows you may find that the rib ends continually pop out of the Eye of God lashing. Be patient, and simply poke them back in when this happens. After three rows are in they will be held firmly and this will no longer be a problem.
Step Six: Three rows of weavers are now in place. You will be able to see that should you continue weaving without adding any ribs your weaves are going to get longer and looser. It is time, therefore, to add more ribs. You will have to judge for yourself where to insert them, or if you can get away with another row of weavers before you must add them. With the basket shown, three more pairs were cut. Pair #4 was 13 1/2" long, #5 was 15" long, and #6 was 16" long. All were soaked until they were pliable. Then Pair #4 was tucked into the weaving just beneath Pair #3. The next ribs, Pair #5, was inserted between Pair #1 and Pair #2. Finally, Pair #6 went in between Pair #1 and Pair #3. Always add ribs by the pair -- one rib on one side of the basket and one on the other. Don't expect to be able to shove them all the way to the Eye of God. It is sufficient to tuck the tapered ends under just one row of weaver now. Subsequent weavers will hold them securely in place. Examine the curves of the twin bottom to be sure that these new ribs conform to the shape. If they don't, adjust them. Continue weaving as you did before, going over and under ribs including the new ones. Don't forget to push all your weavers together tightly.
Step Six: Three more ribs were added on each side to keep the weave length uniform.
Step Seven: By now, if not sooner, you have probably used up all the first weaver. Weave as far as you can with both sides and then soak two more flat reeds. When they are supple, tuck the end of each new weaver beneath the end of the first for a couple of ribs and then continue weaving as before. Work both sides simultaneously, putting in four or five rows on one side and then four or five on the other. You should try to move evenly toward the bottom from both sides. Before you reach the tenth row you will probably have to add more ribs. To determine this, watch the length of each weaver and figure on having to add ribs whenever the weave is getting too long. With the basket shown it became necessary to add two pairs, one between Pair #2 and the rim and one between Pair #4 and the bottom hoop. This may or may not be the case with your basket, depending on the tightness of your weaving. The only rule of thumb is: If the weaving will be longer than you like on the next row it is time to add ribs.
Step Seven: It was necessary to add two more ribs on each side after the tenth row of weaving.
Step Eight: Continue weaving your way around the basket on both sides, pushing your weavers together tightly as you go; Splice new weavers in as the old ones run out and add ribs when necessary. Eventually you will have worked your way all around the rim and the weavers will meet. Though the rim will be completely wrapped when this happens, the basket's sides will still have spaces to be filled in. At this point you will continue weaving across the bottom as you have been, but instead of changing direction after you have circled the rim you will weave to the highest rib you can and then start back. Keep up this filling technique until the entire basket body is finished. Trim off the end of the weaver that is left to about two inches and poke it through to the inside. Then weave it back under itself to finish it off.
Step Eightt: When filling in the sides, weave to the highest rib you can and then reverse direction. You will not be able to weave all the way to the rim.
Step Nine: All that remains is to wrap the handle and handle dowels to match the rim wrapping. Soak another long length of quarter-inch flat reed. When it is supple, tuck one end into the top of one of the Eyes of God where it doesn't show and begin weaving around the handle and dowels. The pattern is simple: Around one dowel and over the handle, around the opposite dowel and back under the handle, and so forth. The flat reed you choose must be long enough to do the entire handle, for it is impossible to work a new splint into the center of this wrapping pattern. Look for one at least four feet long. Push the wrapping splint together tightly as you work. At the end, trim off the splint to an inch or so and secure it by tucking it down into the back of the Eye of God.
As you near the bottom you can tell that your weavers will meet on the rim and bottom before the sides have been completely filled in. This filling in is accomplished in Step Eight.
The twin-bottom egg basket you have completed was the crowning glory of a colonial basketmaker --the piece de resistance of basket-weaving. A perfect example will have identically-curving bottoms and uniform weave length. Those most respected by basket collectors have a dozen or more pairs of ribs with a tiny weave of very thin splints. Some are woven of splints as narrow as one-eighth of an inch. When you examine antique egg baskets you will find a variety of shapes and techniques for covering the handle and rim.
A finish similar to that on the rim dowel is used on. the handle. It is a simple over-under weave.
Source: Adapted from an article by Ron Pilling
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