My Rivercane baskets are woven in the traditional cherokee style/patterns that my teacher Emma Jackson Garrett taught me. Emma is of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and she lives right here in Wetern North Carolina. Emma comes from a long line of basket weavers and is one of very few people carrying on this craft in its traditional form. Rivercane is a native plant very similar to bamboo, that can grow quite prolifically along creeks and river beds. The weaving material is made by splitting the outer shell away from the pith. The cane is left its natural color (green, fading to pale yellow) or dyed with plant material (orange-bloodroot, dark brown-black walnut) and woven into beautiful sturdy baskets. The weaving method used for this style of basket is a twill. The term twill means that you go over and/or under more than one spoke as you weave and move over one step each row.
Black Ash is a tree that likes wet feet and cold weather. It grows in the wet, boggy and swampy areas of the Upper Midwest and the Northeast and specifically favors the Great Lakes region. Due to their affinity for wet soils the growth rings of the ash are more loosely hinged together than most trees. Black Ash basketry splints are actually made taking a cut tree, laying it on its side and pounding it with a hard mallet until the growth rings split apart. A laborious but satisfying process. I am enamored with the process of pounding Ash.
This particular basket is hexagonally plaited in a style most commonly know as a shaker cheese basket. The identifying factor in this weaving method is the stars you will see throughout the weaving.
White Oak is a tree/ basketry material that commonly grows in the Southeastern United States. White Oak is the most commonly used basketry material throughout the Appalachian Mountain reason. White Oak's heritage as a basketry material is primarily attributed to this region and each state (sometimes even county) has their own ways of weaving the baskets. Ribbed egg and melon baskets like the one to your left (but often much more intricate) are a couple of the forms popularized in this region.
White oak splits are made by felling a tree (finding the right tree is not easy!) and splitting it down into usable material using wedges, a froe and/or a hatchet. As with river cane, making good splits takes a little finesse and a lot of practice.
Palm fronds of all varieties (date, coconut, cabbage and saw palmetto) are used to weave a wide variety of useful things. I have seen palms woven into hats, sun visors, planters for house plants, whimsical creatures and baskets, of course!
I am less versed in the history of the material than I am with the others listed but I know that palm weaving is still quite common where they grow. The most familiar place you will come across palm fronds in contemporary basketry is in Charleston sweetgrass baskets. The frond leaves are split into ribbon width weavers and used to sew/coil these elegant baskets.
To your left is a diagonally plaited basket made from hand split cabbage palm fronds.
Willow has been cultivated for basketry and other useful items in Europe for a very long time. Traditional willow structures have a wide range of uses, including coracles (a boat made with a woven inner form), human sized potato baskets (for shipping), living fences, and everyday harvesting baskets. Willow grows in the wild and must be coppiced (cut back every year) in order to grow long and straight with little branching. While weaving with wild willow is an option, the cultivated is often stronger, more durable and naturally comes in many beautiful colors. Willows are easy to grow and will continue to produce weaving materials for years and years when properly tended.
I am excitedly planning the planting of my first willow patch at home. In the meantime, I weave it whenever I can get my hands on it, occasional buy it and dream of the day I have a plethora of it to harvest at home.
Reed is probably the most common basket weaving material in the United States today. It is natural, plentiful, commercially available and easy to work with. While I prefer to weave with materials that I can harvest and process from their source, I have grown to love working with reed. It comes in many different shapes and widths and has allowed me the luxury of weaving a basket whenever I'm inspired, whithout always having to process more material.
Basket reed is made from the core of a thorny palm commonly know as Rattan. Their are hundreds of different species, but the few harvested commercially grow mostly in Indonesia and Southeast Asia. This plant grows like a vine in rainforest canopies and will some times be as much as three hundred feet long. These raw vines are then processed into many different shapes, sizes and qualities of material and then bundled into coils for commercial sale.