Tools

Weaving A Story

While Laurel Parker (Turtle Clan) was fascinated by the beadwork being reviewed by Elders, Lucia Thomas (Turtle Clan) was intent upon the baskets. Two stamped baskets were among the items brought for the Elders’ perusal.

“The baskets are like the ones I do, but I was taught to dye the strips using different plants,” said Lucia. “I miss making my baskets, but it’s hard to get splints; there’s no black ash around here. I’d have to go way up north, and if you do that you want to bring a lot of logs back since it’s such a long trip.

“From one log, you can make four to six big baskets. I make wash baskets, hampers, packs and laundry baskets.”

According to Lucia, the art of basket making remains basically the same as years ago. Black ash is the tree of choice for basket makers because it is both flexible and durable. Thirteen years ago, while she was living at Akwasasne, Lucia took a class with a noted Mohawk basket maker and has since created numerous baskets.

The process is time consuming. To produce a large work basket, a 12-foot log is needed. The entire log then must be pounded with the flat side of an ax until it is smooth and the layers pop up, allowing the strips to be peeled off.

“This is a long process,” said Lucia. “My son can do a log or a log and a half in eight hours.”

Once the strips are peeled, the cleaning process begins, another tedious project. The strips are held by hand and then scraped with a sharp knife until smooth. This can take another whole day. For a large basket, 15 or 16 strips need to be cleaned for the frame and six more for the weaving. Although the strips to be woven into the frame are narrower, they need to be as long, or longer, than the framing strips. All strips are soaked in warm water to make them pliable about 10 minutes before use.

To begin building the basket frame, Lucia uses templates she made out of wood as her guide. The templates mark the placement of the strips for the frame. Wooden molds her family made are also used during the framing to help the basket maintain its shape. When the basket is the desired height, it’s time to finish it off with a rim, also made with a black ash strip that has been whittled down with one side rounded and the other flat. In about six hours, Lucia can complete the framing, weave and rim of a basket. The only things holding the baskets together are the weaving and molding.

Noting the baskets brought to the Elders center, Lucia particularly admired the smaller of the two with its minimalist design.

“Some baskets tell a story of where they were made, who made them or what they were used for,” said Lucia. “Today, when we make our baskets we can cut a few corners by using newer tools, but baskets are made using the same techniques as years ago.”

See also: Elders Review Artifacts

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