Monday, May 12, 2014


Traditional Karuk basket weaving materials (2013-2014)

This past year of gathering basket materials has been extra special for me.  Always before, I go, I gather, I process, I sort, and then I can weave. This year I also shared some of the unseen work of making baskets.

Our baskets are often very beautiful and for those interested in purchasing them, not inexpensive.  Many people want to be able to put an intrinsic value on a basket, so they will ask "how long did it take you to weave that basket?"  Are they wanting to know just the time of actual weaving?  Some projects make take more than a day because one can only weave a certain number of hours per day and there are other things that happen in the weavers' lives; so if it's a major project like a jump dance basket or a ceremonial basket cap, should the time be measured in the number of days, weeks, or months of weaving from start to finish?

I'd like for people to appreciate our art and skill and have often thought it would be nice to share all of the time and details that are involved even before the first stick is chosen to weave  a basket. 

I could not have created this blog without the generous support from the 2013 National Native Creative Development Program, coordinated by the Longhouse Education and Cultural Center, The Evergreen State College, Olympia, Washington; and from the Puffin Foundation.  Thank you very much.

Thank you to my husband, Martin, for his help taking the pictures and videos and for his computer expertise helping with this blog. 

These are two of the projects that I completed this past year.

Jump Dance Basket, made with hazel sticks, spruce root, overlayed with beargrass,
woodwardia and black fern.  The long sticks holding the  basket together
are hazel sticks wrapped in deer hide.
Ceremonial Basket Cap, made with hazel sticks, spruce root, overlayed with
beargrass, woodwardia, and black fern.
Yootva (Thank you)


Sunday, May 11, 2014

Gathering and Processing Hazel

Baskets are comprised of two parts, the weavers (weft) and the sticks (warp).  Klamath River basketry generally uses either hazel or willow sticks.  Where willow makes pretty, straight white sticks, hazel is a little more zigzag, but is prized for its strength.

The best time for gathering hazel is during the spring when the leaves are just starting to grow.

Like beargrass, the best hazel is often found in areas which have been burned within the previous few years.  In fact, the area we gathered hazel from this time was the same spot where we gathered the beargrass last summer.  The best hazel sticks are long, thin and straight.  Slightly thicker sticks are used for baby baskets and burden baskets, but because of their strength, they are harder to bend.  The smaller hazel sticks are used as weavers on baby baskets, burden baskets, and jump dance baskets.

 Gathering and Processing Hazel
This video takes just over 17 minutes.
Thank you for visiting my blog.


Gathering and Processing Willow

Willow sticks are used much like hazel sticks, as the backbone (or warp) of our baskets.  The sticks can be very straight and a have nice white color.

Unlike some basket materials that require travelling high into the mountains, we collect our willow along waterways like the Klamath River - and more recently a small patch we are "maintaining" closer to home.  Like hazel, we want the long, straight, thin sticks as these are the best to use as the warp of our baskets.  Sometimes, in larger open weave baskets (baby baskets and burden baskets), the thinner pieces can also be use as weavers.

Some of our basket materials are best to gather after fire has gone through the area.  That isn't so with willow.  But still, the most usable sticks come from new, fresh growth.  To that end, many basket weavers will maintain a personal willow area by cutting back the plants every year.

When a weaver first decides on an area to maintain, often it has years-old willow plants that have grown quite full and wild. Some weavers will cut them to the ground, but we like cutting them to about waist height.  New growth of long, straight sticks will grow from the cut off places, making future gathering easier than bending to cut them from the ground.

This video talks about both gathering and processing the willow.
Thank you again for visiting my blog.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Gathering and Processing Spruce Root

Spruce root is used as a basic weaving material (the weft) to hold together the sticks (the warp).  Most often in Klamath River baskets, the root is overlaid with another more colorful material, but it's the root that gives the basket its strength.  (Some basket weavers may also use willow root.)

Root is most often used on tight-weave baskets (some are even used for cooking!).  The photo below shows a traditional Karuk tobacco basket which I made two years ago.

These were/are utilitarian baskets and as such were often not decorated at all.  Most of what you see on this basket is spruce root, only overlaid with the lighter colored bear grass to form a simple but inconspicuous design.

You will also see larger pieces of root, after being split into a flatter form, used for wrapping on things like baby rattles and baby baskets.


Gathering Spruce Root in a Northern California coastal forest.

This video will last about 4 minutes.

As with all of our basket materials, it's not simply a matter of gathering the spruce root.  The next step is to process the roots into more usable materials.

This is a 12 minute video.

Gathering, Processing, & Dyeing Woodwardia

The three tribes on the Klamath River use woodwardia fern to create the reddish colored overlay in their baskets.  The cap I made last year (and pictured in my last post) contains quite a bit of woodwardia.

With most of our weaving materials, there are two steps: gathering and processing.  Woodwardia has an additional step of dyeing.  After processing, the strands are a cream color.  In order to get the reddish color, the strands must be dyed with bark from an alder tree.  So, we've created three separate videos to show each of the steps.

This video shows the Gathering Process and takes about 7 minutes.

 This video is about Processing the woodwardia and takes just under 5 minutes.

Dyeing woodwardia with alder bark
This video is about 6 1/2 minutes.

Here's what it looked like with it was dyed and dried.