Monday, June 6, 2011

Black Ash Baskets, Part 2!

The art of black ash basketry dates back to the Native Americans and their utilitarian baskets. Black ash baskets were used for many different things including corn washing, food gathering, fishing, and household containers. As time went on, the basket became more then an art born of necessity, and became a true art form. Before long, ornamental baskets were being created along side the more useful models. Ash baskets are very durable and are often passed down through generations, darkening with age as if gathering memories within the weave.
In Monday's class, we began to process our ash splints and prepare them for weaving. We needed 1 thick splint for our uprights, and 2 thinner ones for our weavers. The uprights would be the basic form and skeleton of the basket, which we would weave the weavers around. To get the weavers, we cut a slice in the splint about 2 inches from the top, halfway through the splint across the grain. Once a tab is created, it is bent back to create a separation between the two halves. Using the splitter (a nifty contraption made of 3 pieces of wood that has a pinch at the top) the splint is fed up through a hole in the side and through the pinched slats at the top. Using even pressure on each side the splint is split over the top of the splitter, down its entire length. Some of us had trouble with one side thinning and breaking off, however with some help from Stuart Soboleski, and Irene Ames we discovered that when one side becomes thicker, to pull it more severely to even it out. It was so exciting to see the smooth satiny finish of the inside of the splints! After splitting, the outside of the splint is shaved smooth with a knife to remove the fibrous tissue of the cambium.
The splits are then soaked before cutting.

We then used a specialized cutting tool to cut the splints to the widths desired for uprights.

The strips were then cut into 9-10 inch lengths for weaving.
Next we began the weaving together of the uprights on 5x5 blocks for the shape of our baskets. we found that the thicker the uprights, the harder the weaving!
Once the bottom was done, we braced the sides up against the side of the mold, tacked them down and set them in the sun to dry.
Next we soaked the weavers while we took the uprights off the mold. Next we began to weave, which was a little frustrating with the thicker uprights.
The trick was to weave the ends under each other and the up
rights to hide them. next class we finish weaving, and do our rims! cant wait!


  1. Having uprights that are thin enough to bend and weave tightly is definitely key. My uprights were a bit too thick which resulted in a relatively open weave that was difficult to fashion. On the next try I will be sure to use thinner uprights (maybe 2 millimeters thick).

  2. going from strips of bark to actual baskets was awesome! I have to say that though it is initially very labor intensive, there is much satisfaction in starting to create something, and even though my basket is definitely looking like a beginner's basket, it's really cool nonetheless!

  3. I thinned out my uprights and made them a little thinner then she has suggested. This required me to have more of them but I really liked how pliable and pretty they looked. I could have used more of them so that the holes in the basket were smaller in the bottom. The first few rows of weaving are hard and they look sloppy but they tighten up the more you add on. It is key to have them wet and using a squirt bottle is helpful because it gets wet but not soaked. I like the look of the super tiny thin weaving material she uses for a lot of her baskets. If I had the patience and time I would totally do this all the time.

  4. I am a bit frustrated. I am having trouble keeping the form of the basket (keeping the uprights upright) while weaving. Any tips? How are you all using the clips? I am using them to keep the uprights in the corners together which may be helping a bit.

  5. I found the whole uprights part to be relatively easy for me. I think this was because i scraped them down pretty well after splitting the splint in half. Eyeballing it, my uprights looked to be just under 1/16 of an inch, maybe less. The scraping was my favorite part. I found that it was easier to control the amount removed when you hold the blade of your knife directly perpendicular to the splint, and pull it under your blade. It takes a bit longer, and i found myself constantly re-honing my knife to make it more effective, but overall it worked alot better for me than holding the blade at an angle. Haven't started the weaving yet, but i look forward to it..... how hard can it be, right? ( i may regret saying that.....)

  6. I'm also having trouble with my strips being too thick. Perhasps, I'll try shaving them.