Crafting Handmade Baskets

American Artisans, People
on April 11, 2011
David Mudd PGOA Media Office Manager Laura Meisner weaves a shallow flat reed basket.

A shallow flat reed basket filled with handmade ceramic Easter eggs sits on Laura Meisner’s desk at PGOA Media’s offices in Franklin, Tenn. (pop. 41,842)

It’s one of dozens, perhaps hundreds, of baskets that she has carefully woven since 1999, the year that she took her first class in basket weaving.

“No machine can do this,” Meisner says as she shows the detailed craftsmanship in a picnic basket with wooden handles and a wood-rimmed lid made out of tiger ash that she made about a month ago. It’s one of a dozen she has in her office.

As intricate as her baskets appear, Meisner says making a basket is “not as time-consuming as you might think.”

“It may seem like a daunting task, but basic weaving is just patterns,” she says.

Baskets can be woven into almost any shape—round, square, oval, flat-sided, round-bottomed, among many others—that the crafter can imagine and from a variety of materials. The most common components include flat or round reed, hardwoods, pine needles and sweet grass.
“Anything you can make flexible you can weave,” Meisner says.
The first step to making a basket is gathering materials—usually reed—and soaking them in water to make them pliable. Next, the basket maker must lay out and weave the base of the basket, which will determine the size of the basket. A basket mold or the weaver’s hands create the shape of the basket.
Weavers craft the baskets from bottom to top. After the base has been created, they upset the spokes of the basket in order to weave the sides of the basket. To finish the basket, a sewing technique known as lashing is used to attach a rim and finish the top edge of the basket.

Baskets require very little maintenance. A reed basket can last almost 75 years, while a hardwood basket can last for a lifetime.

Throughout world history baskets have been used for a variety of purposes—from storage containers and baby carriers to ceremonies and rituals.

Because of the ubiquitous and perishable nature of basket-making materials, it’s uncertain where and when baskets first originated, but traces of baskets have been found in Egyptian tombs.
Basket weaving connects people from across the United States and around the world. The National Basketry Organization, located in Brasstown, N.C., boasts a membership of about 800 members.
“We represent traditional and contemporary basket-making,” said Michael Davis, president of the group.
The NBO hosts exhibitions and conferences in the U.S., and distributes a quarterly magazine that features one contemporary and one traditional basket.
Basket making guilds—such as the West Tennessee Basket Guild, based in Camden, Tenn., exist in almost all 50 states. Most offer classes to share techniques and knowledge about their craft.

“Our mission is to spread the word about basket weaving, especially to inspire the younger generation of the old art,” said Fran Pierson, the secretary of the West Tennessee Basket Guild.
Opinions differ about why people get involved in basketry.
“I believe that an adult takes a basket class as a remembrance of younger days,” Pierson says. “Kids take the class or learn weaving as encouragement of a talent.”
Davis believes a connection to the earth draws people to basketry.
“It’s nice to relate to something handmade,” he says.
PGOA’s Meisner says basketry is relaxing and provides her with a creative outlet.
“It’s therapeutic,” she says. “It’s just another way to express myself.”