Basket Making From Foraging and Found Material

It’s fall in NE Georgia and the leaves are turning, with some freeze in the short future.

From the many things growing around in the garden and wild crafting, it’s time to harvest and gather basket making material for winter weaving.

In your garden, gather bulb leaves as they die down – especially good are daffodil, iris & day lily. Pine needles as they drop at the end of summer are available. Any vines or creepers can be harvested such as wisteria, greenbriar (aka Smilax), honeysuckle, kudzu, Virginia creeper, hops, grape both native and cultivated, jasmine, and passion flower/fruit. Some trees which need pruning such as willow are collectible now too. Native grasses with long leaves and lemon grass also can be harvested now. Into the wet lands find rushes, tall grasses, and other bog plants. Look around and see what is flexible and has long fiber potential.

Either make the material up into baskets immediately or dry and store. Some of the material may not be flexible once dried such as grape vine and honeysuckle. Even with soaking they are often too brittle to use once left too long. If they break when bended, they are past their prime.

What I do sometimes is make a very loose weave from stiffer material like grape vine or willow, leaving gaps in the weave. Later I interweave into this matrix twisted or braided bulb leaves, or grasses, or finer but evergreen material like honeysuckle. This makes for very interesting textures and often color variations. They tend to look primitive but I make them for the art rather than the practical when doing this. Into this kind of weave can be places stems of acorns or curly willow stems for textural interest. I also sometimes make a ring base and attach it for baskets that don’t stand up by themselves due to uneven bases. These rings of twisted or woven material are woven into the base of the basket with flexible material. I also add handles sometimes after the fact when other material is available. An otherwise poor sad little basket can be upgraded into a magical little thing this way, in another season.

To dry your material that likes to be dried and later soaked (such as some leaves, grasses or vines), lay out your fibers in a cool dark well ventilated space. I like to set used detached window screens on boxes to lift them above the floor in the garage or under the porch overhang, and turn them now and then to evenly dry. Once dry, bind bunches with rubber bands, wrap with newspaper, label, and keep in a cool dark place – like a dry basement or garage. When storing vines, curl them into donuts the size of the basket you will be making, dry them and secure with string, wrap in newspaper, and label. Often once dried many fibers look alike but have different characteristics so label with variety, date, use. Store in a cool dark space.

Or you can hang bunches of grasses or other fibers from the rafters of a well ventilated shed or garage, or someplace cool and dark. Label before hanging. Take down and wrap in newspaper and do the final label as above. This makes them easy to pull out when you need them for your work without opening things and making endless messes (said from many such mistakes…)

During the summer you may have collected sweet corn leaves or husks, or philodendron leaf bracts or fine native grasses, reeds or rushes. If they are small, they can be stored in cardboard boxes.

In the winter, once all the leaves have fallen and we’ve had a couple of good freezes, ensuring the sap has traveled down into tree roots, and you are doing your yearly pruning, many of the tree prunings make good basket material. Interesting branched stems, curly willow branches, stout pieces suitable for handles, and other uses are made available if you take the artists eye towards the pruning process. I save a lot of my willow branches which are stout (not flexible) to make straight handles or cross pieces for handles. I grow three kinds of willow here, and besides their use as plant cloning hormone and aspirin/headache pain killer, all have basket making uses. The curly willow branches are so decorative as strong curly handles, and the thinner branches add texture around the outside of a basket.

When harvesting some trees for medicinal bark or use for making cordage, I am left with very nicely peeled inner branches. They make other basket material such as twig baskets, or whatever creative use you see in them. But view them as a resource, not just as tinder for your fire or bonfires.

When I began my Permaculture Design demonstration garden here in Barrow County 12 years ago, one of the precepts given in my certification course was “every element in a design must have multiple purposes and uses”. I was initially thinking in terms of bees, medicines, foods, building material, aesthetics, and oxygen production. But being an old basket maker from Girl Scout days, and a couple of workshops in basket making over the years both in California and Georgia, and more research into the native plants that grow here, it occurred to me that basket making, cordage, and fiber were a powerful resource and another garden yield.

Instead of pulling those dead leaves from around the iris and composting them, now they are woven or braided for baskets. Instead of cursing the smilax growing up thru my holly bushes, now I eat the tender ends (they are edible and quite nice tasting), remove the thorns with a little tool used for stripping thorns off long stemmed roses, and use them as strong bones for my weaving. It added a whole new dimension to the yield from the food forest and garden areas here.

One of the other precepts in Permaculture Design is “zero waste” and the idea that “things considered pollution or contamination (like weeds) are merely resources that have not found a use”. Suddenly the honeysuckle vines taking over my stored garden structures are a wonderful source of not only blossoms in the spring (medicinal) but baskets in summer and fall. It’s all how you view things and if you know what can be done these with things they become friends. Even those pesky blackberry canes can be utilized for fiber.

Good hunting.

Diann Dirks  11-10-18

This entry was posted in Basket making and fiber arts, Bee haven gardens, Cording, fiber and ripe plant, Food Forest, Gardening, organic gardening, Permaculture, Seasonal gardening plants, Self-Sustainability, Uncategorized, winter gardening. Bookmark the permalink.

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