A Basket Weaver’s Garden

I am very involved with my garden in every way, time wise, my aging body is very involved, and my finances are drawn into play as well. I could talk about my garden ad nauseum! And do! The joy it gives me. What I am planning. The new techniques I am trying. The concept of switching from “exotics” to native species. The list goes on. Today, however, I want to talk about how many basketry supplies that are to be found growing in my garden.


Let’s start with vines. They can be very useful in basketry, as superstructure elements in Rib Baskets, as long cores for Coiled Baskets. As a tangled element in the Random Weave Baskets, they create any shape. One of the highpoints of my garden is my Wisteria vine. It is quite an agressive plant and needs to be cut back often. Up the archway that leads to the lower half of my backyard is Bittersweet vine. Both of these vines I moved from my old house to my new house 8 years ago and they are very happy here, although I think my ‘5b’ location is at the northern limit of their climate zone. Down by the river grows wild Grapevine and Virginia Creeper. The grapevine is much stronger and especially beautiful when the bark is peeled off. The Virginia Creeper is not as strong, but it accepts dye beautifully, so I have to work a bit more carefully with it when I want vivid colours in the completed basket. Its the same as in my textile weaving, I want the warp threads to be coloured to complete the colour intensity of the completed piece. And I do love colour!


OK, moving right along to plants that supply material for cordage,. Cordage is a way to combine shorter elements to make a long rope like element. It is twisted into a 2 strand braid is the best way to describe the process My latest experiments are with daffodil stems. Yes, you read that correctly. I have so many daffodils. And after they bloom, the stems are sort of strong but squishy in the nicest possible way. They remind me of rushes (not cattails which are flat leaves) Rushes are plant stems and sedges, sedges have edges, they have sort of a triangular cross section, and have the same feel somehow as the daffodil stem, but they are much longer. (Rushes are found beside and slightly in water, unfortunately they are not common in my garden, even by the river.) I have not (yet) used dandelion stems, but I understand they too can be used in this way. Dandelions should be dried in a cool dark place until they are sort of crispy, so I have been told. Also, I love to make cordage from day lily leaves, iris leaves and corn husks. Day lily leaves have such a softly varying natural colour palette, especially when picked after the first frost and then dried. The other 2 can be dyed. and look gorgeous. Iris leaves look like silk batik and corn husks can get quite colourful. Dying plant materials can be accomplished with any dye that will work on cotton, in other words, on plant fibres not animal fibers like wool and silk. One can also use indoor plant fibres like spider plant leaves, New Zealand Flax leaves, etc. One can make cordage very even and regular, but, I like the texture and variations from less processed materials, like the adorable curl from the edge of a corn husk or New Zealand Flax peeking out from the cordage. All these cordage elements should be dried first. Then dyed. Then dried. Then rinsed. Possibly left to dry or used at this point. Then woven into a basket. They can also be braided using 3,4,5,6 etc., strands. If the cordage has dried, I soak it until it is useable, I do use daffodil stems but not the leaves as they are toxic and can cause a rash. Coiled baskets are another way to use shorter elements. Pine needles have a long tradition of being used in coiled baskets. The longest needles are nicest, but, any length can be used. There is so much online about pine needle baskets, something for every taste and skill level. Grasses! Another useful plant material for coiling especially.


Osier, with striking red, lime green, or a soft brown stem are good for structural elements or weavers. The colours are photo sensitive, which means they turn red or lime green when the sun reaches them and then they fade to soft brown when the leaves come out and shade the stems. If picked when red or lime green, they stay that colour. Wild willows also grow nearby in vast quantities . Looking for long fine pieces is satisfying but slow. It can be used just when picked or after dried and then soaked. Warning! Do not use your bathtub to soak willow! There is quite a resultant stain. I stand them up in water in a garbage can. Willow can be gathered in the winter, when ice makes it possible to reach areas of the pond not otherwise accessible. Also, they can be used when picked (and thawed) but all green basketry materials I have been told, and have learned through experience, well, they shrink as they dry. That is why the most exact process is gather, dry, soak just enough to make the fibre useable. Oversoaking means that the fibre can dry and then shrink in your basket. It shrinks in width, not length BTW. You can add more fibres as time goes on to fill in any spaces. Maple stems can be split and used in basketry. People tell me Rose of Sharon twigs as well. If you have a stick of some kind and as you pull the ends together, it forms a nice bend, use it! Basket appropriate sticks have a spine and a belly, another clue, they will only bend one way. Weeping Willow should only be used in cordage, its not strong as Wild Willow or Cultivated Willow.


From a redye in the dye pot, rib basket with grapevine, seed fronds from the jack rabbit fern, corn husk rope

Decorative elements are a favourite aspect of Basketry Materials from the Garden for me. Just try to remember that, for example, that flower or seed pod or stem of berries never imagined they would be woven into a basket. They can be crushed or broken easily as the basket is being woven. I like to start with a live flower, let’s say daffodil, weave the stem in, weave carefully around it, then let it dry in place. Daffodil flowers dry beautifully. If things break over time, I just add something new. A feather? A bone? I have some long gorgeous porcupine quills from my time in South Africa that have been waiting for the right basket. I want to use them as uprights.


I so enjoy making baskets using foraged materials. They are suited to every kind of basket, indeed our ancestors knew just what to do with what grew all around them. Let me know what has worked for you, be relaxed, keep trying, have fun as I do. Sometimes I wish that all my time could be solely devoted to basketry.

It’s in the Genes

my grandmother and myself.

I am cleaning out a cedar chest and found 3 rag rugs that my grandmother had woven and which are now at least 75 years old. As a young bride, I was so happy to use them on the cold floors in my old farmhouse. Now they are falling into disrepair, and as a rag rug weaver myself, I am tempted to reweave them on new string. The weaving is not the time consuming part after all, all the cloth has been prepared and it’s just the warp threads which have worn out in places.

My grandmother, Maria Jakkola nee Ravantti, emigrated to Canada from Finland in 1911. She joined her husband and settled in Copper Cliff, Ontario where there was a large Finnish population. Unfortunately, she was widowed young, with a family of 5 children. Never really becoming proficient in English, she earned money cleaning houses. Her employers gave her clothing and other textiles. She employed a “Hobo” , (one of those transient men wandering around, looking for work during the depression years,} to construct a large wooden loom according to her specifications. She would weave rugs for her family’s use and to sell.

I never really got to know her, she was quite elderly by the time I would have asked her about weaving, and she never did become proficient in English. I do wonder, for example, where she purchased her warp string. I also wish I had a photo of her loom, but there are none. She promised her loom to me but, unfortunately it was chopped into firewood before I could retrieve it. My mother told me that was probably for the best as it was an awkward old thing. I have heard a story about a dying pioneer woman who asked for her loom to be burned outside her window so that she could be sure that no one else would have to suffer as she had.

At any rate, I purchased my first loom and have never looked back.

I have 5 floor looms now and I weave my rugs on an old, hand built loom of cherry wood, very sturdy and heavy, perfect for rugs. It was a gift from a former student and I treasure it.

I am in awe of my grandmother’s work. I have a wool blanket she wove in 2 pieces, joined down the centre with the pattern matching perfectly. That would have been so difficult, I wonder where she purchased the coloured fine wools she used for it.

I do have a white wool blanket woven in a maritime mill from the wool from her own sheep. Also some of her crocheted lace and one of her stainless steel crochet hooks, from England, with a hook so small that it can hardly be seen. One of the rag rugs has a pattern woven in. Whew! That part would be difficult to replicate.

The upcycle/recycle aspect is also important to me. I use textiles that are not very useful in other ways, but sometimes I am tempted by a colour or pattern to use something else.

I have been weaving for over 50 years by now, with many bags of offcuts of my handwoven cloth that I have saved for years. I am now “felting” the pieces somewhat, cutting into strips and weaving rugs from that cloth. I am pleased with the results and have more cloth to use in that way. This photo includes the beater bar on my rug loom and look at the handcarved centre handhold as well as a rug being woven from my woven scraps.

Most weavers go through a stage of weaving patterns, I did and wove a cloth of Swedish Lace pattern to make cushion covers to put on my grandmother’s rocking chair. When my mother saw it, she actually gasped as she said it reminded her of something my grandmother had woven for that chair. It has long since worn out, I wove it 50 years ago, I wish I had a photo of that as well. Currently I have some hooked coverings on the rocking chair, hooked by my grandfather from the other side of the family. Working with wool, I can’t stop. What can I say, it’s in the genes!

Its only fitting that I end with a photo of myself and my youngest grand daughter. She is helping wind on a warp and was very interested in the different yarns I was using, pink, her favourite colour.