A Tisket, A Tasket
...a brown and yellow basket (song by Ella Fitzgerald).
We use baskets for many things - to hold and carry a variety of objects, for decoration or to put food in to pass around at a family meal, to fill with presents and candy in the spring. Baskets are a useful work of art. I recently observed much of the process of turning a black ash tree into a beautiful basket. It's a lot of work and I'm thankful for the people who put such care into the process. Here's a bit of what goes into it and a little bit about the people who make them. At least what I gleaned from the process.
Step 1: Identify a black ash tree that is the perfect size and is fairly accessible and cut it down.
Lionel (Sullivan County Conservation District Manager), Mark (Sullivan County Natural Resources Field Technician), Jason (Upper Valley Land Trust Vice-President of Stewardship), Tyler (basket maker), and his brother, Clay all went out to Up on the Hill Conservation Area in Charlestown to scout out trees. They found a perfect black ash a little ways into the forest. The tree was cut and lugged out of the forest in 6-8 foot sections.
Step 2: Debark the logs and soak them. Tyler debarked the logs and they were placed in the pond at the Eco Ag Center in Unity to soak up water.
Step 3: Pound the ash logs into layers and 4-6" strips.
Tyler taught community members who attended a basket-weaving demonstration how to pound the ash log in a way that causes the growing layers to separate. They pounded the log with rubber mallets and wore ear protection, because it is loud. From a distance it sounded like rhythmic drumming.
Step 4: Cut the strips into .5 to 1" strips
Tyler used a tool, I believe of his making, that had multiple blades spaced in between wood to cut the larger strips into smaller strips. It is called a gage. There are differently spaced gages depending on how wide you want the strips. He placed the larger ash strip onto a wooden board and ran the cutter over it.
Step 5: Clean the strips
Tyler cleaned the smaller strips by running a very sharp knife over the length of the strip. He placed a leather material under the strip and the knife on top. Then, holding onto the knife, he pulled the strip through to take the rough edge off.
Optional Step: Dye the strips with natural materials or even ritz dye. Bloodroot makes yellow.
Step 6: Make the basket
Members of the Boles Family, basket-makers from VT and members of the Ko'asek Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation, cut the strips and put them in a pattern to create the base of the basket. Then, they wove more strips into the base. I didn't witness how they finished off the basket.
This program was a collaboration between Upper Valley Land Trust, the Ko'asek Traditional Band of the Sovereign Abenaki Nation, and Sullivan County Natural Resources Dept. and Conservation District.