Seeds: Basket weavers turn found fibers into artworks

Published: Saturday, Feb. 9, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3CALIFORNIA LIFE

A pasta cutter isn't a typical crafts tool. But like their ancient brethren, creative weavers find a way to make use of what they have.

Garden castoffs, copper wire, scrap cloth and other materials take new shape in the hands of basket weavers. The pasta cutter? It slices paper, too.

"Basketry isn't a lost art," said weaver Charlotte Rhoads of Placerville. "We're keeping it alive and vibrant."

Said Eugenia Gwathney, "We're making something out of nothing. We can turn trash into treasure."

Whether made from paper, wood or other fibers, basketry allows weavers to create usable as well as ornamental art in a relatively short period of time.

"You don't need lots of special equipment," Rhoads said. "It's very portable. Compared to some crafts, making baskets is relatively quick. You can finish most projects in one or two days."

During a recent workshop, members of the Sacramento Weavers' and Spinners' Guild made colorful 6-inch baskets in an afternoon. Those baskets and many more will be on display this weekend at the Shepard Garden and Arts Center during the guild's annual open house and sale.

Fitting this year's "Weavers Gone Wild" theme, the group experimented with paper weaving.

Teacher Jackie Abrams, a nationally known instructor from Vermont, shared her secret to paper-weaving success: a good pasta cutter.

"I started working with paper when someone introduced this to me as a tool," Abrams explained. "The pasta cutter is a lot easier than cutting by hand."

The day before, the weavers painted both sides of cotton-based watercolor paper with acrylics.

Set at "fettucine," the hand-cranked cutter turned the painted paper into uniform quarter-inch ribbons. A half sheet of the 22-by- 30-inch paper was enough for a 6-inch finished basket.

Paper is just one basket material. Gwathney turns to her garden for most of her weaving supplies.

"I'm a fiber artist and I like to grow what I use," Gwathney said. "I have a 'basket garden.' I planted all these plants specifically for basket weaving."

From her Sacramento garden, Gwathney plucked red-hot poker, irises, tritonia, watsonia, palm fronds and many other materials that she turns into baskets.

"I've worked with apple trees, cherries, purple plums, apricots and grapevines," she said. "I've used the vines from morning glory, vinca, honeysuckle, ivy and philodendron. You can use the stems of maidenhair fern, too."

Gwathney, a retired nurse, learned weaving in the 1980s in Southern California.

"When we moved to Sacramento, it was hard to find new materials," she said. "So, I started gathering materials – I was picking up materials off the street. After a storm, you can always find palm fronds. I carry some pruning shears with me when I go for a walk."

Ancient basket weavers made use of the materials they had at hand, too, such as birch bark, reeds or seagrass.

"You get interested in all those natural materials and how you can use them," said Pat Henderson, who learned how to work with local birch bark. "You become a gatherer, too."

Weaving baskets doesn't require a loom or investment in special equipment. It's simple enough for children yet offers creative challenges to nimble-fingered adults, making it a great craft for all generations.

In particular, paper baskets are ideal for beginners; the materials are inexpensive and easy to manipulate. Weavers will demonstrate their techniques during this weekend's show.

"Compared to knitting, this is much easier," said Stephanie Clar. "It doesn't need to be perfect and you create a really unique product. It's wonderful for kids."

With practice, weavers create much more complicated designs such as double-sided baskets or free-form shapes.

"It's very fun and satisfying," said Betsy Gribble, who works beads and yarns into her designs. "I like tactile things and I was looking for a new hobby. … The hardest part is knowing when to stop and take a break. You can lose track of time."


What: Sacramento Weavers' and Spinners' Guild annual open house and sale

Where: Shepard Garden and Arts Center, 3330 McKinley Blvd., Sacramento

When: 10 a.m.-4 p.m. today and Sunday

Admission: Free


Highlights: Learn about weaving, spinning, basketry, dyeing and felting. Sale of member-made handwoven articles, handspun yarn and wool.

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