My friend Michelle Olson
is a professional choreographer. She and I have many artistic interests in common. For example, how do we make work that is relevant to our city lives, and not merely nostalgic for a life in nature?
Here are a few musings on that. No answers, just some sorting-out.
First, it's tough to make a basket for functional, daily use that will compete on price with imported baskets. If I were making practical baskets, I would like my work to be a price-competitive option, because I want us all to be able to 'buy local' and support the local economy; and I'm sensitive to the final say of a person's budget.
A brainstorm of Practical Baskets for City Life:
toy baskets, easter baskets
knitting project baskets
Second, so far I haven't really made very practical baskets ; I'm making pretty baskets. I'm making baskets about light and beauty and nature, not really functional or 'necessary' for daily use. They assume a level of disposable, discretionary income on the part of the purchaser, one who has money to spend on lovely things to decorate the home. So in that sense, the baskets that I am making really are relevant to my urban life, since the sort of material obsession that fuels purchases of exclusive decorative objects is concentrated in urban centres.
One of my professors at NSCAD, Naoko Furue, once said, "Don't make practical; practical comes from China!" She was counselling a group of would-be professional artisans and craftspeople on making a living in their trade, and though I know that there's a lot of truth to what she says, I struggle with it. I would like to be relevant to a person's daily life and wellbeing, and 'pretty' and other marketing tags, like 'handmade by local artisan', don't feel like substance enough.
When I was a kid, I loved the smell of a brand new My Little Pony
, that first whiff the moment you crack the package. Ah yes, the fair aroma of ABS plastics?
Biochemist Michael Braungart, coauthor of Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things
, compared Mattel to a terrorist threat, explaining how plastic toys contribute to asthma (see video below). My Little Ponies
are Hasbro, but still. Could it be my old friends weren't meant for inhaling?
But there are alternatives. Wooden toys are a common example. But kids don't need all toys to be so indestructible. Even a toy with a life cycle of one week is sometimes enough.
One afternoon, I made playfood with my niece and nephew using compostable ingredients. From production to play, it was a hit! And when the fake meatballs and sushi start collecting between couch cushions and under dirty piles of laundry, return them to the soil!
Here's the recipe I used:
1. Mix 4 cups flour and 1 cup salt.
2. Add 1 1/2 cups flour and mix well.
3. Knead for 10-15 minutes, until dough is flexible when it bends.
4. Shape into food! We made ice cream, sushi, strawberries, and toddler-inspired nonspecific blobs.
5. Bake in the oven at 250 F/120 C for 2-3 hours. It should be pretty much rock solid.
6. Allow to cool, paint, and play!This link
will take you to where I found the recipe online, although the instructions there are for making beads - another great idea!
This is a felt project made according to the instructions -- though not a pattern -- from the book Felting for Baby
that I wrote about last week. Check the 'books and patterns' category at right for my review.
This little purse is just big enough for bank cards and coins, and is made of pure merino wool (easiest to felt, with the smoothest finish) with cotton, rayon, and commercial wool felt sheet trims. The little girl that I made it for is from a Taiwanese family, so I was inspired by the little red envelopes that are giving out to young people for Chinese New Year.
The kids and I went to Central Park in Burnaby a couple days ago, and ran around.
There's a scraggly but determined willow tree of some sort at the west end of the duck pond off Imperial Street, and it had dropped a whole bunch of little switches. They're an average of only about eight inches long, but I look forward to seeing if I can make some variation of a twined basket from them. In the past I've made quite a few little baskets from weeping willow switches; but weeping willow gets so brittle once it's dry that the baskets are only good for looking at.
This is tonight's project: a little felt basket, perfect for presenting a little birthday gift of interesting sewing materials.
My daughter goes to a Waldorf school, so this is an apt gift. I can be dismally out of touch; but in the Waldorf community, I'm free to make something beautiful by hand and give nice craft materials, knowing that these gestures will be understood and appreciated.
I've enjoyed making the little felt baskets, so I decided to experiment with some heavier, industrial felt. This mug-sized basket was my first test, made this afternoon. I was surprised to find that of all the materials I had on hand for the rim, the best-looking option was the same local birch bark I've been using for most rims since November.
While I was working on it, I wondered what William Morris and his colleagues would have thought about my mash-up of industrial and raw natural materials?I smile when I think of their horrified, disgusted reactions.
I think this basket is beautiful now, and I can easily picture it in the pages of some slick, white-on-white interior design mag, but I wonder if its aesthetic will stand the test of time. A hundred and fifty years from now, will our generations still be appreciating the subtleties of "rustic modern"?
If they are well-off, then they will probably have the refined sensibilities and insight to understand this cool, restrained object. On the other hand, if they are hungry and hopeless, I think they will yearn for something more tangibly valuable and beautiful, if they can feel the yearning for beautiful at all.
Aren't baskets amazing?!
Some anthropologists believe that the development of basket technology was the dividing line between modern humans and their ancestors. We take all kinds of technology for granted now, so please pause for a moment and try to imagine what you would do without the fundamental ability to hold, carry, and store?
Last week I was visiting Baaad Anna's in the Hastings-Sunrise neighbourhood of East Van. I love this shop; it's cheeky and funky and run by women with interesting tattoos, and they try to ensure that knitting and textile crafts are accessible to people from all walks of life. Anna has a small son and there are lots of families in the neighbourhood, so she's set up a great little play area in the midst of comfy couches at the front of the store.I was in the midst of trying to convince my three year old that it was time to leave the toy box and catch a bus for home, when I spied an exquisite pair of felt booties on the cover of a book on the display shelf overhead. I'm a sucker for slippers, so I immediately dropped my conversation with Oliver (he had been doing his best to ignore me, hoping I'd go away), snapped up the book and started flipping through it.I had yet to really 'get' welt felting. I'm a competent needle felter, no problem; but my welt felting was mediocre at best and I was at a loss. The projects in the book were all really cute, but that wasn't enough to get me to buy it; could the book help me become a better wet felter? that would be the key. In short, yes, it definitely could. I went to the back of the book to the master felting instructions and found solid, detailed information and good demonstration photographs in a pleasing layout. Not only that, but different series of instructions cover making felt sheets, hollow 3D objects, felting over a core, and needle felting, all with the same degree of clarity and simplicity. The projects are cute and inspiring unto themselves, and good to practice with because they are small; but I would recommend this book as a reference for wet-felting no matter what one would like to be making. Felting for Baby: 25 Warm and Woolly Projects for the Little Ones in Your Life, by Saori Yamazakioriginally published in Japanese as Felt no komono, baby no komono
Joan Carrigan has posted her Spring & Summer workshops!
See her workshop page HERE
Joan is a basket maker and basketry teacher who lives on Saltspring Island; and she is every bit as gifted a teacher as she is as an artist -- warm, funny, well prepared and extremely patient -- so if this is your year to learn some basketry, now you know where to turn.
Most of her workshops take place either at her studio or around Victoria on Vancouver Island; however, I see that she's doing a one-day version of her "Basketry Using Northwest Natural Materials" workshop at UBC on April 1st. This is the PERFECT workshops for those of you interested in basketry as well as botany and ethnobotany (I know there are so many of you).
I took the two-day version of this workshop with her at Emily Carr last fall and made the basket pictured above.
Here's the writeup with the contact info, I recommend checking your calendar and making the call soon because it's sure to fill up. And if you're interested to see what else you can learn, hit the link at the top there to go to her workshop page.Basketry Using Northwest Natural Materials
This workshop will introduce participants to weaving with western red cedar bark, yellow cedar bark, west coast sweetgrass, willow bark and beargrass. We will begin with a discussion about the harvesting and preparation of the materials. This basket will have a round base, a variety of weaving techniques including variations of twining, plaiting and twill weave. A variation of the fold over rim designed by Joan, will finish off this basket which you are sure to treasure.
Date: Sunday April 1, 2012
Time: 9:30 am - 5:00 pm
Location & To Register: UBC Botanical Gardens
6804 SW Marine Drive, Vancouver, BC
This is a twill basket in veneer that I started yesterday; the rim is unfinished.
For those of you who are new to textiles and basketry, twill usually has a distinct diagonal look; sometimes it has a herringbone appearance instead, but that is still a form of twill.
I really like the diagonal rhythm of twill and have wanted to work with it for some time. I was unable to figure out how to start it, though, and make the mathematics of the interlacings work out properly as I turned the corners. Happily, my friend Renee gave me two amazing little twill weave pine and grass baskets as a New Years gift and I have been able to learn a few things from those.
This basket has a 'shoulder' (narrows at the top) thanks to a happy encounter I had in mid December with an antique bamboo basket that struck me as Japanese, though I could be wrong.
I am ecstatic about this basket; it 'speaks to me', as my friend Victoria taught me.
Where will it lead?