Winter is prime time for gathering natural materials. Vines, in particular.
North American VINES
Grapevine, honeysuckle, Virginia creeper, bittersweet, coralberry, wisteria and other woody vines. You want to gather before the sap begins to run again. The nice thing about gathering during the winter is that it's far easier than when the leaves are out. less foliage to get scratched by, and hopefully most snakes are in hibernation. This time of year also makes it fairly impossible to choose any vines that are too "green" for basketweaving.
For the best weaving stock, select vines that are the new one year old parts of the vine. These will be flexible, but still woody- having survived last fall's frosts. Older, thicker vines are suitable for spokes, and for coiling into wreath-like circles for the framework of rib baskets.
Native North American vines were used to replace the willows of England. As creative folk everywhere do, settlers experiment with whatever grows in their area. The rib baskets that we think of as traditional styled egg baskets are usually made of split hardwoods, but this style also works well in honeysuckle and others.
PREPARATION of Materials
I'll use honeysuckle as an example. Once you've gathered the vines, they may be woven peeled or unpeeled. Unpeeled will be more rustic- with a bird's nest kind of texture. If the vines are too shaggy, snip away any bark that looks too messy.
For peeled, you'll quickly see that there are two layers of "epidermis" or skin. The outside is the rough part. Under that is a very thin, nearly transparent layer. It responds well to drawing a penknife down its length. Once you've cleaned those layers off, you'll find a smooth, waxy surface. You can clean off the peels either before or after you soak it. Cream-color that ages to a nut brown.
The Cherokees have been known to polish the honeysuckle with sand to make it even smoother. Any kind of smoothing is a good idea (sandpaper?) because the parts of the vines where it branches tend to have little prickly spots that tear up your hands.
SOAKING the Honeysuckle
If you've woven only with commercially prepared reed, you're going to notice a vast difference in soaking times. I usually bring a canning pot of honeysuckle up to a boil on the stove (or on a gas grill outdoors). Then let it sit for a day or so and test it. It takes a long time to absorb the water through the walls of the vine. Later, when you're satisfied that it's ready to weave with, you'll find that you have to stop frequently and soak honeysuckle for longer periods of time than reed. The thing to watch out for is when the honeysuckle starts to snap (i.e., break). Then you have to stop and put it in for another soak. Each vine is different. Different thickness, different texture, different porosity. Use your own judgment. Start with a small basket and be flexible (literally!) about the outcome. Sometimes a basket's gotta do what a basket's gotta do. You are the facilitator, leading it into a shape that hopefully is of your choosing. Not trying to sound philosophical here... it's just that honeysuckle can have a mind of it's own. Have fun with it!
RIB Baskets aka melon baskets, buttocks baskets, peanut baskets, gizzard baskets, bow baskets, fanny baskets, egg baskets and many other regional names. This is the basket with the familiar God's eye or "ojo de Dios" wrapped pattern on each end. Wherever you travel in North America, you'll more than likely see rib baskets.
Although now found world-wide, rib baskets originated in Europe and were very common in Britain. Since many settlers in North America came from the British Isles, rib baskets traveled across the Atlantic, appearing logically in the Eastern colonies. As the settlers headed into the mid-Atlantic, through Pennsylvania, down the Appalachians, across the Cumberland Gap, across Kentucky, and Tennessee, into the Ozarks and beyond to Oklahoma- so did the rib basket. Not necessarily in that order. Simultaneously, settlers carried this style north into Maine and Canada.
So it came to be that Native Americans also wove this particular style- as they were influenced by the baskets entering their territories.
Contents ©Linda Hebert
V. I. Reed & Cane Inc