Let’s study the fiber arts this summer.

May 2, 2012 at 4:01 pm (Uncategorized)

It was only a week ago that I was happily humming along with my Martha Stewart Loom, finding new and interesting things to do with scraps of hand-woven fabric 5 x 5 inches, and all was well.

But the semester ended, and I always try to treat myself to something – oh, you know – a little fun! and silly! at the end of a semester. Something not related to work, but that I can fall back on and play with over the summer. Last year it was a Vita-Mix. This year, money being a little tighter, it was $100 in craft supplies.

The first $50 went to yarn. That’s easy – I went to a few different places in NYC and bought a few different skeins of yarn, purely based on the promise of doing something, I-don’t-know-what, with them. No worries.

The next $50 would be spent on basket making supplies. Why? Well, you know – it’s fun to make baskets, and it would be cool to have a couple around the house, maybe sell one or two on etsy. I sort of vaguely know how to make baskets, but not really. But who cares – $50 wasn’t going to get me very far, so if I got some supplies with it and discovered I couldn’t finish the project, it’s not like there’d be that much waste.

There’s literally no place in NYC (at least that I can find) to buy basket making supplies. So I ordered the stuff online. There was whiskey and a late night involved, but I really don’t think that had so much to do with it – honestly, not knowing the medium at all, I don’t think it being in the cold light of day or had I been totally sober would have helped any. I just sort of clicked on things that were pretty or unusual and stayed in my budget, and off the order went.

This brings me to the Thing #1 I Learned on Summer Vacation: Countries with basket making traditions are also generally pretty poor; this means that the supplies used to make baskets are inexpensive, especially by NYC standards. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

A week went by and finally one day the postman showed up and rang our bell. I went downstairs to meet him, and he had a big, goofy grin on his face, like he had a line he had been saving up all day, and I was just the person to use it on. “I don’t know what you ordered – but it’s somethin’!” he said, passing me a box large enough to contain an actual Peruvian basketmaker to hand-assemble my baskets, but also disturbingly light as air.

Now, let’s back up a moment. Fifty dollars doesn’t normally buy you much. For $50, I can get maybe four or five skeins of really good yarn, or maybe ten really cheap skeins. Fifty bucks gets me two or three tubes of really good oil paint. My point is, it was reasonable for me to assume that spending $50 would yield me a reasonable amount of supplies. Reasonable, but also wrong.

Back in my apartment, I opened the package. There, staring at me, was more basket making supplies than I had ever seen in my life. And to make matters worse, it was one of those packages that is (dehydrated? vacuum sealed? something) so that when you open the individual parts and they get unwound and exposed to air, they’re actually bigger than they were in the package.

Yes, a small section of the rainforest now resides in my studio, and I feel this sense of responsibility/guilt/shame/excitement/possibility every time I look at the piles of reeds which now obstruct my worktable.

Just some of the supplies I now own. There’s… a lot.

Remember now: I wanted enough basket supplies to make a few baskets. I now have enough to make 600. Which leads me to Thing #2 I Learned on Summer Break: Societies that produce large amounts of baskets generally house their people in situations that are not apartments already filled with crap. But I digress.

The point is, the stuff is all here, and I need to do something with it.

The trick with basket making is that you have to soak the reeds. This is easy to do when you have lots of outdoor space, and I have visions of myself sometime in the distant future with long hair and bare feet, somewhere up north from here, soaking reeds and assembling huge baskets in a big grassy, shady field, while the family sheep quietly munches on some grass and the laundry dries on a line in the sun (and quite possibly, an episode of Portlandia plays in the background). This is great, but it’s not my situation currently.

So last night, the reeds and I climbed into my completely filthy and gross bathtub (with a nice shot of whiskey) and tried to work something out. (Well, some of the reeds. In the end, about 1/16th of them. But it’s a start.)

Which leads me to Thing #3 I Learned On Summer Break: Societies that have basket making traditions are generally located in parts of the world that are very warm. Makes sense, right? Africa, South America – they make great baskets. Sure, ok. But here’s why:

It’s not currently warm here. It’s in the 50s and grey out, and I’m in this bathtub with the reeds and I’m trying to weave/braid/knot them as best I can, and… the water starts to get cold. The window in the bathroom was cracked, so a breeze was drifting in and let’s just say if you ever wanted to truly hate your life, get into a dreary bathtub full of semi-cold water, lots of sticks, and promise yourself you’re not getting out til you have used up all the sticks in some sort of craft project where you have no clue what you’re doing. And the water keeps getting more cold with every second.

I eventually worked out something with pouring in more hot water and draining the cold, which sort of resulted in this freezing/burning thing happening on my feet over and over, and then more guilt for wasting water. Great. Now I’ve destroyed the rainforest and I’m wasting water. I’m a great human being.

Several hours of self-loathing later, I emerge from the bathroom, my skin the driest it has ever been, and carrying a few small, weird baskets. I actually kind of like them. They don’t make up for the rainforest destruction/water wasting, but they’re a start. And I only have 15/16th left of the supplies left!

One of the baskets I made last night. I later wove some fabric into it, for some reason.

(It’s not so, so bad, right? I mean, I can get $20 for it on etsy or something, right? Maybe?)

Later tonight I’m going to make some baskets by coiling. That uses up a LOT of materials. So that might help too.

So now is probably a good time to mention that I’m relaunching my etsy store later this week. It was supposed to be today, but I need to take some good photos and it’s gross out. But it’s going to be lots of things I promise you love. Handmade dolls! Woven things! And um, baskets! Proper launch very soon!

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