Sunday, December 9, 2012

Refining My Technique

This section of my cap is difficult and slow going as every two sticks the pattern changes color  red to white, red to white etc. Also, some sticks are getting too small and need new sticks added to replace them so as to keep consistency in size.  Sometimes when I’m weaving on my own I might forget exactly how Verna has taught me to do things, so I figure out my own way.  Today, Verna reminded me of her technique for changing color.  It’s a very small difference to what I was doing, the end result is the same, but there is one less step in the process.  Over time this will help to make me a faster weaver.  When replacing sticks, I was weaving two sticks together, and on the next row breaking the smaller stick off.  Verna said not to weave the two sticks together, but to break the smaller stick off first, then place the new stick in its place and weave around it.  This seems more difficult as there seems to be nothing to secure the new stick to, but the end result is a smoother more consistent weave.
I only got half way around my basket today, which took several hours. But of course there was plenty of socializing that took place.

One week ago.

Today's progress

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Taming Wild Horses

I once heard a basketweaver describing a basket she was making was like “taming a wild horse.”  That's how I have felt with my cap in this process of turning the top down to move into the body.  My teacher tells me you have to be the “boss” of your sticks and let them know what you want them to do.  Through experience one learns how to control and manage the sticks by applying just the right amount of pressure and pull without breaking the sticks, weavers and overlay material.  It is a delicate balancing act, with many trial and errors and mistakes.
I tore an entire row out (hours of weaving) so my teacher could help me tame my basket.  She helped me rein it in, turning the sticks down to form the body of the cap.  I learned so much today by watching my teacher with her years of basketweaving experience.

My beautiful teacher with the beatiful rosebud plant
outside our classroom.

I'm beginning to turn my cap down.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Completed the top of my cap

I finished the pattern to the top of my cap, which represents our “childhood” years.  At this part of the cap where it will now start to turn down, a stick is added which goes around the circumference of the cap.  It’s then wrapped with an overlay material.  I have chosen to wrap a willow stick with bear grass.  This technique adds strength to the basket as well as a 3-dimensional depth in the pattern.  I was very excited to get to this point in my cap, as now I’m moving into the next phase or a new section of my cap that traditionally represents adulthood.
Following are pictures of my progress.
This is the completed pattern for the top of the cap.

Adding and wrapping the "divider" stick, which
adds strength before turning the cap down.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Tools We Use

Today we had a visitor.  Emily from Oregon Folk-Life, the sponsor of our grant, drove from Eugene (5 ½ hours!) to meet Verna and I and discuss our projects progress.  One of the topics that came up was the type of tools we use today with our basketweaving.  Before white contact, our Karuk ancestors did not have metal, but I’m sure if they did, they would have used pocket knives, metal awls, scissors and clippers. Recently Verna acquired a bear grass “sizer” made by a woman in Washington.  We are in the process of refining it, but it seems to work great in getting long straight identically sized bear grass blades. It’s a piece of wood, about 4 inches long, with two small pieces of razor blade inserted parallel to each other at one end of the wood.  The bear grass is then pulled in between the two razor blades sizing them perfectly. Beautiful baskets can be achieved when a weaver’s materials are as close to the same size as possible. Below are pictures of some of our weaving tools, and my cap progress to date.  It was a good day.


My progress to date.

Emily interviewing Verna.

Emily and Karen looking at basket materials.

Tools, including my favorite antler awl made by a friend.

Newest tool! Beargrass splitter.

This shows the blades.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Learned Something New Today

The two-hour drive to meet with my basketweaving teacher, Verna, is on a remote two lane windy road.  Most of the way there is no cell phone reception. Today at about an hour and forty minutes in, I had a flat tire.  I have never had to change a flat before.  Fortunately, there was cell reception at that spot (my lucky day!), so I called Verna.  She said she would come help me out.  I proceeded to get the spare tire, jack and instruction book out.  I was all set up when Verna pulled up 20 minutes later.  Just at the same time, two giant bald eagles circled and perched in a tree not too far from us.  We got the tire changed and headed on into class.  I’m including a couple pictures of Verna and my “learning cap” to date.  Thank you Verna for teaching me to make baskets and change flat tires!!

Verna helping change my tire.

Verna is working on her own new cap.

My cap progress to date.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Dying Woodwardia Fern with Alder Bark

A small section of bark is taken from an alder tree and the outer layer is removed.  When the inner bark is exposed to air, it turns a beautiful rust/red color.  Every tree will yield it’s own individual color.  The inner bark is broken into small chunks and then pounded with a rock.  These crushed pieces are then placed over the bundled woodwardia in a pot of cool water, and left to soak until the desired shade is reached.  The fern is then hung in the sun for a day to dry and set the color.  After drying, the woodwardia is bundled for storage.

Removing the outer bark.

Chunks of inner bark ready for pounding with a stone.

Pounding the inner bark.
This is the pounded alder bark on top of bundled
woodwardia fern just waiting for water in the pot.

Submerged woodwardia.

Drying in the sun to set the color.  The color deepens
as it's exposed to the air.
Woodwardia bundled for storage.

Gathering Woodwardia Fern

Woodwardia fern dyed with alder bark is used as an overlay material in our basketry designs. It is the largest fern, standing 4-6 feet tall.  As with most ferns, it loves moisture.  It can be gathered any time in the Summer-Fall after it has reached maturity and before it freezes.  Only a few stalks are taken from each plant.  The fronds are removed at the gathering site so the spores can regenerate.  The stalks are then pounded with a rock, or my “modern” method is to crush them with a rolling pin.  Inside are two white cords running the length of the stalk.  The cords are removed and bundled to dry. The next step is dying the cords a beautiful rust-red from the bark of an alder tree.
I had to find a new gathering spot this year because the spot I have gathered the past few years was burned by a forest fire.  Following, I have taken pictures of the burned area and the new growth that is already sprouting from the plants.  I think next year I will be able to gather at this site again. 
Last year's woodwardia patch coming back after
a summer forest fire.
Close up of charred plants with new growth.
New patch.
The fronds are removed at the gathering site.
Tall ferns.
Gathering basket material is often a family affair.
My son and husband (and dogs) helped on this trip.
Crushing the stalk with a rolling pin so the cords
can be removed.
I use the two white cords running the length of the stalk.
Removing the cords.

The two cords removed.

Happy the work is done.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Today was three steps forward, two steps back. 

After having family in town for the past 10 days for a wedding I was exhausted, but I really wanted to get in to see my teacher and get back to working on my cap.  Unfortunately, the two-hour drive in to Happy Camp didn’t help my tiredness.  Needless to say my weaving did not go well today; my material was breaking on me constantly.  Initially I thought my materials weren’t good, but in hindsight I realize the problem was I was tired and not in the right frame of mind to weave.  I wove for four hours, packed it up, and drove the two hours home, stopping three times to rest. Today’s picture is my progress to date on my “learning” cap.

Next month, we’ll be gathering woodwardia fern.

This is my cap today.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Starting the design

Wow, today was slow going and a bit frustrating.  Adding a stick every fourth stick in a row with black fern overlay was tricky.  But the next row is even trickier. Begining to add a design, which means changing overlay color (red woowardia fern and white bear grass), while weaving between to separate the added sticks was challenging for me.  Needless to say, I'm feeling discouraged right now. I reminded myself though, that I have felt like this many times before since I started this basketweaving journey three years ago.  If I just persevere, be patient and breathe, I get past the feeling of discouragement and continue on with my weaving.

Lots of smoke and fire crews along the Klamath River today.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Back Weaving

Part of making a basket is being happy with your results. If you a re not, my teacher Verna always says “take it out”.  We call this back-weaving.  It’s an important part of making a basket. Time consuming, but in the end you are much happier with your basket.

I had told myself I was only going to work on my basket cap while in class with my teacher, so that if I was making a mistake, it would be caught early and minimize the back-weaving.  I ignored my own advice and since I wasn’t able to meet with Verna these past several weeks, I proceeded to work on my cap on my own. Mistake!  See picture below.

The problem was I had difficulty adding sticks to keep them evenly spaced and adding my design element with bear grass and woodwardia fern at the same time.  Looking closely you can see my count on the pattern is not consistent.  Had I continued,  I would have been very unhappy with the results.  So, I tore it out, back to three rows of bear grass, and decided to change my design. The next picture shows my accomplishment today using woodwardia and black fern. My next row will be black fern again, adding a stick every fourth stick to keep them evenly spaced. Then, on to a more intricate pattern.

Coming up in the Fall, we will be gathering our woodwardia fern and dyeing it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Adding Color / Adding Sticks

Today I started adding color to my basket cap!  This is exciting because it’s the beginning of my design.  Overlay material is used to add color and create our endless opportunities for making beautiful basket designs. Today I worked with bear grass (panyúrar).

It is gathered mid-summer high in the mountains.  Only the center shoots of the plant are gathered, because they are the most pliable.  It’s best to gather in an area that’s been burned the year before, as these new plants will have the best quality. The shoots are green when first picked, but when dried in the sun they turn a creamy white. Bear grass also has razor sharp edges capable of giving “paper cuts.”  Ouch!  I am now working with bear grass that I gathered in previous years, because we are not going to be able to gather any this year as there are no burned areas.  The availability of quality basket materials is always an issue for weavers.  Some years, materials are not available so it’s always good to get extra when we go out gathering.

I added lots of sticks today, which is very slow going.  The sticks must be added consistently and evenly, which keep the weaving stitches uniform and tight. Uniformity in materials prevents the basket from becoming lumpy. Verna reminded me not to sort as I weave, but to have my materials sorted by size before I start weaving.  Ahh… teacher’s wisdom.

Next, I’ll start adding red woodwardia fern (tíiptiip) into my overlay design.

Due to summer time activities, I’ll not be updating this blog until the end of August.

Súva_nik (see you later)

Lots of new sticks added today.

The spruce root is woven between the sticks and the bear grass
overlays the root.

A small bundle of bear grass.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Processing Black Fern

The stalk of the black fern has a black side and a red side when it’s gathered mid-summer.  I use the handle of a spoon to run down the stalk, applying enough pressure to split the two sides. The red side is discarded, and the black side is scraped with a knife to remove the green pulp. These strips of black fern are dried and stored, ready to be soaked and used as an overlay material creating the beautiful shiny black in our baskets.

Scraping the pulp from the stem

The black filaments ready for weaving

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Gathering Black Fern

Today I met my teacher and several other weavers at 9:00 in the morning at our designated meeting place along the Klamath River.  From there, we caravanned about an hour’s drive into the mountains. We went to a spot my teacher’s teacher first took her to gather black or five finger fern (ikritápkir). The terrain is very steep -- so steep, we needed a rope tied to a tree to help us shimmy down the top section of the slope and help us climb back out.   There is a beautiful waterfall streaming down a rock wall into a pond and then on down the mountainside.  Ferns love moisture.  Tall black fern and wild orange lilies cover the whole hillside.  We all felt we were in heaven, a Karuk basketweavers paradise. This is a place that basketweavers have been sharing with their students and other weavers for generations. I could almost feel the happiness of the weavers that have passed on, glad that there are still weavers gathering at this beautiful site, respecting it, taking care of it, and continuing our basketweaving traditions.

At the right time in the summer the stalks of the fern turn from solid red to half red, and half black.  That’s the time to gather, as we use the black half of the stem for overlay material in our basketry design. It is a beautiful shiny black, but very difficult to work with.  We only gather a few stalks from each plant and then move on, never cutting too many in one spot.  As we gather, we cut the upper fronds off and leave them on the ground, so the spores can reseed. In a later blog, I will describe the process of spitting the stalk, saving the black side and discarding the red side.

This week I will be spending my time processing the black fern and next week I will be back to weaving on my cap.

"Fern grotto"

Black fern hillside.

Beautiful, tall black fern.

Complete fern stalks after picking.

Fern stocks with the fronds cut off.

This is my pick from two hours of gathering.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Starting a Karuk Ceremonial Cap

Not knowing exactly what size or type of sticks, willow (pâarak) or hazel (sárip), I would need to start my cap, I loaded my car with way more weaving materials than necessary to make the drive down the Klamath River to meet my teacher.  First order of business was to identify size of stick in diameter for the cap. Next to sort the sticks so I have all identically sized sticks.  I will need hundreds of the same size stick to complete my cap.  If the sticks are not exactly the same diameter, a lumpy bumpy basket will be the end result.  The foundation and consistency of materials is of utmost importance.  I chose willow sticks for this cap, as generally willow is straighter.  My root for binding or twining the sticks together is spruce.  Willow root could also be used, but I have more spruce than willow root at the present time.  We also spent time looking at pictures of old caps and discussing ideas for the design I will weave on my cap.  I have some great ideas brewing. 

Finally, we talked about how to size a cap to fit the person the cap is being made for.

Next week we plan to gather black fern (also called five-finger fern).   The Karuk word for black fern is ikritápkir.

The following pictures are of the start of my cap.