The Language of Native American Baskets The Weavers' Aesthetic The Weavers' Aesthetic
Introduction The Weavers' View Techniques, Tools & Workplaces The Weavers' Aesthetic Burden Baskets A Set of Values Basketmaking Associations
Starts and Finishes
Splices and Workfaces
Design Field
  “Even, vibrant color is a sign of carefully chosen materials. The color of redbud is different depending on where it grows. The sticks growing on the south side [of the river] are darker than those growing on the north. One of the rules I was taught is that you wait for it to rain and wash all the dust off the bushes, and then you can really see the colors.”
—Julia Parker, Pomo

The fibers used in basketry come from plants that have been cultivated over many years, and a teacher or family member may leave the bushes or plot of land where she harvested materials to another weaver. Well-tended bushes, grown in carefully tilled and watered soil, properly pruned each year, and harvested at the right time, produce the straight roots, shoots, and branches necessary to make slender, strong, colorful, and pliable weaving rods and sewing threads. Basket material cutting time is sacred, and weavers are conscious that they walk where their ancestors have walked.

Once harvested, plants are usually aged, so that they will remain straight. Materials from cattails to willows to sedge roots are split with fingers, knives, or teeth, and stored in coils. When a weaver is ready to begin, she softens these materials by soaking them in water, and then gives them their final trimming. Many plants produce the buff or white fibers used as the background of most baskets. Variations of background color may reflect the availability of materials, though more often they are a function of the type of basket being woven. The colors of some weft fibers are natural, such as the red of redbud, the black of devils claw, and the red of yucca root. Others are dyed. Bulrush roots are brown when collected and are dyed black for weaving. Yucca can be bleached white in the sun.

Some basket-making traditions have long incorporated new materials. Others suffered as traditional materials became unavailable. Some weavers adapted their baskets to the needs of non-Indian industries, making potato baskets in Maine and work baskets in New Mexico. All weavers tailored their weaving to the burgeoning tourist trade of the late 19th and early 20th century. Aleut and other basket-makers added brightly colored wool yarn and silk floss to natural basket materials. In the Great Lakes and Prairie regions, Native weavers adapted traditional twining techniques to commercially available cotton string and wool yarn. Because weavers no longer had to harvest and prepare their own raw materials, they invested their time in developing new weaves and patterns with the vibrancy of new colors.
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