||Tools and workplaces
Like all artists, basket-weavers have strong preferences about when and where
they work, and the tools they use. Few weavers work full-time. Even when baskets
were essential containers for cooking and storing food, women wove in hours in-between
caring for their families. In communities where men wove, such as the Rio Grande
Pueblos, basketmaking came after doing agricultural work and meeting other family
and religious obligations. Today, as in the past, friends and relatives get together
and weave away the hours and centuries.
Materials are meticulously trimmed to size, and many of the hours a basket-maker
spends “weaving” are taken up in preparation. Coiling requires the
most precisely trimmed elements. Obsidian blades were once used to trim and scrape
plant fibers. Some weavers still prefer to use volcanic rock or commercial glass
blades, although well-worn penknives and kitchen knives are more often seen. Tin
can lids punched with holes are also used to size weaving materials; sewing strands
are passed through successively smaller holes until they are fine.
Metal awls, capable of being honed to finer, longer-lasting points, have replaced
those made of bone or cactus spines. Using metal awls enabled weavers to make
finer baskets, such as those of the Washoe, Panamint Shoshone, and Mono Lake Paiute.
Basket-makers make awls of knitting needles, screwdrivers, and ice picks, and
purchase cobblers’ and leather-workers’ awls. Each weaver’s
personal preference determines the length of her awl, the size and type of handle
it has, and how it is decorated. A basket-maker may use the same tools throughout
a lifetime’s work, and they become highly personalized, through use as well
as by decoration.
Today, most basket-makers sit at tables to weave. Some work at specially designed
workbenches. Others prefer to work sitting on the ground under the shade of a
tree, or on the living room sofa in front of the television, or at the kitchen
table. The basket might rest on the table, the ground, or the weaver’s lap.
Weavers use their own bodies as tools, splitting fibers with their teeth or shaping
a basket over a knee.