Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shaping Coiled Baskets: 3

Thanks to the commentors on the previous post in this series, Donna, Tony, Nifty (yay!) and Ann.

Nifty doesn’t coil or make baskets AT ALL, but it is wonderful for her to come read my blog (and comment!) For those of you who have not seen it, her etsy shop is wonderful, she has this amazing skill – she knits freehand in the round, and her knitted meerkats are going to take over the world! Ever seen a meerkat boldly going?

The diagrams in my last post were made by me on the computer over the past few years, they have been included in patterns that I have written.

Donna commented on the last series blogpost how helpful her diagrams were to her niece when she was learning to coil. So I have been given permission to publish Donna’s diagram, which is here at right. Donna said, “If I left out the idea of putting an imaginary anchor out, she grasped quite easily the exact location to put her sewing needle.” I am so glad that worked. The same imagery does not work for each person, every learner has to find what works for him/her (see my series on Faster, Easier Coiling.) I think our diagrams are very similar, but perhaps you perceive them differently.

Anyone else who has diagrams to share, I would be glad to post them for you. In the next post, we will continue with the discussion on shaping.

At left is an elaboartely formed basket by Flor Bosch.

To sort for all the posts in this series on Shaping Coil Baskets, try clicking on the label below that says "shaping."


Saturday, January 30, 2010

Dog and Pony Show

Check out this fabulous show at the Brandon Michael Fine Art Gallery in Santa Fe, New Mexico!

My friend Ruth Andre has 2 works in the exhibition, which is titled "Dog and Pony Show International Show and Sale." The proceeds are to benefit a no kill animal shelter and a therapeutic riding center. Both of Ruth's wonderful paintings is in the online peek.

Exhibition Dates: February 12-15, 2010
Opening Reception: February 12, 5-7 pm
It would be lovely if you could attend!

To see more of Ruth's fabulous paintings, please visit her website at

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Shaping Coiled Baskets: 2

The previous post introduced the concepts in shaping a coiled basket. Thank you so much for your comments. Thanks to Toni and Earl for telling us how they do it…and for the anonymous comments, as well. If you are leaving an anonymous comment, please remember to leave your name if you want it attributed to you! Thanks. (that gorgeous basket at right is by Carolyn Boxler.)

In addition to discussing this topic in my blog, we are also addressing it on the Pine Needle Group Yahoo Group email list. There, Leigh Adams said:

Baskets will go exactly where you want them to go....if you know that and are willing to do what it takes to keep the coil in place. It is the KNOWING that you can control the basket that can be critical to the process. On the other hand, ³dancing² with the form of a basket can be infinitely more pleasurable and satisfying an experiment than controlling it. Let the elements of play and whimsy guide you and don¹t be afraid to make is in the freedom we give ourselves to make what are called mistakes that we find the forms and structures that are most pleasing to us. Often it is the ³mistake² that creates the most beautiful basket or sculptural form and it is not always in the traditional form that we do our best work.
Have fun!

Well, I could not have said it better myself. I agree with you 100%, Leigh. In fact, letting the “elements of play and whimsy guide you” is a good way to experiment and see what works and what does not. It is a great way to gain experience BEFORE planning a specific shape to a basket. Some wonderful techniques are discovered this way, as well.

So, now on to my thought method of shaping…

Yes, Earl and Toni and anonymous, i also use the perpendicular method, as shown in the diagram at left.

I think of it as stacking logs. Put your log where you want them to be. Because the log is round, it will just roll from the top of the log beneath it. How are you going to keep it in place? Think of driving a nail in the front of the log. You have to drive the nail exactly where the active (top) log rests against the bottom log, on both sides, or it can roll.

In our case, since we are stacking soft bundles, it is almost like we are stacking water balloons. The pine needles only form the coil because you are holding them together (or your gauge is, if you use a gauge.) When the support of your fingers or the gauge disappears, the individual pine needles will move to fill the available space. If you put your anchor or nail too far down on the lower log, the pine needles will spread out, and, depending on where they are fixed on the opposite side of the basket, may not take the shape of a log at all anymore, they will wrap around the lower log somewhat. They may spread out on both sides of the lower coil, and not build the basket in the shape you intended. The coil will flatten to fill the space between the two pins. See the diagram at left (you can click on it to make it bigger.)

So, to shape your basket the way you want, not only do you have to place your coil with attention, but you must also choose your two pin places to support the log's optimal position.

Sometimes you have to "bite" less of the coil to make the new coil stay where you want it to stay.

As a commentor said in the previous post:

The needle is then placed to enter the coil just below the new fiber bundle being stitched and to come out at the base of that fiber on the opposite side of the work(whether high on the coil or low). The stitch should be snugged down before removing and finger pressure holding things into place. As long as your needle angle is following the curve of coil placement you should have the correct needle angle to hold your new coil right where you want it.

That’s exactly what I mean, thank you for expressing it so articulately!

Another anonymous commentor said:

I too think of the needle/stitch as being perpendicular to the direction I want the coil to go - but the resulting shape is always more vertical than I want. I just assumed it's because pulling the stitch tight, in a circle around the basket, causes the coil to flex inward toward the center of the basket. I've tried to make shallow shaped baskets but they end up much more vertical in shape than I intended.

I think it is probably NOT because you are pulling your binder too tightly - rather because you are not stitching closely enough to bottom of the bundle, and allowing it to relax inwardly. try stitching VERY close to the bottom of the coil, OR even a little higher than you think it should be, and please let us know what happens!

More on basket shaping in the next post…please take the time to leave your comments on needle angle and shaping on this blog, by clicking the #comments below (or on post a comment at the very bottom, in some views.) You can choose “anonymous” from the list of options, if you do not have a google or other account that allows you to comment….but don’t forget to add your name at the bottom! (at left, by K. J. Hartsog) Thanks!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Shaping Coiled Baskets

Shaping is something that takes time to understand and then to learn exactly how to do it. Many people do not plan their basket shape at all, rather allow the basket to dictate the shape. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. I believe letting the materials have their own "voice" in a work is just fine. I do it all the time. If you are a basketmaker who is content with letting the basket take the lead, please do not apologize. But if you are a basketmaker who is ready to tell the basket what to do, this series is for you.

Making a "different shaped basket" does not take long to teach; BUT teaching a student how to make the shape THEY WANT usually does. It takes lots of practice for most basketmakers to envision a basket shape and then execute it. So please don't be discouraged if this method takes you time to master. You will probably need to make more than one basket before one comes out the way you planned.

In coiled baskets, needle angle is the key.

I have heard teachers (and seen books) say to place your coil where you want it, and then stitch it in place. This is essentially correct, but the assumption is that you know where to stitch. No matter how carefully you place that coil, no matter how hard you pull your binder, if you do not place your needle in the right place, your coil will not stay where you have placed it. The needle must enter and exit the coil at the proper point to support the active coil. This is where needle angle comes into play.

The next post will further describe the needle angle concept.

Please take the time to leave your comments, for us to discuss, by clicking the #comments below. You can choose “anonymous” from the list of options, if you do not have a google or other account that allows you to comment. Thanks!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Lovely Baskets from Janet Bonnell

I received this email today:

As promised I'm sending along the photos of the baskets that I have made using the pottery bottoms that I bought from you. First of all, I would like to say that you are a pleasure to deal with and your items are of top quality and that is something to treasure these days. I just loved the pottery bases and I'm sure that I will be ordering more in the future.

The first basket using the blue base I titled "Patina". It's coiled with waxed linen and pine needles. It's 14 inches wide.

The second with the daisy base is titled "Rythem of Nature". It also is pine needles and waxed linen. It is 14 inches wide and is embellished with faggoting.

I truly hope that I have done your lovely bases justice with my work. I always try to let the base talk to me and tell me how the rest of the piece should go. I believe that the basket should be a reflection of the base.

Thanks again.

Janet Bonnell

Wow, what beautiful baskets Janet has made! I really love the bands of wrapped gradient color in "Patina," in imitation of the different colored spirals in the center Janet! In the daisy basket, it amazes me that you have made little petals out of the loops of pine needles, which again mimic the petals of the daisies. They really do reflect the base! I also love the undulation of the twisting coils in this one. They are so wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing them with us.

I have just recently uploaded new bases to my shop, and hope to have more beginning next week. Send me your photos, of baskets made with these bases, i will post them!

to see more photos of baskets made with pottery bases, click the label "pottery base" at the bottom of this post!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Recipe Secrets: Chocolate Cake

Another thing that my MIL makes that is a hit in my house is something she calls "Obscene Chocolate Cake." Obscene in the sense that it is REALLY chocolate-y. Everyone here will eat it, and that is saying something, as i generally make at least 2, if not 3, different meals for dinner, and rarely does anyone eat dessert at all.

Not an original recipe, i don't know to whom the credit goes, but here is my MIL's recipe:

Obscene Chocolate Cake
350 degrees, 50 minutes
1 package chocolate cake mix (in the box, brand does not matter)
1 small package instant chocolate pudding mix
1 package chocolate chips (semi sweet or milk chocolate)
1 3/4 c. water 2 eggs
1/2 c. oil

mix all ingredients thoroughly. Bake in bundt or tube pan, do not overbake! Cool thoroughly before removing. Ice with commercial (canned) chocolate icing.

A very simple recipe. Pretty fool-proof, unless you disregard the instructions: do not overbake! Cool thoroughly before removing. These are the "secrets" in this recipe. If you overbake, it will be dry, and if you try to remove before cool, the little pieces of chocolate chips separate, and your cake falls apart. Ooops!

By learning these little secrets in this recipe have enabled me to learn more "secrets" that have taken my cake-baking to a whole 'nother level.
Ask the teachers at my children's schools how good my cakes are...

Here are my chocolate cake secrets:

1. use sour milk. Not kidding. Finding sour milk in your refrigerator is like finding is just that good in baked stuff! Time to make a cake! I know that sounds awful, but it is like buttermilk that you did not have to go out and buy. Sour milk is so fabulous in a cake recipe (or most baked goods,) not only do i save sour milk, sometimes i MAKE sour milk. Put a couple of tablespoons into regular milk (just what is going in the recipe) to make it sour. Of course, buttermilk will do, too, if you want to spend money on it. Don't use milk if it is GREEN. Otherwise, it just keeps getting better, the more sour it is. I substitute this for water or milk in any cake recipe.

2. Retain heat while cooling, cool quickly. Even if i overbake, i can sometimes "save" a cake this way. I like cakes to be very moist. So when a cake comes out of the oven, i only let it sit in the pan on the stove for maybe 10 minutes. Then i cover it with foil or plastic wrap and put it in the fridge or freezer...until it is really cool. This makes the cakes really moist and wonderful.

These two "secrets" help me turn my MIL's chocolate cake into a whole different animal. I bake it in a snack pan (you know, long and flat, like you would make lasagna in.) I don't even bother with the icing. I like a cake that i can cut into squares, like brownies, and people can eat with their fingers. I often bake one like this and take it to school to put in the teacher's lounge (and one in the admin lounge.)

Try it, and let me know what you think! Next post will get back to basketry, I promise! But i have already been told i need to publish my banana cake secrets too...

to see more posts in this series, click on the label "recipe secrets" below.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Basket by Pamela Caskey

Here is another lovely basket made with a pottery base from my MakeABasket etsy shop. Coiled by Pamela Caskey, for her daughter, as a Christmas gift, I think. The pottery base features two hands, a large one and a small one, and an apple passing between them.

It looks like Pam used many different colors of binder, incorporated nutslices and faggoting! This basket was alot of coiling! She embellished it on the outside with a matching apple bead. I love the bands of wrapped color in the basket, Pam! Nice job. Thank you so much for sharing these images with us!

If you are a member of the Pine Needle Group, you may have already seen Pam's basket, as she posted it in the photos section there. That is a great place to meet other weavers and share information about coiling!

To purchase pottery bases, bead embellishments, sinew, and coiling tools, please visit my MakeABasket etsy shop. I am listing new pottery bases right now, including new designs. I am also open to suggestions for new motifs you would like to see in pottery bases.

to find more baskets made with these pottery bases, click on the label pottery base below


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Recipe Secrets: Mother's Bean Soup

My mother in law makes this soup that my husband just loves. It is called, simply: "Bean Soup." It has ham and little dumplings that she makes called "Rivels." My husband just LOVES this soup, it is his favorite thing of anything she cooks. Now, my husband is not one to complain about my cooking normally, but there is nothing i make that compares to his mother's bean soup. (I am not sure it is THAT good, but it really is pretty good.)

So i asked her how to make it. She told me she just put ham, water and beans in the pot, and made the rivels and that was it! Rivels are egg and flour. Well, how hard can that be? Duh.

After a few tries, i realized there was a secret somewhere. How many times have you asked someone for a recipe, which they readily shared, only to find YOUR carefully executed dish tasted NOTHING AT ALL like theirs? More than once have i heard people accuse others of purposefully leaving something out, changing the recipe or just "not sharing the secret."

I could not very well accuse my mother in law of any of these things, but to tell the truth, i just simply could not render a soup like hers from the proscribed ingredients. After awhile, i started making a point to WATCH CAREFULLY when she made this soup. I have to tell you, it took me a few years to get it down...I am not one to haunt people, and making soup takes hours. But I have it now! I haven't told HER that yet, because my husband STILL loves it when she makes it for him.

I have come to the conclusion that when people have recipe secrets the secret is sometimes kept because it is not even known to the originator. The best kept recipe secret is the cooks' own idiosyncrasy or habit that s/he is not even aware of, the little methods used by the chef that are so much a part of their cooking routine that they are not even articulated, because they are beneath mention. MIL's bean soup "secrets" were like that.

Here is my MIL's Bean Soup recipe, complete with SECRETS:


1 package dry beans
ham bone preferred. Ham hock or knuckles acceptable, but a whole ham bone is best.
ham bits
1 egg
3/4 c + flour
lots of water


1. Use Navy, or Great Northern beans or a combination of the 2. No other types of beans will do. Navy beans, though they are smaller, actually take a little longer to cook than the Great Northern.
2. soak the beans overnight, or at least 6 hours. Discard the soaking water and rinse
3. Boil a HAM BONE for a long time, until the meat falls off. Several hours at least.
4. Strain the ham bone water and remove all traces of bone. Separate the meat and return it to the broth.
5. Add reconstituted beans and cubed ham to the broth and cook until the beans are tender. This will take anywhere from 2-3 hours.
6. The time to make rivels is when the beans are tender, but there is still plenty of thin broth in the pot. The beans need to be at a rolling boil, and there needs to be no danger of the bottom scorching from overcooked beans.
7. Lightly beat egg and add about 3/4 c. flour, stir with fork. A stiff dough will begin to form, but should not make a ball. The amount of flour will vary depending on the moisture in the air, how large the egg is, etc. The mixture should lots of little pieces of dough, but have alot of DRY flour on the outside. There should be extra flour that will not mix into the egg and still be powdery.
8. Pick up some dough in your clean hands. Scoop up some loose flour with it. Hold your hands over the boiling pot, so the steam rises into your hands. Roll and pinch your hands together to make little pinches of dough, little twisted bits, and drop them into the pot. The dough is too dry to stick together on it's own, but the steam rising from the pot gives just enough stickyness to allow it to make little dumplings. There will be alot of little powdery flour falling from your hands, as well, do not worry about this. This thickens the soup to a lovely texture. If the dough feels sticky at all, you need more flour.
9. Simmer the soup for about 15-20 mins, to allow the Rivels to cook. Perfectly cooked rivels have a slightly chewy texture and are irregular in shape.

I have never been one to leave vegetables "out" and since i have learned all the secrets to my MIL's soup, i have been brave enough to add veges in. I like to put in a chopped or grated carrot and some celery, sometimes some onion (during the bean cooking stage)...but they are erroneous to my DH and he has not complained, so i think the essence remains pure!

Since learning her 'secret,' my method of query when asking for a new recipe has changed dramatically. When someone gives me a recipe, i read through it silently, then i read it out loud to them. I ask alot of questions. Little you let the ingredients come to room temp? HOW do you clean the collards...cut or tear? What brand butter? etc. Amazing. Next post, i will share MY cake secrets...


to see more posts in this series, click on the label "recipe secrets" below.