But, except for children who spend time at summer camps in nature study and allied crafts, basketry work is usually done with purchased, prepared materials such as raffia and reeds. That there are raw materials, more distinctive and more colorful, in backyards, fields and along roadsides-costing nothing at all-is not very common knowledge.
A surprising list of over one hundred natural basketry materials found in the United States has been compiled by one expert. Stems, leaves, roots, runners, pliable twigs, bark and splints are included in this list. A southern craft center has worked with over fifty varieties of grasses in its hand-weaving. Unusual textures and color variations both subtle and striking are added to the art of basketry by the use of these natural fibers.
A home garden can supply unsuspected materials. Iris leaves, stems and leaves of daylilies, yucca leaves and corn husks are examples. At pruning time there are excellent potential spokes and weavers from vines like ivy (both English and Boston), clematis, honeysuckle and wisteria, and from shrubs and trees such as syringa, forsythia, calycanthus, mulberry and weeping willow.
The best stocked hunting grounds, however, are fields, meadows and woods. There the knowing youngster can find cattails, reeds of several kinds, fern stems (black ones are especially effective), long grasses in great variety, grain straws
(particularly rye straw), pine needles (long varieties), wild grape vines, Virginia creeper runners, and so on. In her book Basket Pioneering Osma Palmer Couch has a comprehensive list of native materials. She tells how to gather, prepare and weave them into basketry forms that are far more imaginative than most textbook projects.
After a child has mastered the elementary principles of basketry, he will find it a far more lively craft if he attempts to create his own original designs. He can make things much more compatible with his interests and with current modes if he designs them himself. All woven objects are adaptations of a comparatively few fundamental rules.
What little girl, for instance, wouldn't prefer to make a floppy beach hat or open-toed sandals, if these are vogues of the moment, rather than an ordinary basket? Wouldn't she love a braided belt, or a basket handbag, decorated with nosegays of everlasting flowers or curious seed pods, if fashion so decrees? And why not saddle bags, fishing creels and pack-baskets for hikers or picnickers? Suggest such things as firewood baskets for the home fireplace, coaster trays, jackets for iced drinks or potted plants, flat trays to use as small table tops, long baskets for passing TV snacks, or whatever ingenious commercial designers are dreaming up as a part of today's living. For inspiration the youngster should browse through gift shop displays and magazine advertising of currently popular basketry articles.
If basket-making is to be a project provide the child with a good textbook. Direct his attention to the possibility of making things he would really like to own and alert him to the wealth of natural materials that are his just for the gathering. His gain will be an inexpensive hobby, by-products that delight him, and a deepened appreciation of nature's well-stocked storehouse.