While it’s often thought that basket weaving is a dying art form, it’s actually very much alive and well all across the world, and even right here in Michigan.
“It still exist in a lot of places, you just have to look harder for it, and that’s the bad part,” said Kathy McMinn, 61, owner of the Basket Sampler (153 North Milford, Suite 203) in Highland. In fact, it may even be on the verge of gaining in popularity with craft enthusiasts.
“You’ve got people who teach throughout school systems, out of their homes and churches, and there’s a big internet community,” she adds. I’m seeing that I am really busy, lately. It’s a combination of what’s happening in my store, and when I go out and teach in other places. My classes are full now, where they weren’t before. Classes have gone from 5 to 12 (students) in the last two years.”
The Holly resident also points to the fact that, these days, basket weaving seems to attract mostly older individuals. “I started in my 20s, but now I don’t think I have anyone under 40 who comes to class. I think the younger people are too busy. There are not enough young people crafting.” Her oldest student is 83.
Although basket weaving remains a favorite pastime for many, finding supplies can be a little challenging, especially if you’re not one to shop on the internet. “In Michigan, 20 years ago there were many shops, now I think we’re down to four, and styles are going back to things I made 30 years ago. They’re going back to the more useful baskets, but they’re putting contemporary color in them, or weaving yarn into a traditional basket,” explained McMinn, who learned basket weaving alongside her mother.
“My mom made one basket for me and she refused to make another, so we took classes together at a shop in Highland that had been open for many years. And, the same teacher who taught me 30 years ago, is teaching at my shop now!” she said. “We have probably five teachers, that back in the heyday, were teaching all around the world. They live right here, so there’s a lot of knowledge here.”
McMinn has been the proprietor of the Basket Sampler for the past 11 years, since purchasing it from the previous owner, who was planning to close the shop. “I wasn’t ready to stop weaving, and there was no other place to do it. The places that existed before weren’t around anymore,” she said, noting that many shops were “hit bad” by the internet.
Classes are held at least a couple times a week. “I have a lady who only collects miniatures — the size of my fingernail. She comes for class every Tuesday,” said McMinn, who also goes out in the community, teaching classes at senior centers, Scout groups, 4-H clubs, community centers and a lot of home school groups. She also sells her work at shows around town, with prices ranging from $8 to $120. She does shows “all over — Ann Arbor, Flint, Highland,” etc. “I’ll go anywhere to sell and teach.” Her next show is the Fiber Expo in Ann Arbor at Washtenaw Farm Council Grounds, Oct. 21-22. To register for her (beginner) class, visit fiberexpo.com.
At the recent Maker Faire at the Henry Ford, she said, “We (the Association of Michigan Basketweavers) did 525 baskets in two days. People learned how to make baskets and the baskets were free.” She said common uses for baskets include filling them with bread, or produce while shopping at the farmers market. But because she does mostly fiberart shows, many of her customers use them as storage containers for yarn and wool. Her basketry combines her original designs with traditional styling, along with inspiration from nature.
“I think I like the fact that you start with a natural product and turn it into something useful and beautiful, relatively quickly, and people of all ages can do it,” she said. “My grandkids made their first basket when they were 3. The oldest is 10, and she has helped teach at a variety of classes with me. She’s very, very good.”
She adds, “It would be good if everybody could take just one class and learn the basics. If you learn the basics, you can go online and there’s a lot of inspiration and free help. I can tell when someone has learned (entirely) online because they make the same mistakes. There are a couple things they should be doing that they’re not.”
To sum it all up, McMinn reminds us that “Basket weaving hasn’t died, and it hasn’t gone away, but it will if people don’t support people who are still in business.”
Detroit News Columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, firstname.lastname@example.org or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.
Contact the Basket Sampler, 153 North Milford, Suite 203, Highland, at (248) 889-8600, or thebasketsampler.com. Email: email@example.com.