Published on June 8, 2012 by Amy
For centuries, Choctaw basket makers have created works of art from the swamp cane that flourishes along Mississippi creek banks. When a present-day basket maker seeks out, cuts and prepares her cane, she uses the same methods as generations of Choctaw women before her. She also adds her own innovations that reflect the changing times.
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Once, baskets used in the field and the home. Even today, some of the basket styles reflect their original functions. Egg baskets, hamper baskets, and vegetable baskets once held farm produce. Now they hold a place in treasured collections.
Basket making begins with gathering the cane. This is not an easy task, since cane grows in wet, swampy areas and is increasingly difficult to find. Fall is the best time to harvest cane, but it may be cut at other times of the year if the need arises. The ideal size is a matter of individual preference; most basket makers like to work with cane that has matured to a height of at least six feet.
Once the cane is cut, the weaver uses a small, sharp knife to slice the thin top layer into strips. A skilled maker can get four to six strips from a single piece of cane, but this is a matter of individual preference.
The next step is to dye the cane strips. Originally, basket makers used natural materials such as berries, flowers, roots, or bark to color the cane. Commercial dyes are used almost exclusively today because of their durability and the wide range of colors available. Basket makers create a variety of patterns by weaving together the colored and natural strips of cane. While traditional forms such as the egg basket and traditional patterns like the diamond design are common, many basket makers like to experiment with color, pattern and shape. Choctaws have kept with the times, but still hold strong to their traditions. Basket makers express themselves the same way other artists do-there are certain rules to follow when creating a work of art, such as the technique, but ultimately, the final product reflects the imagination and aesthetics of its creator.