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How to Make Coiled Baskets;
Intermediate Instruction Booklet:
Focus on Frets
by Joyce Shannon

review by Pamela Zimmerman

fretwork basket by Joyce Shannon Joyce Shannon is known for her dizzyingly graphic closed-coil baskets, which are patterned after the famous Southwest Native American baskets. The "Intermediate Instruction Booklet: Focus on Frets" is her second kit in the series "How to Make Coiled Baskets." It presents her own techniques developed through study of the Native baskets themselves, experimentation, and reading books. The booklet reflects upon years of Shannon's independent, quiet struggle to duplicate the look of Native baskets.

Instead of the collected materials a traditional Native American basketmaker would use, Shannon prefers the more readily available reed and raffia. That is part of the reason this kit may easily be used independent of classroom instruction. It lets the basketmaker get right down to the business of learning the patterning technique...without long material preparation.

This is an intermediate kit...it focuses upon the technical aspect of patterning on the surface of the basket. It does not give specific information about how to coil a single rod basket. How to start, adding binder or core, ending, etc., are in the beginner kit. It would be possible to learn a great deal about fretwork patterning strategies without also reading the beginners' kit. But it would be necessary, even for an experienced coiler, to at least use the beginner kit as a reference, in order to complete the baskets depicted therein. The technique of single-rod coiling is not the same as bundled foundation (i.e. pine needles), with which most coilers are familiar. The technique is not difficult, it is just different.

The intermediate kit includes needle, cane and raffia. A basketmaker would also need a clear protractor, a pencil, exacto knife, hammer, a few wooden clothespins, scissors, and warm water; possibly needle-nosed pliers and a thimble...as well as the beginner kit. In my opinion, learning the "start" alone is enough to justify purchase of the beginner's kit...it is quite clever, and the sort of technique that is "worth knowing." The beginner's kit also includes rudimentary shaping information.

Shannon's instructions are very good. Each step is illustrated with diagrams and/or clear photos. Most patterns I have read assume there is a teacher, and the teacher will elaborate upon basic written steps. Often it is assumed a technique is already understood by the student. This pattern does not make such an assumption, and it is a joy to read...all my questions are answered. Sometimes a pattern with "everything you want to know" is overwhelming. But this one progresses in a logical sequence and there is not alot of scrambling or "what does she mean by that???" in it. It is still a good idea to read through the whole pattern first, before starting.

The back of the pattern contains a template which can be copied (the author has already given permission for this part of the pattern to be copied). This allows charting of your personal graphic design...or whatever. It could also be copied on a transparency, which could overlay a photo or drawing.

Another thing I liked very much was her method of dividing in four, that is: figuring out how to make the design even from the start. As someone who has attempted graphic baskets in the past, with little success, it was something of a revelation!

There is also alot more in this booklet than instructions for just one basket. Shannon begins by explaining the simplest geometric fret, but then continues to explain how to spiral the design in the opposite direction, or reverse the design midway, or make multiple frets within the same basket. There are probably at least 6 different patterns which could be made from the specific options listed in the booklet itself, before the basketmaker would even begin to have to use her(his) imagination.

Pamela's fretwork basket made using the intermediate instruction bookletAs for things I did not like about the kit, well...there was the raffia. Some people love raffia, and are not going to have a problem with this. Others hate it, not having patience with the "shreddiness" of the natural fiber. I use it when I have to...that is, when the project dictates. Well, folks, I doubt there is another natural material which would be as forgiving as raffia is in this case. It is a very thin material, and yet wide and strong, relatively. It is possible to overstitch and adjust the surface (color) pattern without excessive buildup. It is easily added, and is relatively long. If you find you don't like the (treated) raffia contained in the kit, you might want to try untreated raffia, available at almost any basket supply company. This project, in my opinion, definitely dictates the use of raffia, and it is manageable. If you tried raffia long ago, and decided it was not for you, that should not keep you from trying this kit out. You may find, as I have, that sometimes it is just "the right thing" to use.

It takes time to make a closed coil basket, as anyone who has coiled can imagine. My first fretwork basket small, and not perfect, but a pretty good start. That is my work, above left, with Joyce's instruction booklet. I already have other designs in mind, template in hand...can't wait to see what happens next!

Where to find Joyce Shannon's kits online:
The High Desert Museum in Bend Oregon sells beginner and intermediate kits.
Basketpatterns.com sells beginner and intermediate booklets.
Country Seat in Pennsylvania sells beginner kits.
The Cane and Basket Supply Company in Los Angeles sells dark brown and natural raffia, cane and the #20 blunt tapestry needles.

See the listing for Intermediate Instructions: Focus on Frets booklet online.


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