Microbasketry workshop with Rita Soto

On Saturday I took part in an online microbasketry workshop with Rita Soto as part of the Selvedge World Fair.

Rita Soto is a Chilean artist who makes jewellery using basketry techniques. She works mainly with horsehair and agave fibre, producing wonderfully organic wearable forms.

Rita Soto brooch
Brooch by Rita Soto

These materials are traditionally used by the Rari community in southern Chile, where the technique has been passed on through generations, mostly via women.

But ecause horsehair is not particularly common here, we used different thicknesses and colours of fishing line (before this workshop I never knew that fishing line comes in different colours, so that’s another thing I’ve learnt!).

As you can imagine, the tiny scale of this technique makes it a bit tricky to demonstrate on a videoconference platform, but we did our best, with a cameraphone focused on Rita’s hands as she worked. We were also immensely helped by some clear written instructions distributed in advance.

In the two-hour workshop we learned how to start, how to weave a flat disc, and two ways of finishing off, as well as how and when to add “stakes” and join weavers. You definitely need good light and eyesight to tackle something like this!

Here’s what I managed to make during the workshop – a piece smaller than my thumbnail!

After the workshop I decided to experiment with using paper yarn for the stakes, or warp, with fishing line as the weaver, or weft. I also curved it into more of a basket shape. This piece was a bit bigger!

I like the delicate reflectiveness of this technique and material. The light plays beautifully across the surface as you move it in your hands, but this is difficult to capture in photos – it looks more like wire.

I’m not sure at the moment whether I will take this any further, but it’s another material to add to my armoury!

Different materials, different result

I seem to be getting more obsessed with basketry at the moment – I’m currently doing an eight-week course (one day a week) on coiled basketry with Polly Pollock at City Lit.

The first four weeks have been spent exploring different ways of starting baskets and working with different materials and stitches. In the second half of the course we are expected to work on our own projects around the theme of seedpods. So as you can imagine, this suits me down to the ground! 🙂

So far I’ve experimented with colour:

raffia coiled with hemp
Raffia coiled with hemp

With softer and harder materials:

fabric coiled with paper yarn
Fabric coiled with paper yarn
seagrass coiled with paper yarn
Seagrass coiled with paper yarn

With additions:

seagrass coiling with hare barley additions
Seagrass coiling with hare barley additions

And combining with felt:

coiling with felt
Coiling with felt

I also tried some “linear” coiling – creating rows rather than spiralling from the centre. The first sample I made with this technique had a thick core, which I wrapped with a stiff paper yarn. As I progressed, the piece began to twist quite spontaneously.

twisted coiled piece
Twisted coiling

I made similar pieces with the same core material but different wrapping fibres, which were all softer than the paper yarn. Some of these pieces twisted a little, others hardly at all.

I also tried making a piece with “ribs” to give a more defined form. I bound five lengths of seagrass together and coiled a thinner piece of green seagrass around them using blanket stitch. Because the seagrass ribs were relatively soft, the tension of the stitching tended to twist them slightly to the right, which made the final piece look a little unbalanced.

As a felter, I am used to shaping a piece while fulling it – the final form can look very different from the original! So I thought I would try reshaping this piece to emphasise the twisting even further. The paper yarn is strong but flexible, so this worked out quite well.

twisted coiled seedpod

This week we were working with natural materials, so I repeated this form using strips of cordyline as the ribs, dried daffodil leaves as the core, and waxed polyester string for stitching.

The cordyline was much stiffer than the seagrass, and I found that if I pulled the ribs together at the top, the coiled sections between the ribs bulged outwards, producing a completely different shape.

coiled daffodil leaves

It’s a useful reminder of how you can achieve completely different results with different materials, and making samples is a very worthwhile exercise. 🙂

Basketry puzzle ball

I’ve always been intrigued by puzzle balls. There used to be one on display at the Victoria and Albert Museum, but I think it’s currently in storage. These days the use of ivory is quite rightly frowned on, but I still have to admire the skill required to carve one ball inside another.

I’ve previously tried making puzzle balls out of net, but it wasn’t really firm enough. So on the random weave basketry course with Polly Pollock, I had the idea to make one out of paper yarn.

I started with the innermost ball, and then put that inside another mould and wove another ball around that.

Then I repeated the process, so I had three balls in total.

Some of the ivory puzzle balls had as many as 20 balls, but as I wasn’t sure how this would work I thought that three would do to start with. 😉

Removing the moulds from the outer layers was reasonably straightforward, but it was tricky getting – and keeping – the holes in the balls lined up to get the mould out of the innermost ball. However, with a bit of persistence and a pair of needle nose pliers I finally managed it.

I was really pleased that the principle worked! However, there were a few problems, which I will work on next time.

  • On the middle layer I used a red Sharpie pen to mark where the holes should be. But the red rubbed off on the paper yarn, as you can see in some of the pictures. So on the outermost layer I just used masking tape to mark the position of the holes. But this wasn’t very exact, and some of the holes were too large and the size was inconsistent. I think I shall use some sticky labels cut to shape next time.
  • The outer balls are too large – I need to make the outer moulds smaller so that the balls nest inside each other more snugly.

Onward and upward!