Scientists who study longevity have stated that we need to exercise our brains to keep them from atrophying, much like we need to work our muscles. I did my part over the weekend, learning two new skills.
First, on Friday night I filled in at my co-worker Rita's monthly Bunco game... the Camptonville Bunco Gals have been at it for years, meeting once a month to play this fast-paced dice game, and eat and laugh and catch up with each other. It wasn't too hard for me to catch onto the rules and we all had a fun time. I was concentrating too hard to even think about taking pictures, but you can learn more about Bunco here (be sure to scroll all the way down!).
Then, after a relaxing Saturday of watching step-grandson's last t-ball game and 'swamping' for DH while he cut down some heavy tree branches that had fallen from the late spring storms at our high country house, I took the opportunity to learn a new skill on Sunday, at a class sponsored by our fiber guild in my neighboring town of North San Juan (how convenient!).
The guild program committee had collaborated with Starlight Compost, one of our members and a basketmaker extraordinaire, to offer two concurrent classes... an Appalachian Butt Basket and a Cattail-wrapped drinking bottle. I had wanted to take the bottle wrap class last year, when Star's friend had taught it, and I also wasn't sure I wanted to commit my hands to the level required to turn out a Butt Basket. I signed up and began the search for a creative bottle to wrap and use as a drinking jar all summer, abandoning my choices at the last minute yesterday morning in favor of a quart mason jar with a good, tightly screwed-on lid!
Sue F. had chosen a chianti-type bottle, which made several of us feel very nostalgic, however the shaping is a bit more complex. We started with a length of cordage made from the pre-dried and then re-soaked cattail fronds, of a length to go around the neck of our bottles. Mine was wider, so I had to fold over more 'ribs', which are fronds that will serve as the warp portion, however Sue would have to insert additional ribs later when getting to the fat part of the bottle, if she wanted.
She decided not to want to, as she opted for a looser twined weaving around her bottle, partly to get finished, and partly for the nostalgia...
The next photo shows Lindsey doing the twill weave... she really had to work around her flask-shaped bottle, doing what we knitters call 'short rows' to incorporate the glass thumb handle and the flatter shape.
I ended up being thankful for my quart mason jar, a straightforward shape!
Karla worked beside me, only she had a half-gallon mason jar; I finished first, but her's was neater... the procress was fun and interesting, and I would repeat it if I could work with such a lively group!
While we wove, Starlight gave a lot of detailed information about selecting basketry materials and when to harvest them. Did you know that ALL parts of the cattail plant are edible? Some are better-tasting than others... the pollen can be used along with flour in baking, the roots can be roasted and processed into flour, the fronds of course are excellent for weaving that doesn't require lots of strength.
Before our day was over, Starlight demonstrated how to make a cord the circumference of your head, then begin braiding a flat three-strand braid which can be stitched around in a circle for a sun hat. The next photo shows her wearing her hat, while demonstrating how to de-thorn blackberry canes, which are also good basketry materials!
I have always admired her hats, which are available occasionally for sale locally. Star teaches at several primitive living skills events throughout the year, and was going to demonstrate acorn preparation at one of our local schools today. She described that process as well; acorns are very prolific throughout California (and the world!), and were a primary food source for the native peoples here. They could be stored indefinitely, mostly protected by the tannins in their outer hulls, and the various steps of processing could be done by family members of different ages and skill levels. She uses a modern day leaching bucket instead of the old time sand pits and a hand grain mill rather than stone grinding rock to leach the tannin out of the nuts and grind them into flour, and had brought along a yummy cake made from acorn flour and other ingredients, which resembled a torte in texture and taste. If you are interested in reading more about acorn technology, you can search the web, but the best information I have ever found is It Will Live Forever: Traditional Yosemite Acorn Preparation, a book by Julia Parker (a native docent at Yosemite Village that I had the great fortune to see in person about a decade ago).
About the time the four of us bottle-wrappers were launched on our project, the students for the Butt Basket class began arriving, and Star's apprentice, Jed, got them started making the hoops that would be heaven and earth (handle and base) of their baskets.
Stephanie appears to be staring out into space here, but really, she was concentrating as she began filling in one side of her basket end.
I can't explain much about the construction of her basket, as I was concentrating on my twining by this point, but it involved selecting materials for both strength and color... some of the materials the seven Butt Basketmakers chose included red osier dogwood, willow, deer brush, blackberry and green cattail fronds (which were only used for decorative color accents, as they aren't strong enough for the weight-bearing portions).
Star explained how stands of specific trees can be managed for best growth by basketmakers. If you wanted to manage a stand of redbud, willow or deer brush to harvest basketmaking canes regularly, you would 'coppice' it, by cutting the shrub to the ground in fall and the following year it would put out lots of new, straight growth that could be harvested, rather than tangled and tough old branches. This practice has been used around the world by basketmakers, and could be employed by any of us in the Sierra foothills, though some agreed they weren't ready to sacrifice their favorite redbud tree yet.
BJ (in teal shirt) is adding in a rib selected from some of the lengths of branches which were pre-soaked (a day per foot of length) and are wrapped in the brown plastic tarp behind her.
Not everyone worked on a basket... Rowen spun the entire time. We met at Willow Springs, the non-profit center where she has her fiber studio, and her little daughter worked on a bottle.
Here's a photo of my finished weaving... I need to trim up the loose ends to pretty it up, and have it filled with water to weight it down, so that the bottom, where the finished ends of the weaving have come together, can harden and seal up... don't think I will show you that part, as it definitely is 'beginner quality'!
While we worked, our group discussed joining the Tour De Fleece, sponsored this year through Ravelry. We decided to field a Foothill Fiber Guild team, dubbed the Team Sierra Spinderellas, which Stephanie set up on Rav today... for those on the fence about trying to spin through the entire Tour de France, consider joining a no-pressure team such as ours!
We are a fun-loving group, and will be gathering back at Willow Springs to demonstrate spinning for a Living Skills Day on June 26th from 1-6 PM.
Once I was finished with my bottle, I decided to spend some more time with my new favorite toy, a chopstick spindle with a jade whorl that allows me to produce a lovely, fine yarn from a rambouillet/angora blend from Wooly Wonka Fibers... yes, I really do lead a magical life, and I try to be grateful for it every day!