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home : lifestyle : entertainment   February 6, 2016

5/10/2013 11:05:00 AM
Basketweaving is an ancient tradition to share

Pat Duffy works on one of her many simultaneous projects. NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
+ click to enlarge
Pat Duffy works on one of her many simultaneous projects.
NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
Pat Duffy offers many baskets, as well as the materials to make them, for sale. There are baskets for endless purposes: laundry baskets, magazine baskets, baskets for knitting materials, and a host of others.NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
+ click to enlarge
Pat Duffy offers many baskets, as well as the materials to make them, for sale. There are baskets for endless purposes: laundry baskets, magazine baskets, baskets for knitting materials, and a host of others.
NewsTribune photo/Genna Ord
Alicia LeGrand-Riniker
NewsTribune Reporter

By Alicia LeGrand
NewsTribune Reporter

Pat Duffy, a resident of Ottawa and nurse for 21 years, currently is a fulltime in-home pediatric nurse, but has let her passion flow in her free-time.
“I have always loved baskets,” said Duffy. “One day I told my husband, ‘I’m going to take a class.’”
Duffy enrolled in a mini course at Illinois Valley Community College and found it to be an enjoyable activity she wanted to continue. She has been weaving for 23 years and feels the art has a rich history she can appreciate.
The art of basket making can be found around the world from Native American to African tribes to Asian countries. Basket weavers use fibers or animal hair to make plates, bread baskets and more. It has been hard to date when basket weaving began among ancient cultures because the natural material easily biodegrades.
Most basket weaving is designed around the needs of an area. Duffy said she heard of a group of Native Americans in North Carolina that weaved baskets out of sea grass so tightly they could actually carry water in them.
“They made it by hand out of natural material,” said Duffy about ancient basket making.
However, Duffy says the use of baskets and basket making has changed from just being useful.
“It’s an art now,” said Duffy.
Duffy kept learning different types of basket weaving and eventually met a group of women who loved weaving as much as she did. The group was called the Land of Lincoln Basket Weavers Association.
It offers learning opportunities to its members and the public all around Illinois. Duffy said the group invited teachers from all over the United States to teach different techniques and materials so she decided to join the group.
“I just got hooked,” Duffy said about continuously taking classes to increase her skills and knowledge of basket making.
Duffy said she has learned to use a variety of different materials in her basket weaving and particularly likes using natural materials like shed antlers, birch, willow, sea grass, pine needles, honeysuckle and logs. Duffy said she likes to look for materials while on walks.
“I love using natural material,” Duffy said. “You can make awesome baskets out of something so natural as a shed antler.”
The hardest weaving Duffy said she did was working with willow because of the hardness of the material. The teacher who taught Duffy said the willow branches had to be harvested in early spring when it’s more workable, and keeping it warm helps as well.
“My hands were so sore by the end of that. It was a two-day class,” said Duffy. “But it was so much fun.”
Duffy said she has become ambitious enough to go back to that same teacher to learn how to make a backpack. Another hard thing to learn is shaping because everyone weaves differently. Some people will weave loose and the basket will be bigger or it will be so tight they can barely get their reed around it, Duffy said.
She said what she likes most about the classes she attends is they have made them fun and relaxing.
“You come to relax, not to get all frustrated,” Duffy said.
Duffy said she has been weaving for so long she stopped planning designs and just starts weaving and sees what happens. She said when she learns new techniques she makes another basket from that pattern and changes it so it turns out different each time.
“I never ever do it the same,” Duffy said. She added that she likes to change the design, colors and shape.
Duffy said practice is what makes anyone a great weaver. She said her first weaving experience was not what she expected.  She had a hard time getting the process down.
“I was having a horrible time. I just could not get it,” said Duffy.
In her very first class, she got so frustrated a fellow student had to show her how to do it. Duffy said after that she picked up the technique, and it became much easier to her.
Duffy said she also liked making practical baskets like wine baskets or things for everyday use. She said there are so many uses for baskets, including holding magazines, keys and quilts or for shopping and picnics. She said baskets could be made small enough to hold a necklace or large enough to hold laundry.
Duffy said her biggest encouragement has come from her family and friends. She also feels she can share her baskets back with them because weaving is something easy to teach and pass down to future generations.
“It’s like any art. You want to carry on the tradition,” Duffy said.
The shop she uses today also came about due to family support because it was intended to be her husband’s woodworking shop, but Duffy said he graciously let her use it for basket weaving.
“When you weave baskets you really need a lot of space,” said Duffy adding that you will not always finish a basket. She also said she has a nasty habit of starting a basket and putting it aside and starting another one before coming back to finish the first.
“I would get started and then I would have to put everything away,” said Duffy. So her husband giving her the shop provided the space she needed to be creative.
“This is my time to relax and listen to music,” she said.
Duffy said she started weaving whenever she could and collected a lot of baskets and decided to have a basket open house. At the event, people started to ask Duffy if she could teach them how to weave.
She started a schedule to teach four different baskets once a month on Saturdays at her shop in rural Ottawa. She served coffee and coffee cake and made lunch for students. Her rule for the class was that each woman left with a finished basket.
“It was really neat. They would have a good time,” Duffy said.
She did this for three or four years until her husband lost his job and Duffy had to go from part-time nurse to fulltime and was unable to keep up with her teaching schedule. Duffy’s husband is now back at work but she decided to keep working full-time. However, she has slowly started teaching again by offering classes at IVCC. She hopes to start teaching out of her shop again.
Judy Anderson, a retired art teacher from Peru, said she and her daughter have taken different art classes at IVCC and noticed Duffy’s basketweaving class was available last semester. Anderson said she took a similar class when she was younger which left her confused about the process and decided to give it another go.
“She was fun,” said Anderson about Duffy.
Anderson said she liked the way Duffy explained why they did certain things like dye the reeds. She said this helped her to better understand the process.
“There’s something wonderful about creating something out of nothing,” Anderson said.
Anderson was happy to get a nice big basket out of the class. She uses it to hold lots of magazines.
Anderson said she was not aware basketweaving classes like Duffy’s were available in the area. Duffy agreed that most people do not know these opportunities are around and hopes more people will learn about them. Anderson said she enjoyed her class and was pleased that Duffy told the students about more basket making opportunities such as conventions and guilds she could join.
“It’s a way of getting in touch with history,” said Anderson about basket making.
Anderson said it is a very old tradition and she was happy to learn more about the process.
Duffy said basketweaving can get expensive because of the price of materials so, to make it easier on her customers, she assembles kits with the exact amount of material the person would need to make the type of basket they wanted including the base and handle. The price of a kit depends on type of materials and basket the person wants to make, she said.
“They’re a lot more reasonable and cost effective,” Duffy said. “I’m hoping that when I open my shop again I can offer a lot of kits.”
She said she also has handles, tools and other materials for “hardcore” weavers who want them. Duffy said she has helped people make wine baskets for weddings to baby baskets as a gift for expecting mothers. Duffy said she is open to taking private parties as well.
Duffy said she will continue to occasionally teach at IVCC, but wants to open her shop back up by Sept. 21. She plans on using IVCC for a beginner’s course and offer a range of beginners, intermediate and advance basket weaving techniques out of her shop. She said she could only do classes once a month, but is willing to do more if there was a demand for it.
Duffy can be reached at her shop, Northwoods Basket Shop, (815) 343-1045. She hopes to add a Facebook page or website.
Duffy has been involved with Land of Lincoln Basket Weavers Association for 20 years. The group will have its annual teaching event June 10 at Starved Rock. Membership in the group is not required to attend. Duffy said it is a great way to experience basket weaving. For more information go to,
“I hope people are interested in basket weaving and will like to learn,” Duffy said.

Related Links:
• Land of Lincoln Basket Weavers Association

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