AMB convention

AMB - Michigan Convention

The following article is Karen Wheeler's account of her experiences at the Michigan Convention in October, 1997:

I had a wonderful time at the AMB (Association of Michigan Basketmakers) convention last month. It was held at the Amway Grand in Grand Rapids, MI. I think it was the best convention I have attended so far! I had great teachers and saw some very informative and interesting lectures. The exhibit room was inspirational and the shopping was a lot of fun! I never did hear what the attendance was for the convention, but I think there were at least 1000 basketmakers in attendance.

My first class was with Tressa Sularz. It was the Serpentine Twill. It had a cathead base. (Only the second cathead base I have made.) Tressa made it look very easy to do. And with her was. Can't wait to try another! The basket stands about a foot and a half tall and has a beautiful twill pattern that "zig-zags" back and forth. The shape is about like the shape o loopbf an urn. The colored weaver we used was burgundy. The spokes are natural. The pattern was very striking when we were done. It took us two days to make it. And there were only five people in my class (very unusual), so she was able to give us a lot of individualized attention. I know Tressa is teaching at Winter Weave and the IBA convention in '98. If you have an opportunity to take a class from her, I highly recoit.

My next class was with Peggy Wilcox Arends. It was a miniature berry basket necklace made from birch bark and sweet grass. We had to carve the tiny handle from a piece of willow. We were able to make two of these baskets in class. I liked my second basket better than my first. I felt the sweet grass was a little thick to work with on the first basket, so I split it in half on my second. I think 2 ply or 3 ply waxed linen would work as a substitute for the sweet grass. It was a fun class and Peggy is a good teacher.

Chris Lamb was my teacher for Saturday. The class was Introduction to Diagonal Bias Plaiting. What a great time! Chris has written a very detailed pattern (11 pages) and explains every step very well. There are six design patterns to choose from. The design is determined by the placement of the colored spokes. There are also six different ways to lash the basket, also. All are in the pattern. The baskets were made from 11/64" flat oval reed. We used a combination of natural, Royal Blue, ad Scarlet spokes. The base is a twill weave. After the base is woven, you go to the middle of each side and weave diagonally up the sides. It is so cool! When you have all your rows in, you clip on your outside rim. (Chris had us use some Elmer's wood glue to help hold it into place.) Then you cut off all your spokes just slightly below the rim and then put the inside rim on and lash around the top. (You don't work in any spokes!) I know Chris will be teaching this at Winter Weave, too. I highly recommend this class also.

Last, but not least, on Sunday I had a class with Marilyn Moore. I have to say that I think Marilyn is one of the premier coiling artists in this country. Her work is spectacular. Marilyn won two awards for her work at the convention. However, my class with her was knotted cords for necklace straps. It was basically macrame. (I missed that craze when I was growing up...never learned how to macrame.) We were taught 3 basic knots and they look really good. She had us use polished hemp for our practice piece and then we used 3 ply waxed linen thread for our cords. She also showed us three different closures. I am really excited to try one of these knotted cords on my next pouch that I am going to make. (By the way, I bought a fabulous lizard "charm" that I am going to use in my next pouch...even had a dream about it!)

The speaker at the pre-convention banquet was very interesting and different. I don't remember his name unfortunately and it was not printed in the program. He worked for a company in Michigan that makes baskets for hot air balloons. (The company also makes the balloons, too.) He told us about how the baskets were constructed and also had a slide show that showed the various steps in the weaving process. They were woven with vine rattan (the cane is still on it) and looking at the sample, it looked to be #15 round reed. (Can you imagine how strong you have to be to bend and pack that stuff?) They use rit dye to dye the rattan. All the reed is soaked overnight to make it pliable to work with. He said there were two sizes of baskets... the "sport" which holds, I think up to 6 people and the other is the size of a mini-van and holds up to 22 people. (Yes, I did type 22 people.) He said the "sport" takes 80 hours to make. After the basket is made, the top and bottom of the basket are covered in leather upholstery to help the basket last longer. That way the basket doesn't take a "direct hit" when it lands and it is easier on the passengers when lean on the top of the basket. He said that the bottom of the basket is also totally woven. Their company is the only one that does that. Others use a wooden base. When the basket is completed the outside is sprayed with polyurethane, but not the inside. This allows the basket to breathe and not get brittle and break.

He also told us that he had injured his elbow and his last day at work would be Friday of that week. But we were not to worry about him because he was moving to California to work for the Department of Defense. He will be weaving the B-2 bomber. How many of you know the B-2 bomber was woven? I certainly didn't. The plane is woven in order that it won't be detected by radar. The radar passes through the weave. Cool, huh?

That same night I went to see a lecture given by Donna Carlson. She is from Vancouver, WA. Her lecture was entitled "Rocks and Weaves". She gave a slide presentation and talked about the time she and her husband taught school in Alaska about 40 years ago. They taught on a remote island of Alaska. There was no electricity, sewer system, etc. (Get the picture?) She said you bought groceries once a year. Part of her slide presentation featured baskets that were from a museum in Fairbanks, Alaska. These baskets were made by the eskimos and other tribes of that area. Beautiful works of art and such fine, intricate weaving. Most baskets were made from grasses native to that area. The design elements were incredible...there were actually stories told in these baskets. (There were several times I felt like I needed to pick my mouth up off the floor.)

Another part of the slide presentation was about baskets that were made from baleen. Baleen is what is inside a whale's mouth. It hangs down from the roof of the whale's mouth and traps the food. There are 700 of these inside a whale's mouth. Donna had a piece of baleen with her. It had to be cut into three pieces for her to transport it. It was at least ten feet long, maybe 7 inches at it's widest point then tapered down to a point at the base. She said it is like cartilage. Donna had slides of the preparation process of the baleen. It must be cut with a band saw and then split in half. The baleen must be soaked a long time to make it pliable. There were also slides of these baskets being made. These baskets are beautiful. They are naturally black. If a design element is to be added to the basket they turn the baleen around. (The inside is white and the outside is black - after it has been split.)

I would just like to add a personal note about Donna Carlson. I have taken several of her classes and have enjoyed them very much. Not only is she a dynamic teacher and very knowledgeable about the art of basketmaking, especially with cedar bark, Donna always shares stories about her life and adventures of Alaska and Washington.

The other lecture I attended was by Vladimir Yarish. This fellow is from Novgorod, Russia. He gave a slide show and also had a video of himself out in the forest of Russia harvesting birch bark. He talked of Russian weaving techniques and showed many baskets, canisters, toys, shoes, and boots made from birch bark. He was even wearing a pair of boots that he had woven himself. He had an exquisite display of his baskets in the exhibit room. Some of the slides were of baskets that were from the 4th and 5th centuries. He said it is such a sad thing that the world is unaware of the art of Russian basketry. And I have to say that I agree with him. I purchased one of his small baskets and will bring it to the meeting to share. The featured speaker was Annie Hickman from New York City. This woman is one talented lady! I will never, ever be able to describe her work to you and do it justice! You just have to see it to believe it! Her baskets are really sculptures. Annie makes headpieces, body parts, and tails of animals and insects. Then she makes costumes and puts them on and dances in them. Annie was a praying mantis, chameleon, lady bug, rooster, centipede (the headpiece of this was 6 feet tall), and she also showed us a work-in-progress that she is calling a katydid. Editor's Note: See pictures of Annie's Costumes.

Annie weaves with rattan, but also incorporates fabrics and other fibers in her work. She gave us a slide presentation on how she designs and builds her works of art. I have to say she is unique. I know of no one else who does what she does. I bought her postcards, so I can bring them to the guild meeting to share. Last, but not least (and I'm sure by now you are all saying "Thank God") there was shopping to be done! There were vendors from all over the country. I did restrain from buying a lot of patterns (mostly because there was not a pattern room this year.) I saw a lot of new ideas. I purchased a new pattern (well, new for me) from Susan Reed-Fanfoni. It is "Mrs. Snowman and Lil' Sno". "Mr. Snowman" is in the current issue of Just Patterns magazine. I am hoping to make them this week, so I can bring them to guild for the sharing table. They are so cute! I also purchased the accessories from Susan that go with the Snow family...buttons, hats, felt mittens, etc. Can't wait to make them!

I wanted to share some of my experiences with all of you. And I wanted to tell you a little bit more than "I just had fun." The convention was a great time of learning and experience for me. I hope that all of you will have an opportunity like this some day!

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