Makers guild keeps basket weaving craft alive

Some do it for the artistry, some for the challenge and others to keep their hands busy. But it was apparent at a recent meeting of the Basket Weavers Guild of Eastern Long Island that all its members have one common goal: keeping the craft alive on the North Fork.

A dedicated group of 10 women gathered recently in Riverhead at Hallock State Park Preserve, teaching each other new weaving patterns and showing off their latest accomplishments. They worked on tables piled with reeds, barks and canes that were transformed into hand-crafted baskets. 

At each monthly guild meeting, the show-and-tell portion reveals recent creations of patterns and colors and coiled, spiraled and braided designs. Fellow weavers showed support with “oohs” and responses of “wow, that’s beautiful” and “very amazing.” 

Several of the women had just returned from a basket weaving convention in Connecticut, eager to share their new skills and tips. “At the conventions, we’re usually weaving for five days straight,” said Carol Losquadro of Southold, projects manager for the weavers guild. 

Deborah Wetzel photos

Then their attention shifted to the reeds that were in the process of becoming baskets. This Saturday, May 18, at the Fleece and Fiber Festival at Hallockville Museum Farm, guild members will sell their handiwork and demonstrate basket weaving to young attendees in the hope they also become passionate about the craft.

“We weave all year and Fleece and Fiber will be our first show of the year,” said Ms. Losquadro whose dexterity and expertise has been honed over 30 years. Fellow weaver Deborah Conrardy, also of Southold, added, “Baskets are the earliest form of fiber material used for dishes and other uses.”

Years ago, weavers grew their own materials, but this group was using plants from as far away as Southeast Asia. The fibers are cut to various thicknesses and soaked in water to make them pliable and easier for the hands and fingers to manipulate. “It’s a hobby, but it’s also addictive,” said Kathy Gavey, who comes east from Ronkonkoma to be with her fellow weaving buddies. “It’s good therapy and camaraderie,” she added.

Instead of shopping for holiday and birthday gifts, several guild members give their family and friends handmade baskets. “ ‘Oh, you made that!’ is usually the happy response I get,” Ms. Conrardy said, “and I know people really appreciate how much goes into what I’ve made.”

After 25 years of basket weaving and “still learning new techniques,” guild president and treasurer Tina Pearsall of Port Jefferson Station is looking forward to this year’s festival, which has rain date of Sunday, May 19. 

“It’s a great opportunity for us to sell what we make, and we hope to get people to join our group,” she said. “Usually, the guild sells between 30 and 40 baskets at the festival.” Their best year, she noted, was right before COVID when they sold 86 baskets, as well as Christmas ornaments.

“My hands are achy, but I’m really impressed with the work these ladies have produced,” said first-timer Gayle Ratcliffe of Hampton Bays. “I’m always looking for a new adventure, and the instructors here are excellent; so kind.”

The weavers guild welcomes new members and can be reached at [email protected] or on their Facebook page

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