Sandra Kehoe

Basketmaker & Willow Artist

John C. Campbell Folk School with Jo Campbell-Amsler

Still catching up on my summer travels, and no summer is complete without a trip to the John C. Campbell Folk School. I’ve made it my goal to visit this school at least once a year for my foreseeable future.

This was my third summer visiting and my third time taking a week long class in willow basket making. This summer I had the honor of working with Jo Campbell-Amsler, the queen of willow rib baskets. She is one of my favorite teachers by far; her knowledge and calm way of teaching creates the most “zen-like” few days. I had the honor of working with her last summer in New Jersey so it was so nice to spend another 5 days working with her at JCC.

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I always try to do at least one or two walks around the fields and gardens. This is such a very special school and I highly recommend looking into their classes. If you look back in my blog you will see many more pictures and highlights from my trips here.

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The main focus I had for my time this week was making a basket with lids. Jo teaches a gorgeous sewing basket with two lids that I had my heart set on. Little did I know this amazing basket would be taking me three full days to complete, but it was worth every minute. The picture above was at the end of day two.

So this time at the folk school I decided to try camping in their campgrounds. It was my first attempt at using my Tentsile Tree Tent. I have to say, this was the most comfortable sleeping arrangement I’ve ever had on a camping trip. It takes minutes to set up and take down and I felt extra secure being up off the ground. By chance I was so lucky to find out that my friend Colleen who took classes with me the last two years was also camping and taking the same class as me.

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The Folk School is so special and makes you feel just like the door to the main hall says, “welcome home.”

Once I finished my sewing basket I had one more day so I moved as fast as I could to whip up a backpack. I had purchased leather straps for a different backpack I made, but didn’t fit. Fortunately Jo’s backpack pattern used those exact straps, so I was determined to make one to fit. Honestly even though I felt like I rushed it, this backpack is now my favorite basket that I use all the time. It comes with me whenever I go hiking out in the woods.

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Below is a picture of myself and Colleen. “Basket Buddies” for life ;)

Hope to see her again in the future for maybe another great willow class!!!!

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Pickled Pumpkin

Adapted from, The Complete Book of Pickles and Relishes by Leonard Louis Levinson

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Pickled Pumpkin

makes 6 pints

4 or 5 pound long island cheese pumpkin

Salt

1 pint vinegar

1/2 pint maple sirup

4 whole cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1 small cinnamon stick

12 peppercorns

1 bay leaf

2 small cloves of garlic

Peel and seed the pumpkin and cut into small cubes. Sprinkle with salt and let it stand 2 or 3 hours. Meanwhile make a sirup of the remaining ingredients. Wash salt off pumpkin, pack into hot, sterilized jars and pour the sirup over it. Place on lids and process in a water bath canner for 20 minutes.

At the Branch Ranch with Eddie Glew

Ok, I’m trying my best to keep up with blogging and writing about all my weaving experiences this last summer. Not sure why it’s super hard to get me to stop moving and write a few sentences every so often; three jobs, two kids and a boyfriend might do that to you!

July was a super quiet month and then August kicked right back in with some amazing fun. In the beginning of August I traveled up to Warkworth Ontario to the Branch Ranch. A willow farm and basketry school run by two of my favorite Canadians ;)

This week they were hosting a basket maker from England, Eddie Glew of Blithfield Willowcrafts.

When I found this out a few month prior I was so super excited. Eddie and I have been following each other on instagram for a few years and I was over the moon to find out I could take classes with him only a few hours away, instead of a whole ocean away. The thought of having to drive on the wrong side of the road in the UK is enough to make me stay here LOL.

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So I was super lucky to get into all of Eddies classes, three in total. We started off with a rope coil weave basket, moved to square work and finally a fitched shopper on the last two days. The fitched shopper I think is the only thing that I didn’t get a picture of yet.

So what can I say, and how much can I compliment without sounding like a broken record! Eddie’s work is just perfection and he is a stellar teacher. All I can say is that if you ever have the chance to take a class with him you better jump. His work speaks for itself and trust me when I say that he is a teacher with a true passion and love for this craft. We were all in good hands and it was wonderful for me not only to learn basketry techniques, but to pick up on some great teaching techniques as well. My sincere thanks to Eddie and his amazing wife too, for visiting Canada and making it super easy for me to take some classes.

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There wasn’t only baskets, there was great meals, amazing chocolate, a car full of willow, two grams of saffron in my pocket and a few axes might have been thrown. As amazing as it is to learn and work with other basket makers, the experience and friendships are just as special and memorable.

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If you are an extreme saffron lover like I am and you are in Ontario or near it make sure you check out True Saffron. Or just check it out now! Don’t purchase mediocre saffron that might not be the real deal, trust me get the good stuff.

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We managed to remember to take a few pictures at the end! I’m really hoping to travel to England one day and take a few more courses with Eddie. I’m no where near ready to stop learning as much as I can. Cheers!

Birch Bark Basketry at the North House Folk School

The next leg of my June 18' basketry journey lead me to the North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota.  

I had signed up for a birch bark class months ago.  In fact it was the first class I officially signed up for in hopes of taking this summer.  I didn't how how I was going to get there, but I knew I had to get in the class because I didn't think it would be available very long, and boy was I right.  

Dennis Chilcote teaches a class in birch bark harvesting and basket making that has been running for several years, and it fills up super fast.  I put my name on the registry and hoped I would find a way to get to this school somehow.

As it turns out, this class was a few days from when I would be in Iowa for the willow gathering. In my head I thought....Iowa...Minnesota...they are sort of close...right?! Well it made sense to me, there was no way I would drive all the way to Iowa, go back home and then drive to Minnesota a week later.  So I decided to smash it all together and go on an amazing road trip for two weeks.  

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Since I would arrive to Grand Marais ahead of schedule I decided to sneak in a two day cheese making course.  If you know about me, or read my bio you will notice that I interned for a summer with a dairy farmer who made raw milk cheese.  I helped milk the cows and make cheese for a summer I'll never forget.  So since I had some experience, here was a chance for me to indulge in a little scandinavian cheese making.

It was a super fun class, and most of the cheeses we made are still curing in my wine cooler, ready and waiting for a Christmas cheese board that will surely impress! 

There was also time for my boyfriend and I to do a little sight seeing, and boy did we visit as many places as we could.  A quick search found all the desirable beach stops on lake superior and we visited them all.  I even had some time to take my kayak out on a random lake we happened upon, and most importantly on lake superior in the harbor where the school resides.  You can see the shot I took of the school from the bow of my Oru.  The orange building is where our cheese class took place.  Without a doubt it was the most amazing classroom I ever stepped foot in.

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I have never visited the Midwest, if that is what Minnesota is considered? The climate and scenery made me fall in love instantly.  The lupines were in full bloom and the shoreline was unlike anything I have ever seen.  I got totally engrossed in the rocks and wasn't satisfied until I had a bag full of large basalt stones for my massage therapy needs, and several small agates that felt like finding diamonds. 

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We visited so many beaches and had the most gorgeous weather.  The water was crystal clear like on a tropical island, but the stones, pine and birch trees lining the shores created a super special scene.  You might hear people talking about this lake as if it were heaven on earth, and I'd be one to fall in line to agree.  

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For five days I became acquainted with this beautiful spot, and then it was time for the main event.  Learning how to harvest birch bark with Dennis is an experience I will never be able to forget.  It was fun, yet difficult and it felt like finally being part of the whole process of making a basket from start to finish.  Mosquito infested, bushwhacking, soaking wet and rainy forrest for several hours; gathering unwieldy rolls of wet bark, and I would pay to do it all again!    

Dennis was self taught from a very young age.  He developed his own patterns, tools and methods for creating the most beautiful folded birch berry baskets I have ever seen.  People swoon just looking at his work.  He is a master craftsman and I was honored to be learning from such a talented and sweet man.  His subtle jokes and odd sayings were all part of the charm.  You could tell he loved his craft and gladly shared all he knew with us as a class.    

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Most people always ask if stripping the bark harms the trees that we were taking them from.  If done in the correct way, removing the bark will not harm the tree and it will continue to grow the rest of it's life.  Another comforting or sad fact is that we were gathering our bark from an area that was designated for logging.  Dennis received special permission to gather bark on this land because all the trees in this certain area would be cut down eventually anyway. 

The finished product is a basket I will always treasure as a very special part of my collection.  One that tells a story of an unforgettable journey that I took with someone I love. 

After that it was time to return home, but there were many more basket making classes to be had this summer.  Stay tuned ;)  

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