Sandra Kehoe

Basketmaker & Willow Artist

Natural Fibers & Twining at Roots School in Vermont

This last weekend I was lucky enough to travel back up to the Roots School in Vermont.  The first time I visited the school I was there for a willow basket class.  This time was two separate classes: one in processing natural fibers and the second for twining basketry.

Sarah, one of the founders and teachers of the school is extremely knowledgeable in this area. We talked about pretty much every type of fiber; plant, animal and mineral.  The main fiber we worked with on the first day was dogbane. We learned how to take the raw material (a stick basically) and turn it into the most luxurious and soft fiber for making cordage or spinning. 

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In the first picture below you see the dogbane that was split into four pieces and the process of removing the inner woody core.  In the second picture below I have a handful of the fibers that then get rubbed together to remove the outer waxy cuticle. Then, above you can see the cordage that I made out of the dogbane. The third picture below is Yucca fibers that we learned process by stripping the plant matter off with a knife or spoon. 

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We also got a chance to try a little drop spinning with wool fibers.  I've always admired spinners but after learning a bit of how it's done, I don't think I'll be seeking out spinning classes at this point. 

We also corded some siberian iris and bast wood fibers. 

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On the second day the next class was twining.  Basically we took the materials we learned to process and made baskets out of them. Twining is a very basic technique in basketry. Almost every basket has some form of twining in it. The two baskets below are the ones I finished that second day.

Overall it was yet again an awesome experience and I'm so glad I got the opportunity to take both these classes this year.  

The first is made from cattail, iris and yucca fibers. The second is jute, wool and bast fibers.

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Willow Snowflakes

I have always been obsessed with making snowflakes.  As a child I would cut them out of paper, until I discovered you could use very thin yarn and crochet them! 

So many different willow artists create fun ornaments or small items around the holiday season; little willow stars or trees, and sometimes hearts.  I've made trees before but I was never really enthused about them.  For a long time I tried to figure out how I could make willow snowflakes.


The other day I stumbled across a wheat weaving website that sold kits on how to weave wheat snowflake ornaments.  With my german and swedish ancestry I've always been drawn to these beautiful ornaments and wondered how they were made.  So I picked up a kit and started to teach myself.  

Once I learned the basics I was so excited to start working with willow because I was sure I could make it work.  Thanks to a cleave that I picked up from Bonnie Gale I was on my way to skeining some leftover tips from a previous project.

I was so happy with the end results and the ease at which I could make these. The bulk of the time is in skeining the willow but even that is a great exercise for the hands.  

My hope is to make more of these in the future and possibly sell them next year at a craft fair or two. I am going to try all the colors of willow I have to create more interest and variation. What is wonderful is that each snowflake can be altered slightly to create a different pattern, which keeps my busy wondering mind at attention. 

I can't wait until it snows so I can take some great pictures of these outside. 

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Willow Baskets with Nick Neddo at Roots School

This last weekend, I was so excited to finally be getting up to the Roots School in Vermont.  The class was two days of making willow baskets with Nick Neddo. Nick is an awesome artist and all around cool guy.  He is very knowledgeable about a range of different skills, and he even has a book, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in using natural materials for creating drawings and paintings, The Organic Artist.  

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The school was just great!  Everyone there is super interested in learning new skills and working with natural materials.  They are so organized and everything is so easy to find.  There is one main building for holding classes because most of the work is done outside, and they offer camping to students if you need it.  I decided to go that route since I only needed to stay one night.  The majority of their classes are in the "primitive skills" category and there was a small group there that weekend that were getting ready to go out for a week to learn about wilderness self reliance. 

It's a little different then the schools I have been to, which I would put in more of a "Crafting" category.  I think I probably say that I'm so inspired by all these places, but this one really got my interest.  Self reliance, permaculture, primitive skills and so on, are all major areas of interest for me.  So needless to say I don't think this will be my last trip up to this school. 

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I really don't do enough camping anymore, and I was reminded of that on this trip. How great to sleep out in the middle of a field in Vermont.  For this New Jersey girl it doesn't get much better

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In this class we were going over the basics.  You might say I don't need the basics, but who doesn't like a refresher.  We learned stake and strand round work.  But the difference for me is that I normally don't work with fresh willow.  My last class with Jo Campbell-Amsler was my first introduction to using fresh willow, so it was great to work up a stake and strand basket with it as well.  

To be honest it is probably a great way for beginners to learn because it is quite forgiving.  I felt like the fresh stuff gave me a good sense of how far I could push the material, either that or I'm just getting to a point where I've learned the material well enough.  It didn't kink as badly as I remember working as a beginner with dried willow. 

It was a really big class but it was awesome to meet and work with so many people with similar interests as my own.  Conversations flowed so nicely, and two of the girls I met are actually massage therapists as well.  Needless to say I was among people to love to work with their hands.  

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The baskets below are the ones I made over the two days.  I had so much fun practicing a lot of the techniques that I learned over the years with other basket makers.  I learned a new appreciation for adding a foot to my baskets.  Something I might now do more often in my work. 

I'm really also very interested in finding out how these baskets dry.  Working with fresh stuff, the challenge is that it shrinks alot.  But its the time of the year when the sap is down so I have a feeling these two are going to work out just fine.  

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Peach Salsa

I'm hard on myself occasionally.  Arn't we all? I can't help but count the years ahead of me, trying to prepare for more of the same and desperately trying to find peace with it.  I'm not allowed to dissatisfied with my life right now. I'm supposed to be grateful and hopeful, because I put myself here, right?

I get trapped in these cycles of "I used to do this...and that...and it will be years before I...." Ughhhh...I just can't stop and let it be, like I'm supposed to do. 

Well that being said...I used to have peaches filling my table each August.  Peach salsa, peach butter, peach relish, etc.  It was hard to let peaches go another year so I grabbed a few at my one of my favorite farm stands and set out on a mission to make salsa.   Even though making this little condiment probably put me in a tailspin of "supposed to" be here and want to be there.  And will I ever be able to live the life I was trying to create.  I know it will be ok, and I have to trust the journey I'm on.  I'm letting it be....and with my two little jars of peach salsa I'll try to keep hopeful that my future will include swimming in August peaches again. 

So many people love this recipe and its one I wanted to put here.  Even though no one reads this blog, I use it as my own personal cookbook now.  I just need to find a better way to search for the recipes in between all the basket work.   

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Peach Salsa

makes 6-7 pints

About 12-15 large yellow peaches, pitted, skinned and roughly chopped
2 large onions (or 4 medium), minced
2 bunches of fresh cilantro, chopped
1 head of garlic, minced
4 red bell peppers, minced
6 jalapenos, minced
Juice from 5 limes
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
pinch or two of ground cayenne pepper
1 cup white vinegar

Prepare your water bath canner and jars.  

Place all the ingredients into a very large pot over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1-2 hours, stirring often to prevent burning.  The salsa is ready when it has reduced in size by one third and no longer looks watery.  Taste some of the salsa occasionally to see if it needs more salt, pepper, spices or sugar.  Ladle the hot salsa into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace.  Process in a boiling water bath for 15 minutes.  Let jars cool completely and store for up to a year without rings. 

*This salsa improves with age.  Try hard to wait until you are well past the end of summer to open and enjoy that first jar.