My Life in Basketry

By Flo Hoppe

Fiber arts have always played a big part in my life, but none of the disciplines was a real focal point for my life until I accidentally fell into basketmaking in the early 70s when I picked up some reed and a small basketry booklet from my mother’s basement. As I experimented with the materials, something inspired me. I went on to do all the baskets in the booklet, then searched the library for more information. The only books I could find were published in the early part of the 20th century. Fortunately one of them, “The Basketry Book”, by Mary Miles Blanchard, was particularly outstanding in technique and design, so that’s where I began my basic technical training. There was no one teaching basketry at the time so I was on my own learning the rudiments of the craft.

My early art training began as a child when I was living in Chicago. My mother exposed my two brothers and me to all the cultural advantages of a big city. She took us to every kind of class in the arts: music, theater, dance, and the fine arts. Every Saturday for 7 or 8 years, my mother would take us to Hull House for piano, singing, dancing, and acting lessons, then over to the Art Institue for art lessons. Because I’ve been trained in several of the art disciplines, each adds its own unique inspiration to my work. Training in the arts has taught me to see design possibilities in everything. The inspiration for a series of double-walled baskets I made several years ago came from two sources: a flute duet with its intertwining melodic lines, and South America molas, a reverse applique technique in which one or more layers of fabric are cut to expose underlying layers. Each gave the idea of one surface moving to expose another. The rhythm and movement of dance also provide a rich source of ideas as well as the inspiration for translating graphic ideas into three-dimensional forms.

My true interest lies in the finer points of technique, color patterning, and surface decoration. I’m always trying to find new ways to execute a base or border or handle, or to create different textures with unusual weaves and colors. A trip to Japan in 1994 to study with master basketmakers led me to try embroidery techniques which create multiple layers of color and texture.

In 1980 I began writing articles for magazines because I was displeased with the shoddy designs and techniques I’d seen in most publications. That lead to articles in many fiberarts publications and finally to my first book on basketry design and technique, “Wicker Basketry” (1989). A second book, “Contemporary Wicker Basketry”, followed eight years later. I’ve also co-authored a book with Vladimir Yarish, a Russian basketmaker. It’s entitled “Plaited Basketry with Birch Bark”.

Teaching has been one of the greatest pleasure of my life and not only have I been privileged to teach all over the US, but have been invited to teach in other countries: Canada, Japan, Russia, England, and Australia. In my travels, I am always on the lookout for new ideas and techniques for yet more books. It’s important to me to clearly record as much as I can for future basketmakers.