• Ruth Woods

Meet the basket makers we love

Updated: Sep 17



Emma Stenhouse


You moved to Victoria a few years back. Where were you before that?

I grew up in Broken Hill, in far west New South Wales. I had a screen-printing shop for many years where I would teach screen printing. I would teach lots of different people, including residents of a local nursing home. Once, I taught a man who was 101-years old! I would also sell fabrics and crafts from local artisans. I think it’s important to support local artists

A few years ago, I moved to Warrnambool, Victoria. I left behind the red dirt of Broken Hill for a sea change.  

You’ve been described as a natural teacher. Tell us about what you do.

I work as an early childhood educator where I feel passionately about children learning about our indigenous history and culture. I am Indigenous myself and recently have started looking into my family history more closely. I am from the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia. Within that community, there are some very well-known basket makers, including Yvonne Koolmatrie. 


Hello!

I recently organised for a local Elder, Uncle Lockie, to explain to the children how eel traps were made by local Indigenous people. Afterward the class drew what they had learned. Their work was displayed at the Hearth Galleries in Healesville.


I am from the Ngarrindjeri people in South Australia. Within that community, there are some very well-known basket makers, including Yvonne Koolmatrie. 

That’s amazing! Perhaps you could teach them basket making?

That’s how I got interested in basket weaving! I invited Gunditjmara women Sandra Aiken and her niece Melissa to show the children how to make baskets. Both these women had been taught by elder, Aunty Connie Hart (a celebrated indigenous Master Weaver).


During this class, I became fascinated by the process. I have been ever since. I’ve been making baskets for a few years now and grown quite a collection. 


I'm very much a tactile creator, texture, and colour in my work often mimic those I see in nature. Nature is my never-ending and ever-changing source of inspiration.

Tell us a bit more about your basketry journey.

I participated in a natural basket making class a few years ago. They used Red Hot Poker which looked good, but I prefer to use native plant fibers when I can. These days I like to explore locally to see what I can use to create new baskets. 


I've been in a weaving frenzy of weaving since I was gifted for my birthday a Craft School Oz kit which came with an online course. It’s become an obsession while we were in isolation.

I love that my weaving work tells a story through whatever materials I am using. It also keeps me quiet. I'm never short of a word so my family is happy weaving keeps me quiet.


I love working with texture,and colour

What inspires you to get making?

I'm very much a tactile creator, texture, and colour in my work often mimic those I see in nature. Nature is my never-ending and ever-changing source of inspiration.



Lisa Podell


Tell us about your background, pre basketry.

I'm American, and spent 30 years, mostly in Seattle, working in health programs for low-income people. Then, as our kids were grown and we were tired of our jobs, my husband and I spent the last 6-years living and working in India, England, Australia, and Spain. In January we moved back to the states to a small town in the beautiful Teton mountains. It's a spot near Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.


That sounds beautiful. Do you take inspiration from natural surroundings? What inspires you?

Yes, nature. And also art. I love hiking and cross country skiing and love the combination of exercise and the beauty and patterns in nature. 


Art museums are my favorite city source of inspiration. In the last 2-years in London, I saw so many amazing exhibitions. Each one gave me more ideas of things to make than I ever have time for. 


I always loved looking at art and textiles and texture and colour, but thought I wasn’t any good at making things myself.

When did you discover basket weaving?

I came to basket making late in life, in my 50s after back surgery when I couldn’t move much. Our cabin in Washington state was surrounded by Ponderosa pines, so I taught myself how to make pine needle baskets.



Me and Tazzie, our Australian Shepherd mix behind a few of my creations

I always loved looking at art and textiles and texture and colour, but thought I wasn’t any good at making things myself. I could never draw or knit or anything like that. With high-stress jobs and two kids, I also never had the spare time to find out. 

What do you love most about it? 

Everything! Learning new things, getting better with practice, taking classes, playing with materials and patterns, and shapes.


I love using the other side of my brain. I still like pine needles, though I tend towards sculptural pieces now, and have learned twining with rush and willow and soft materials, essentially using anything I can find since I’ve moved so much recently.


What was your experience of creativity growing up?

I never did anything creative growing up besides being an audience, going to museums and concerts, and dance performances. I never learned to improve through practice, so if I tried something and wasn’t good at it, I would just stop. Starting dance classes and basketry in my 50s taught me that a) things can be fun, even if you’re not good at them, and b) if you keep practicing, you get better. Seems obvious but was new to me and very liberating. 



Keep practicing. That's my advice!

You've lived in a lot of cities, any favorites?

I’ve lived in 8 cities in the last 10-years, including 6-months in Melbourne in 2015 and again in 2017. I loved so many things about Australia; the landscapes, the colours, the wildlife, the people.


I have a huge soft spot in my heart for Melbourne, the food, the botanic gardens, the cultural scene. I watch Aussie TV shows just to hear the accents and see the locations I love and miss. 


A huge highlight of my time in Melbourne was joining the Basket Makers of Victoria who welcomed me with open arms and taught me so much about basketry and local plants. They are a phenomenal bunch of kind, smart, funny, talented women. I still miss them and the basket-making community there, which, unfortunately, I haven't found elsewhere. They also led me to Ruth and her Craft School Oz workshops which I have had the privilege to take in-person and online. 

SHOP WORKSHOPS



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