Victoria Vanier, Ste-catherine-de-hatley
With Easter just around the corner it seemed like the most opportune time to find out about the time-honoured craft of basket weaving. Some of the nicest baskets I had ever seen were at an antique store in Ayer’s Cliff and they were made by Mary Rolland, so
I gave her a call.
“I saw a family making beautiful baskets at the Old Skills Exhibition in Compton a few years ago and I went nuts,” said Mrs. Rolland with her usual candor. “Then I saw an article in the Stanstead Journal about basket weaving courses at the Old Stone House Museum in Vermont. I brought a friend and we learnt how to make three basic baskets,” Mary explained. Her enthusiasm for basket weaving must have been contagious because soon over a dozen women were heading to Vermont together from the Townships for lessons.
Sitting in Mary’s kitchen in Ste. Catherine-de-hatley surrounded by over a dozen beautifully woven baskets, it’s obvious that all the lessons in Vermont have paid off. “A typical basket takes about six or seven hours to complete. The rimming takes time, and making the base and getting the handle on,” she said, showing me the difference between a tight rim (the ideal) and a looser rim on one of her earlier baskets. “The nice thing about basket making is that your first basket looks great. And even if you are all thumbs, you can still do it. It’s an outlet for my creative side, it’s challenging sometimes, and it’s satisfying because they always turn out beautifully.”
It seems only natural that Mrs. Rolland, who has worked as a teacher for most of her career, would soon be giving courses herself in basket making. “I first gave it a whirl at the Magog Community School. The students enjoyed it and came away with two baskets each.” Before long Mary began holding regular basket weaving classes in her home to keep up with the demand of the novice basket weavers to improve their skills. “Now I have an advanced beginners group and a beginner’s group. The advanced group can adapt patterns and that’s fun to do. They are getting quite adept at tackling different projects and after only a year have made about fifteen baskets each. There are four in the beginner’s group and they’ve made two baskets, so they’re on the road. It’s fun to see the light go on in someone’s eyes as they learn a new skill.”
Basket weaving seems like a popular craft of late and one with therapeutic benefits. Groups at Mental Health Estrie and at CAB RH Rediker enjoy basket weaving sessions. But despite its popularity, finding the material in Canada to make baskets is challenging. “I hunted all over for a Canadian supplier but couldn’t find one. So now we all buy from Caroline who taught the courses at the Old Stone House Museum. We do what we call a ‘field trip’,” said Mary. “The Native Americans use ash to make their baskets but that goes for about $100 a pound. Most people today use a cheaper alternative that is still environmentally friendly and the handles are made out of hickory,” she added.
When asked what, besides the beautiful, sturdy and long-lasting baskets, people seem to get out of the basket weaving groups, Mrs. Rolland said thoughtfully: “They really enjoy the social aspect. It’s interesting to see a sense of belonging and their confidence develop; some are doing baskets at home now. And to see how cohesive the group has become,” said Mary as she wove her two hands together demonstratively, without noticing the connection to her craft. “They teach each other now.”
“I enjoy taking scraps of wood and creating art; every basket is a piece of art. But what I enjoy most is sharing the excitement. With any creative process, if you find likeminded people it adds to the enjoyment,” she concluded.
Mrs. Rolland will soon be starting up another beginner’s basket weaving group. For more information or to join this group call 819 838-1421.
Mary Rolland has been making baskets for several years and enjoys sharing the craft with others.