Sweet grass basketry at North House Folk School

The first weekend in February, I took a class at North House Folk School in Grand Marais, Minnesota. Textile arts in general are a draw for me, and I always appreciate a good basket – so I thought I’d take a class and make at least a mediocre basket. Sweet grass, a plant which grows locally (a different variety than the one found in the coastal dunes of the Carolinas), has a wonderful smell. As a needle-and-thread technique, I thought I’d have a good chance at making a decent basket. Tenable technique, appealing medium, beautiful location – AND, my sister was able to come too!

Our instructor was Paula Sundet Wolf, who has been making baskets for 30 years. She has an MA in anthropology, focusing on Native American cedar as well as bulrush basket and mat weaving. Paula teaches twig furniture, as well as pine needle and sweet grass basketry at North House.

This is our classroom at North House, with Paula in the background at the table with the sweet grass and soaking bins. At the beginning of class, she spoke about harvesting and drying sweet grass, as well as other fibers we can use to make coiled baskets, including sedges, cattails, daylilies, Siberian iris, and pine needles. She had some of these other materials available for us to use as well. The coiling technique is one that Paula modified to keep the spiraling threadpath inside and outside the basket.


The opposite end of this U of tables is a table of the other materials needed, and her examples.


I picked a natural colored agate base, and natural waxed linen. I happened to grab the only 2-play linen in the basket – the rest were 4-ply. We are using the agate as the base for appearance, and to help with the learning curve and speed. Starting with a small coil is more difficult, and slower. I did make a coil of a few rounds at the end of the second day so that I could try it, and have an example for later. The agate is a slice encased in resin, with the resin drilled to make it possible to use. Paula purchased these from Prim Pines. The sweet grass with the seed heads on the left is beautiful, but stiffer, better for later in the basket when the rounds are bigger. On the right are the leaves of the plant.


Preparing to begin.


Completion of the first round.


Two rounds done. You can see some increases on the ends.


Four rounds.


Turning the corner, and beginning to build the sides.


Getting taller. The sweet grass is beautiful to use. It doesn’t take much of a soak to get it pliable, and it stays workable for quite a while.


Incorporating the seed heads. Unfortunately, they are very fragile. It’s best to to include something this fragile right under the rim, so there’s not as much handling in general. Now, after completion, I have hints of seed heads. I kept them on the outside of the basket so that I could just rub them off when they became too scraggly looking, and still keep the basket neat and tight.


Continuing to build. You can see some of the seed heads falling apart already.


Basket complete!


My basket, and my sister’s basket. She incorporated dogwood just harvested from outside the building, as well as other coiling materials that Paula had brought.


In my next post, I’ll write a little about the school itself and finding classes.

For your viewing pleasure, here are some of Paula’s baskets.

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