Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Mi'kmaq Baskets

Following last week's post as an introduction to baskets, this week we're focusing on the Mi'kmaq, their basketry techniques, Joleen's methodology of describing these baskets, as well as some helpful references. 

Mi'kmaq Sweet Grass Basket
West Hants
The Mi'kmaq are First Nations People in Eastern Canada. There is archaeological evidence of making baskets with soft grasses, rushes, cattails and inner fir barks. Since European settlement, they create weave work and fancy baskets using wide and narrow woodsplints of Ash, Maple, and Poplar.  Fancy baskets are often decorated with Sweet Grass.  Bottom warps and wefts are woven in the desired shape, unwoven ends bend vertical forming warps for the sides woven to desired height.  The rim is created by turning down alternate outside warps holding the last row of weaving in place; inside warps are cut. Handles and lids are also added to some baskets.  

Describing the Baskets

Bottom: round, square or rectangular.  Round bottoms sometimes have a “double-start bottom” if there are two sets of radiating bottom warps. Round basket centres may have tapered warps allowing initial wefts closer to centre.

Sides: straight; slightly flared; flared; rounded; or moulded (if a mould has been used).

Weaving techniques: checker-woven (weaving flat wefts with flat warps in an over 1/under 1

Mi'kmaq Fancy Basket with "periwinkle" "jikiji'j" weaving
Shelburne County Museum
pattern); twill-woven (weaving flat wefts over flat warps on a staggered over 2/under 1 pattern); hexagonal-woven (using three sets of warps/wefts); braiding (finger-weaving flat or round elements in a variety of numbers in many patterns).  

Fancy baskets may have a double woodsplint row of added raised decorative weave known collectively as “jikiji’j”.  There are many patterns some of which have specific names: raised decorative “periwinkle” “jikiji’j” weave; raised decorative “porcupine” “jikiji’j” weave; raised decorative “thistle” weave; raised decorative “Castle Bay twist’ “jikiji’j” weave.

Handles: Overhand, round or D-shaped across basket opening, ends inserted into weaving; Side-handles inserted into weaving on opposite sides; Notched overhand and side-handles sometimes notched to fit over inner-rim wood hoop securing position; Hand-hold handles created by spaces left in the weaving on opposite sides; Swing-handles, round or D-shaped, riveted to outside of rim; Looped woodsplint or length of Sweet Grass braid handle often added to centre of fancy basket lid. 

Rims:  Fancy baskets rims reinforced with inner woodsplint or inner wood hoop and outer woodsplint or overlaid Sweet Grass all bound with woodsplint.  Most basket rims are bound/lashed with one circle of binding.  Record “double-bound” if the rim has been bound twice – hint – look for the resulting X’s.  Heavy work basket rims may be nailed.  Square and rectangular basket bottoms often have extra reinforcement of added woodsplint on opposite outer, and middle, rows to extend their lifetimes.  

Resource List:
A Basketful of Cultural Change.  National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Canadian Ethnology Service, Paper No. 22.  Ottawa, The National Museums of Canada.  1975.  (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax)

Elitekey, Micmac Material Culture from 1600 to the Present.  Ruth Holmes Whitehead. Halifax, Nova Scotia Museum 1980.  .  (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax)

Mohawk Micmac Maliseet…and other Indian Souvenir Art from Victorian Canada.  London, U.K.  Exhibition catalogue.  Canada House Cultural Centre Gallery, 3 July-13 August, 1985. (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax)

Abenaki Basketry.  Gaby Pelletier.  National Museum of Man Mercury Series, Canadian Ethnology Service, Paper No. 85.  Ottawa, The National Museums of Canada.  Appendix A has many images of pages from dealer’s catalogues showing the baskets, trinkets with their sizes and prices. (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax) 

A Key into the Language of Woodsplint Baskets.  Eds. Ann McMullen and Russell G. Handsman.  Washington, Connecticut, American Indian Archaeological Institute, 1987.   (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax)

Our Lives in their Hands, Micmac Indian Basketmakers.  Bunny McBride and Donald Sanipass.  Thomastown, Maine, Tilbury House Publishers, 1990.

Micmac Quillwork.  Ruth Holmes Whitehead.  Halifax, Nova Scotia Museum, 1982.  (in NSM Library, Summer Street, Halifax)

Older Ways, Traditional Nova Scotian craftsmen.  Peter Barss with Joleen Gordon.  Toronto, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1980. (Noel/Abraham Smith, Hantsport)

Handwoven Hats, A history of straw, wood and rush hats in Nova Scotia.  Joleen Gordon.  Halifax, Nova Scotia Museum, 1981. 

1 comment:

stephengillies said...

I have in my possession a basket, thought to be Mi'kmaq, made of sweet grass, bundled in rings, then tied together to make a round basket, 5" diameter, with a cover, also made with bundled sweet grass. The diameter of the basket and the cover is 5". There are thirteen rows of bundled sweet grass to make the lower part of the basket. The bundles are tied together with a sturdy thread, running at an angle from bottom to top. At the top of the lower basket, there is an indentation, with the final three bundles set back, so that the cover fits snugly over the top. The thread is woven in and out of each bundle; quite well made. The bottom of the basket is made from birch bark as is the top of the lid. The lid itself has a star pattern made from porcupine quills with turquoise thread or gingham in the center of each diamond into which the star is divided.
When I was growing I had Malaseet baskets, hand made, also clearly 'woodland' style, from the St John River valley. May I send you some photos? I would like to know if it is indeed Mi'kmaq or Malaseet.
Cordially yours,

Dr. Steven Gillies