Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nantucket Basket Purse with Oak Staves and Base

I finally finished the basket in February 2015 in Merritt Island, FL.

This is 8" Nantucket Basket Purse made with Oak Staves, Bases, and Handle. It is as solid as a rock! I had never attempted a basket purse with hardwood only with cane. I spent months fiddling around with this, and the basket isn't perfect, in so many ways, but it is strong and resilient. I have been joking with people that it will be around much longer than you and I. I am not sure I would do another Oak Purse or not, because there is so little "give", but if I do, I have come up against all the pitfalls of working with this medium in this piece so I am sure my next one would be better. Most challenging basket I have ever made and this includes all my Pine Needle Baskets. I haven't yet decided where I will put a bone scallop shell on the top or do a small scrimshaw. Honestly, the bag has so many errors that I may keep it as an example of " what not to do" for the future and remember how far I have come in my Nantucket Basket Journey!
This winter I am making a 8" Nantucket Basket Purse with Oak Base and Staves. I plan on some really great Scrimshaw for the project too!
This is the very start of the Basket:

getting going!

Almost to the end of weaving the basket base:

More to come as the process develops!!..... Meanwhile I am posting a few pics of some of my Nantucket Basket Molds:

The molds are used to make the shape of the basket. Piece of wood or rattan called Staves are the ribs of the basket. I have placed them into a base ( made of oak) which is slotted. 

The Nantucket Baskets were originally woven on molds made out of old masts and booms off wrecked ships. Oak is the material these particular staves are made from but people use all kinds of woods for bases and staves. 

Many people use Rattan for staves too. I am weaving with Rattan or Cane. 

Traditionally on Nantucket (where I learned this style of basket making from a teacher named Peter Finch) baskets may have been made from other materials other than rattan. Since it is thought that some basket making skills may have been inherited from the Local Wampanoag Indians, they may have even used Pine Needles. There is a bit of a historical connection with the shakers and some early families on the Island and you can see that influence. I have many Molds. I also do a little scrimshaw and use ivory and bone findings (antique of course).

The whalers brought the rattan and cane home to Nantucket in the 1800's from Asia and that's when they started weaving with it. Later many men who were stationed on Light Ships which were ships anchored in shoal water off the island like floating lighthouses they made baskets to sell on the island in the late 1800's. Later the Nantucket purse was popularized in the 1940's by a talented basket maker on the island named Jose Reyes.
There is a wonderful video of Jose Reyes on YouTube:

A Photo f me weaving this basket - Feb 2015
Some of the stages

Gluing the lid

This was a real leap of crazy faith to do this basket without much instruction or a mentor to help me with hardwood baskets. I have some supplies to make a cherry basket purse next with cherry staves and I am hoping I do a better job with that!

Happy Weaving!!
Melissa Smith Abbott


  1. Just stubbled upon your website. I have been weaving since the early '90's and have always wanted to weave a Natucket Basket but the molds were so expensive that I shied away from it. Your baskets look beautiful through. When you get a chance, hop over to my blog, I've got about three basket patterns I've listed there that I just made for the heck of it. I love basket blogs and happy to have found a kindred spirit!


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