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Woven together: Q-C Basketry Guild fosters community and creativity

Members of the Quad City Basket Guild gather at the home of Rene Robinson in Moline on Saturday, September 20, 2014. The group has been meeting for thirty-one years and currently has sixty members.

In today’s culture in which so much comes ready-made, there’s a group of people — at least 50 of them in the Quad-Cities — who find the time and the pleasure in the handmade pursuit of transforming a pile of reeds into baskets.

Baskets for apples, for flowers, for salt and pepper shakers, or for Xbox games. Baskets to treasure in one’s own collection, and many, many more to gift to family, friends and charities, or to sell.

Quad-Cities Basketry Guild president Sue Tucker says she thinks the group is easily one of the longest running guilds in the area, with a more than 20-year history. Meetings are typically held on the second Saturday of the month at various locations. Guild members show up with their own tools and work together to weave baskets, enjoy each other’s company and partake in potlucks.

The monthly guild newsletter shows a calendar packed with basketry events. Tucker says she’s excited about the Nov. 15 “Make it/Take it” event at the Butterworth Center garage in Moline. Members plan to sell low-cost items to each other, including basket kits, Christmas ornaments and paper and felt crafts.

The December slate calls for a holiday party with a “Buddy Basket Reveal.” This event is akin to a Secret Santa party. The guild pairs members in January who secretly trade gifts a few times throughout the year, finally learning who their “basket buddy” has been at the December event.

In January, guild members are planning a LeClaire overnight where they will enjoy two days of weaving, including the option to purchase a kit to make a two-handled laundry basket. Or overnight attendees can choose to work on UFOs (that’s “unfinished objects” for those not well versed in crafting lingo).

“You are almost not a true guild member without a UFO at home,” Tucker says.

No matter the meeting theme, Tucker says at every gathering you’ll find members sitting around, chatting and sharing. She says everyone is willing to expand each other’s creativity and weaving skills.

“It’s about the people, that’s what makes or breaks a guild,” Tucker says. “I can weave in my living room. I can weave in my yard. I belong to the guild because of the people.”

Guild secretary Laura Wagschal says what she finds neat about the group’s meetings is that they are entirely member driven. She says once or twice per year the guild may arrange for someone to come from out of town to lead the group, but for the most part, it’s individual members who spearhead sessions based on projects they are passionate about.

“The guilds’ members are the ones that put the kits together, bring them and show and teach. … For the most part, guild members step up because they love it, to share their knowledge and whatever comes out of their heads,” she says.

Wagschal says one example is the watermelon kit that was created, assembled and instructed by Tucker. “She came up with it right down to the seeds,” Wagschal says, with a laugh. “It was a lot of fun.”

Guild members pay $20 in annual dues and pay a small fee to cover the costs of the basket kits supplied at each meeting. Wagschal says guild members can pick and choose which meetings they attend and kit fees are nominal, usually between $6 and $20. She says costs are kept low because supplies are purchased in bulk.

“You can’t buy kits for what they put them together for,” she says. “It’s a neat way to get something done every month without having to buy all these things (supplies and equipment). It’s easy to show up, get a kit and sit down. You have someone there to walk you through it and help with questions. That’s what I like about it. I’m learning a lot.”

Butchie Hasken, who serves as guild vice president, says what has her hooked on basketry is how handy the final products are and the speed from which you can go from start to finish.

“What’s neat about them, to me anyway, is you can have the finished product that day. You can be using it that night,” she says.

Hasken’s addiction started in 1990 when she was asked by a couple of friends to join in on a community college class to learn basket weaving. The class needed eight live bodies to get going, she says, and was stalled because it was short one. Hasken says she originally tried to deny her friends. In the end, she caved, signed up for the course and has been weaving ever since.

She says she now has a few hundred baskets at her home and she sells her wares at farmers’ markets and makes them for gifts. Hasken says she probably has about 10 patterns she has completely designed on her own. And some of her baskets mean more to her than others.

“I do have some really pretty close to my heart,” she says. “They bring back memories. The time you spent with people in the class. It’s a social thing, just a fun day out.”

Hasken says whatever the design, she can always find space for one more basket. “For me, they all have a purpose.”

Nicole Lauer contributes to Radish regularly. Learn more about the Quad Cities Basketry Guild by visiting qcbasketguild.com.

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