Mountain Grown Baskets, Herbal Teas, and Culinary Spices

one acre

one woman

100% homegrown

100% handmade
Tulip Poplar Bark Baskets
       
    In the spring the most wonderful thing happens.  As the the sap rises in trees to push new growth of leaves, the bark loosens from the tree.  Then, if you're lucky enough to be around and paying attention, you can peal that bark right off the tree and make folded baskets.  If you want to find me May through July, you'd better be looking for some tulip poplar trees.  I'll be selling these baskets at craft shows in the fall.  Please check the calendar page in coming months to find out where I'll be in the fall. 

Now that my craft shows are over for the season, I have a few baskets left that are up for grabs.  For a limited time you can buy baskets online and I'll ship them to you.  Please understand that every basket is unique and the ones in this photo are only a small sample to give you an idea of the dimensions.  Your basket may not be one of the ones in this photo.  Only order if you are okay with a little surprise in your life. 

Little Baskets
Approximately 4"wide x 11"tall

$24

Sales on hold for the planting season

Medium Baskets
Approximately 7"wide x 15"tall

$34

Sales on hold for the planting season




   

   
 
I received this photo from a Waterford Craft Show customer named Ulli - she went home, filled the basket with hydrangeas, hung it on the door, and sent me the picture.  What a treat!  Send me a picture of yours and I'll put it up.       
  

Making a Tulip Poplar Bark Basket


I learned how to make bark baskets from my buddy Doug down in North Carolina who learned it from an old mountain neighbor.  I’ve tried making about every kind of basket, but I fell in love with this traditional Appalachian design for its simplicity and character.  Making these baskets allows me to spend a lot of time in the woods, listening to the rhythms of bird song, seeing turkeys and fox and deer, and finding the occasional ginseng or wild mushrooms.  All of this brings me such joy and such a feeling of home, and I think those feelings get folded into the baskets. 



Choosing the right tree takes a lot of time.  It has to be in a place where there are plenty of other trees to fill its space, and I like to find bark that’s thin enough to be flexible but old enough to have character.  A tree that’s grown up in a crowded area is best because it is straight and has few branches, which means I can use bark off almost the entire tree and waste very little.  I cut a line down the length of the tree and peel back the bark with a bark spud my brother made.  Rocky, my aunt and uncles dog, loves to come help. 



Bark only slips while the sap is rising in the late spring-early summer, so for a couple months in May and June I’m peeling as much bark as fast as I can.  I have to peel the bark carefully, working back and forth little by little, or hairline cracks will develop that will split the bark in two when I fold it into a basket. 


When the bark finally breaks loose it makes the most satisfying
Pop!  This perfect tree supplied enough bark for twenty backpack sized baskets. 



Once the bark is off the tree I take it home and cut it into basket lengths.  Measuring the middle of each piece, I score an eye shape (some say a football shape) that will become the bottom of the basket.  It takes practice to get the feel for how deep to score the lines.  Too shallow means it won’t fold and may force the bark to fold and crack somewhere undesirable.    Too deep means I’ve cut through the bottom and ruined the basket.



Folding the basket is a little like working with a teenager.  You can’t force anything, and you have to make it think it was its idea.  I often end up bracing with arms, legs, shoulders, the table - anything I can find to support the bark as it transforms from a two dimensional rectangle to a three dimensional basket.



Once the basket is folded I get to take a good look at it and decide which side will be the front.  Usually I pick the side with the most character — a hole where a branch once was, a scar were it got hit by another tree long ago, or patches of lichen and moss.  Overlapping the sides so there won’t be a gap as it dries and shrinks, I drill holes and tie the basket together with leather lacing.  Later, once it has dried, I will add a vine handle.




History of Bark Baskets
The tradition of making folded bark baskets from tulip poplar trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) comes from the native societies of the southeast stretching back farther than memory.  In fact, folks have been folding bark into baskets on every corner of this continent using whatever tree was plentiful in the region, including cedar, pine, birch, and elm.  I've even heard they make them over on the other side of the big pond in Scandinavia.  Back before plastic, metal, glass, cardboard and cloth were turned into bags and boxes, bark baskets provided a quick and plentiful source of containers.  Just think of all the things we use containers for—gathering, transporting, and storing all that is necessary and precious to us.  And then imagine if you didn’t have paper bags or plastic totes or cardboard boxes, how happy you would be to have a poplar bark basket.