Handcrafted Baskets by Matt Tommey
Learning to Weave
It is always fun to give tours of the studio and share with people a little more about what I do. I am still learning every day with each piece I create, and I love to talk about my processes for weaving!
Matt: I am a sculptural basket maker here in Asheville’s River Arts District. So I actually go into the woods and harvest materials to make beautiful things that look like pods and nests and things like that – all sorts of things that you might find growing but they are things that I create.
Julio: It is truly beautiful work. And you have many years of experience.
Matt: Yeah, so about twenty three years. I started when I was at the University of Georgia and was weaving for a long time. And then when we moved here, weaving sort of engulfed my life and now I do it full time.
Julio: Wow! Now if you’d like to see more about Matt’s work, join us! It’s going to be very fun.
Matt: So when I started creating baskets years ago, I started doing them like a lot of people do, as functional vessels, but actually going into the woods and harvesting my materials. But over time, I guess my sculptural sensibilities took over and I not only use nature as part of what I was using to weave, but also I wanted to use it as the source of inspiration for the different forms and pieces I would create.
So things like this that are obviously for the wall – I do the same type of thing for the table or fireplace mantel – are all based on rocks and pods and nests. I found over the years that people really love this idea because it is a way to bring the beautiful parts of nature and the outdoors into the home in a really beautiful way. So, I am using things like kudzu and clay, and you can’t see it here, but wasps nests, honeysuckle, mountain laurel. So all these things sort of come together to create my voice creatively that is sort of a mixed media approach to basketry. In some of my other work you will actually see copper leaves and the weaving of copper. All of these things coming together to make beautiful pieces for the wall, table, or fireplace mantel that really represent and evoke the beauty of nature.
Julio: And we are back in the work shop and Matt is going to teach us how to make these beautiful baskets. He is going to show step by step and we are going to be hands on.
Matt: So this is one of the basket shapes that I make a lot here at the studio. It reminds me of a nest or a pod or a rock or something like that – and it will fit into one of my sculptural pieces for the wall, or table, or fireplace. Every time I see a form in nature, I see some sort of pod or nest, which is why I make them to look like this. They are very simple to make, but the materials are not simple to get.
If you remember at the beginning here, I talked about how every basket begins with a walk in the woods. I’ve got to harvest things like this poplar bark. It’s the inner bark that I use and that comes off during the late Spring to early Summertime. I also use kudzu vine which I harvest in the Wintertime. And so, knowing what materials to use, what to harvest, when to harvest them, is a huge part of learning how to do basketry the way that I do it. But to do this basket, we will do a little spiral base which is the really nice way to start. I will just take my kudzu vine which I’ve made pliable again by putting in some boiling water for a bit. Then I will just do a real basic twining stitch here. All these kinds of stitches I use here in the studio, I teach in classes five or six times a year, and it’s a great way to learn how to start weaving.
Now this technique is a base I learned while I was in Australia not too long ago. It’s an aboriginal technique which I learned for putting together a basket base. Now you can see this doesn’t look anything like a basket. Well how does it get there? You start to take the basket like this, and twist the poplar bark and fan them out in order to get to a rounder shape. Pretty soon, if I do it right, which I should, you’ll get a round base. There are lots of different ways to make a base for a basket. It’s based on the specific technique of the type of basketry you study. Like we say here in the South, “there’s more than one way to skin a cat.” That’s one of the many reasons I love basketry. There’s lots of different techniques to use to make a similar piece. I just do this basic twining technique which is the basis of all of my sculptural basketry work. And all of the sudden, I’ve gone from sort of a straight line to a starburst shape which looks just like that.
The beautiful thing about twining is that I am going to just continue that stitch around to make this basket. Another big part of basketry is shaping. How do you get from doing something that is very tight down at the bottom to going out and coming back in to get the basket shape. That’s one of the things you pick up with twenty-three years of practice in weaving, and that’s one of the things you will learn if you come take a class with me here in the River Arts District.
Julio: Thank you for showing us your studio and showing us how to make your beautiful baskets. Okay, if people want to contact you, and sign up for a class, how can they do that?
Matt: I would love for you to go to my website, at www.matttommey.com. You can also come visit us here in the River Arts District of Asheville and see the studio in person. We would love to show you the space and talk to you about the materials and the process.
Julio: Thanks from MECA TV.