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Hip & Hemp Baskets - Smokin Js

Hip & Hemp Baskets

In 2007, I left my job working for the Alaska Department of Fisheries to teach art full-time. I had finally grown tired of all the late hours, remote travel and Alaskan fishing stories, so I decided to follow my dream of teaching art. I found a position with the Juneau School District in the Cultural Studies Program as an Arts and Crafts instructor. I thought that I had a lot to teach the fine young students of Juneau, but what happened was far better than that. The job became the greatest opportunity to learn that I have had since college.

The program was staffed by some of the finest Alaskan Native traditional artists in the state. I had the honor of replacing a Yupik Eskimo artist named Goldie, that had held the job for nearly 15 years. On her way out she left me with the instructions to countless Native American crafts, including her hand-written instructions on how to weave Yupik coil baskets out of yarn. I attempted my first Yupik coil basket three days into the job and it was a fabulous brown and tan, slightly right leaning, loosely woven version of the one Goldie had left on my desk as an example.

I started working with a group of Middle School students after-school and taught them to weave the coil baskets. We soon found out that yarn wasn’t the best material for weaving strong baskets. It broke easily as we pulled on it to tighten the coil rows. In my frustration, I turned to history to find out what materials Native Americans originally used to weave durable baskets. I found out that numerous tribes on the West-coast had used wild hemp for weaving because of it’s strength and durability. A light came on in my head; I was already using hemp twine to make necklaces, would it work for coil baskets?

I went to my local craft store and found the hemp twine. I was drawn in by the variety of vibrant colors and strength of the product. I also found out that it was very reasonably priced. I bought a few balls of hemp twine and made my way home to start a basket. I found out two things that day, first, hemp twine is super strong and makes beautiful baskets. Secondly, coil basket weaving takes a really long time. A really, really long time.

My first hemp basket was exactly what I was looking for. It was strong, durable and colorful. I started to weave baskets every chance I got. Before long I had a stack of them on my desk, so I decided to sell them at a local craft fair. To my surprise, I sold all of them and took some orders to make more. Over the years, I have studied the various styles and shapes of coil basketry from all over the world. By using hemp twine, I am able to produce designs and colors, not possible in the past. I have become an accomplished basket weaver and I owe my success to the Hemp plant!

The Hemp Twine I use is available in more than 10 different colors and three different weights from Smokin Js, in-store and online. I have used hemp twine in a number of crafts, from coil basket and necklaces to dreamcatchers and key chains.  Please take a look at my Etsy Page to see more of my projects. Let your creativity flow and happy hemping!

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