An eternity ago, I taught basketry at a Boy Scout Camp... Camp Castle Rock in Mauston, Wisconsin - just a bit north of the Dells. It was a 'real' camp (and for the most part still is).

Let me make a quick distinction here... in this day and age (and that of 10 years ago too) there are few summer camps that are actually camps. Many of them have cabins (some even with AC!) and dining halls where food was handed to them on silver (ok, plastic) plates. I still look back upon them as Boy Scout Resorts rather than camps.

<voice style="old man">Back when I was a scout...</voice>

At Castle Rock, you pitch a tent... and you sleep in it. In the morning, the toters would go walk to the commissary (which in some cases could be half a mile away) and walk back (with the food). The boys assigned to cooking for that day would get the charcoal going and the grill warmed up. Thats right, you cooked and ate the food. Sometimes for the staff breakfast was a bit interesting - on more than one occasion I had to wake up the boys who were supposed to have already gotten the food and had it ready when I got there.

Well, enough about the camp, but what I tried to get across was that this wasn't a merit badge university (or as we called it - a merit badge factory), it was a camp. Still, the scoutmasters and parents liked to have something brought back - a badge to pin on the kid and something to show for a week in the woods besides mosquito bites. Thats were I came in with the easiest badge in the book.

I worked in handicraft. It was a nice place back then, a shelter that looked more like a three car garage (well it was!) painted in brown with yellow trim. I taught wood carving merit badge, indian lore merit badge, leather working merit badge, and (you guessed it) basketry merit badge. Well, there was one year they tried to add on art merit badge and sculpture merit badge but that got messy and way too hectic for one person.

Basketry itself is rather easy. The merit badge itself has just two requirements:

  1. Weave a basket or tray using reed, raffia or splints
  2. Weave a stool or chair with cane or rush
There are as many different styles of baskets as there are weavers. There are also a set of basket kits that are available that make life much easier, especially for 11 and 12 year olds. The simplest way to weave a basket is to have a base with holes drilled around the edge. This gives a firm bottom to the basket and initial support - making the bottom of the basket from scratch can be difficult, especially for beginners.

With the firm bottom method (above), the 'structural' reeds (the selvage) have about an inch on the bottom sticking out that is then tucked under the reed sticking out of the next hole to hold them firm. The reeds that make up the weft are often thinner and colored. In the simplest baskets, these reeds go outside and inside of the selvage reeds, slowly spiraling up. When one reed runs out, another is started by tucking in front of the reed that has just run out and continuing up.

Upon running out of weft reeds, the selvage reeds are often then looped over and tucked back down next to the adjacent selvage reed forming an arch. This is just the most basic of the baskets that can be made and is only limited by imagination and time - skill comes with practice.

As for weaving a chair, think back to those old chairs at your grandmother's. The basic form here is to take the cane or rush (or rope - it works well and holds up better from year to year of weaving and un-weaving). With a chair, the key thing is a tight weaving to hold whoever sits on it. Attaching the rope (or cane or rush) to one leg the weaving is basically a repeating clover pattern, looping over and under the frame of the seat, slowly moving into the center. Here again, there are many styles of weaving - the clover pattern is just the simplest to work with and teach.

Once a week (I think it was on Thursday) I actually took the class for underwater basket weaving. As I failed to mention above, the reeds need to be wet in order to move them, otherwise they are rather stiff. While working with the reeds underwater it becomes rather easy. Mostly though, this is just a novelty that was used at the end of the week to have some fun.

This is actually a merit badge that can be finished in a day without trying too hard. On occasion, I would get a scoutmaster coming by with a young boy on his first camping trip who wasn't quite able to get anything done during the week on a Friday morning seeing if I could help him get a merit badge so he doesn't go home empty handed. Although it was not a factory, there were times you just had to do what you could to make sure he got the badge.

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