Pomo Coiled Basketry
Pomo coiling is done from right to left which results in the coil spiraling in a clockwise direction. The warp, or foundation material is usually willow and consists of either a single rod or a combination of three rods (illustrated on the right). The weft or sewing material is usually sedge root, which is dug from sandy stream banks and aged, preferably for several years, before weaving. Design elements are most commonly woven in the deep red-brown bark of redbud shoots or with bulrush root that has been dyed black with black walnut shell or other vegetal dyes. The latter often fades to a deep brown with age. Occasionally an entire basket will be made from redbud with the bark peeled for the weft material. Today almost all Pomo weavers use the coiling technique to the near exclusion of twining.
Coiled baskets are often decorated elaborately with clam shell beads, abalone pendants, the bright-colored feathers of birds, and glass beads. These beaded and feathered baskets are traditionally given as gifts and used in ceremonies. For example, among some Pomo, a fine basket covered completely with woodpecker crest feathers might be a gift to celebrate the birth of a child or a wedding. The basket exhibited (below right) is such a gift basket. Measuring 3 1/2" in diameter, it is entirely covered with tiny feathers that were inserted between the three foundation rods of willow. Red woodpecker crest feathers are interspersed among the black, green, and white of the mallard duck. Below are several other superbly beaded and feathered Pomo baskets.
The Pomo are also justifiably famous for their miniature baskets, which were apparently first woven in the late 19th century in response to collectors and the art market. They are astounding achievements made with techniques that remain a closely guarded secret, although they appear to be coiled baskets. They range in size from two inches in diameter down to the size of the head of a pin. Some miniatures are so small that the weave can only be examined with magnification.
Remarkably, these tiny baskets often have simple designs. The beautiful basket on the left is the work of Joseppha Dick. A canoe shape, it measures 1 1/8 inches long. The small basket to the right of the canoe basket is 7/8 inch in size, and the astounding micro-miniature below it measures 3/32 of an inch in diameter. It has been greatly magnified here to show you its weave. This may be the smallest basket in existence, yet it has a remarkable design made with single hair-like stitches of bulrush.