It starts with the base, a circular slab of wood surrounded by thinner strands, which travel the perimeter of the slab, around and around. Tall strands the size of popsicle sticks reach toward the sky, away from the circular motion of the other strands, almost making a fence. Where the end of the continuous circle meets the sky-reaching fence, the thinner circular strands begin to weave around the taller strands, enveloping them.
This is basket weaving.
In a shop located at 2660 W. Kilgore Ave. in Muncie, Linda Swanger works with a medium-sized basket with strands stretching backward in a curve surrounded by brown strands weaving in and out. On a white table lies scissors and multiple spray bottles, while what looks like a crocheted blanket hangs on the back wall reading “Forever Baskets.”
Swanger opened Forever Baskets in June 2015, which sells hand-woven baskets, basket weaving supplies, different types of crafts and also offers basket weaving classes.
Her love of basket weaving goes back to the ‘80s and ‘90s, when everyone was basket weaving, she said.
One of Swanger’s co-workers from the hospital she worked at was taking basket weaving classes and would bring in baskets to work and sometimes weave them during breaks. Swanger became interested and went to class with her, and her love of basket weaving was born.
Swanger said she thinks basket weaving is important because of how good it feels to finish a project, as well as how it adds charm and warmth to a person’s home.
Around her shop, baskets take up space on counters, hide within other baskets and act as bases of lamps attached to their handles. Floral arrangements and other crafts also surround the area, and Swanger crafted most of these herself, including the embellishment on the baskets.
The only thing Swanger didn’t do for the baskets or crafts was paint.
“I don’t paint,” she said.
Before opening her shop, Swanger said she taught basket weaving at High Street United Methodist Church in Muncie for older adults. The more she got involved with basket weaving from her first encounter, she said, the more she wanted to teach and open a shop. While her classes and shop focus on basket weaving, she said she welcomes other crafters to spend time in her shop as well.
“[Forever Baskets is] a friendly place to come,” Swanger said. “If [customers] want to come in just to talk, that's fine, too. It's a fun place to come to learn to weave baskets.”
Swanger said basket weaving is “addictive," and it has become her passion. At times, she doesn’t use a pattern to weave her baskets and instead opts to create the pattern as she goes by just looking at a basket.
“We tell people some baskets have secrets — we don’t tell people if you’ve made a mistake,” Swanger said. “We can all be weaving the same basket, they all turn out different, and we just say that your baskets have their own personality.”
Swanger is currently working on the same type of basket as the first one she created, which she acknowledged as big and challenging because she always said she was going to create it again.
Although Linda made many of the baskets around the shop, “that’s only a drop in the bucket compared to what [Linda and I] have,” her husband, Steve Swanger, said.
Steve, a retired Northside Middle School industrial technology teacher, was also a contractor.
He helps Linda around the shop by building its displays and staining, or adding color to, the baskets from a big workshop in their house.
Steve has always been interested in craftwork, he said. When he met Linda, he saw she liked basket weaving and wanted to give her his support.
“She’s really followed through with it,” Steve said. “We had some people who questioned how long this might last, and it’s gone now almost seven years. And, it’s still growing.”
Other than her passion for basket weaving, Steve also said Linda excels at people management, explaining how to do any craft thoroughly and teaching with patience. Through his experience as a teacher, he said Linda should have been an elementary school teacher based on her patience when she teaches.
“I have heard from a number of people who say that she was the best teacher they’ve ever had for any kind of craft that they were doing,” Steve said.
When looking for a place for Linda to hold her business, Steve’s teaching career came in handy.
“The actual owner [of the building] is a girl that I worked with in the school system,” Steve said. “When she realized who I was, there was no question about whether she was going to rent to us or not.”
In the beginning, Steve said the building was just one big, empty room that ended up turning into Forever Baskets.
Running her own business, the hardest part for Linda has been advertising and taxes.
“[The advertising of it] used to be word-of-mouth and everyone was there,” Linda said. “Now, you search for ways to get recognized on Facebook or whatever.”
Linda also said the community response in Delaware County has been “good, but could be better.” She said children involved with 4-H come to her shop to basket weave from Madison County, Jay County and Randolph County but didn’t mention Delaware County. Linda has entered baskets into the 4-H open class in Delaware County herself, she said, to promote basket weaving.
Through the business, Linda and Steve have gotten involved with different groups and participated in different activities. Linda said they are on the Yorktown Council of the Arts, and Steve said they were involved in the Big Showdown in Richmond, Indiana, which is a basket weaving program.
During one of Linda's basket weaving classes at High Street United Methodist Church in 2016, Sandy Tharp, who had been doing dollhouse miniatures to one-inch scale for about 20 years, fell in love with a new craft — basket weaving.
“When I took the class, something clicked there that I liked [basket weaving],” she said.
Tharp would become one of Linda’s regular customers, continuing to attend her church classes, traveling to her old shop in Yorktown, Indiana, and eventually attending her shop two days a week in Muncie for approximately six hours each day.
“If I was doing a small [basket], I get it done [within six hours.],” Tharp said. “But of course, we talk, we eat.”
“Talk about the world’s problems,” Linda said.
For Tharp and Linda, there are so many different basket weaving techniques you can’t count them all and some are more challenging than others. They refer to some of those baskets as “one and done-s,” which Tharp said a weaver will do once and never want to do again.
Tharp often comes up with unique baskets, Steve said. One of her baskets was “a basket wrapped around a basket that ended up being an end table,” he said.
Tharp said she keeps coming back because of Linda.
“Anything I’ve learned, I’ve learned from her,” she said.
“Well, some things, we’ve learned together,” Linda responded. “There’s a lot to learn when it comes to basket weaving.”
The History of Basket Weaving
For Linda, basket weaving is an old art form stemming all the way back to the biblical era. People used to weave whatever materials were available, including cutting down trees.
“One teacher [from Stateline Friends Weaving Retreat, an event sponsored by the Whitewater Basket Guild, INC. is] from the Ozark, and he’s the second generation. They cut down trees…and he still uses the old tools that his dad used,” she said.
Linda tries to spread the word about basket weaving, but she feels like some people aren’t as interested as they used to be in the craft. People have to be interested in basket weaving to respond to the basket displays used to get the word out, she said.
However, Linda’s experience seeing people participate in weaving activities makes her feel good about the future of basket weaving.
Linda is part of two basket weaving guilds, one in Yorktown, Indiana, and one in Richmond, Indiana, called the Whitewater Basket Guild. During the Stateline Friends Weaving Retreat, she got to see people participate in basket-weaving activities.
“When you look and you see that that many people could come together for three days and enjoy basket weaving and want more of a challenge,” Linda said. “That feels good [that] basket weaving is still alive.”
Contact Elissa Maudlin with comments at email@example.com or on Twitter @ejmaudlin.