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Lunenburg County woman’s basket weaving hobby helps promote tradition

Annette Conrad of Rose Bay is offering a basket weaving demonstration at the DesBrisay Museum in Bridgewater Nov. 30. Conrad has been weaving baskets for over two decades, weaving her creations from witherod, which are abundant in fields, and near lakes and brooks.
Annette Conrad of Rose Bay is offering a basket weaving demonstration at the DesBrisay Museum in Bridgewater Nov. 30. Conrad has been weaving baskets for over two decades, weaving her creations from witherod, which are abundant in fields, and near lakes and brooks. - Contributed

Keeping a craft alive

Annette Conrad has kept alive the traditional art of basket weaving for more than two decades, and has also taught many residents of the South Shore the history and the quality of these handcrafted baskets.

The Rose Bay resident will demonstrate her basket-weaving skills at the DesBrisay Museum in Bridgewater Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. Admission is free and donations are accepted.

The craft of basket-weaving has several origins.  The webpage for the Nova Scotia Basketry Guild states there are three styles of traditional basketry in the province – Mi’Kmaq, African-Canadian and European – with baskets made from materials ranging from willow, dogwood, maple and ash, to fresh and saltwater marsh reeds.

Conrad’s baskets are made of witherod, which the Basketry Guild’s website states is the material traditional basket weavers of European origin used, based on the European willow tradition. 

“(The witherod) likes to grow along fields, brooks, lakes, anywhere mossy,” Conrad said, adding that it’s particularly suited for basket weaving.

“It’s very flexible, it bends really easily.”

Anette Conrad says the witherod is ideal for weaving due to its flexibility.
Anette Conrad says the witherod is ideal for weaving due to its flexibility.

Witherod isn’t something one can buy commercially. More often than not, acquiring the material will require a hike in the woods over rugged terrain, but Conrad doesn’t mind too much.

“You’re climbing over logs, stepping in branches, you get your glasses knocked off your face,” she said.  “The dog comes with me - we like it.”

But she does appreciate a helping hand, joking that “most women’s husbands bring them flowers, but mine brings me witherod.”

Conrad said she can weave a basket in one evening, if she has enough material gathered.

Some of the tools she uses includes garden clippers, clothespins and something to weave the ends together.

“I’ll sit by the campfire, or the living room, and I weave.  It’s very relaxing.”

While the act of creating these unique baskets is a fulfilling hobby, the finished product also comes in very handy. 

“I use a lot of them to gather eggs from the chickens, and to gather vegetables from my garden,” Conrad said. “If you keep (the baskets) in a warm, dry place, they’ll last, but if left in damp air, like any wood, it will rot.”

While she uses many of her own creations, the baskets are also popular with others in the community. Conrad says she doesn’t sell at craft shows, but word of mouth is strong enough that she can keep busy making baskets for anyone that wants to purchase one.

Conrad can’t even guess how many baskets she’s made over the year, but has many warm memories of going into the woods with her two young children, all with clippers in hand, to pick witherod. Her hobby has also been an opportunity to hear stories from older residents who recall relatives who used to weave similar baskets to gather potatoes, apples or other produce.

Evidence of the basket’s high quality comes in the fact Conrad still has the very first basket she ever made. 

“It’s not perfect … it’s very loosely woven but it still goes into the garden with me,” she said.

“There are 101 uses you can do with a basket.  Why not have one that’s sturdy and handmade instead of buying one from the store that will fall apart?”

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