State parks offers basket weaving classes at first Capitol
Over and under. Around and around. Steady hands carefully guide the wetted strips of rattan — a thin pliable wood — around the base of this soon-to-be keepsake. As the rows and rows of wood are stacked above each other, the creation starts to take shape; a handwoven basket made at a state historic site.
State parks hosts basket weaving classes at the First Missouri State Capitol Historic Site in St. Charles. Students at the monthly classes need no prior experience nor materials and walk out with their newly handmade basket.
Historic Site Specialist Sue Love says the classes are a perfect fit at the downtown St. Charles site. “It’s definitely a historic skill; people have been crafting baskets for thousands of years,” she says. “We’ve done other classes in the past on weaving, blacksmithing and making rag rugs.”
The classes came to be after Sue attended a basket weaving class herself. She thought it would be a good fit and paired up with Laura Klaus, who owns Baskets by Laura in Murphy. “When we first started we only did one class a month for six months of the year, and they weren’t full,” says Laura, noting there are 20 classes in 2023. “Now we rarely have a class that doesn’t have a waiting list.”
Laura brings plenty of basket weaving bona fides to her classes. Her husband convinced her to take a class at church three decades ago. “Biggest mistake he’s ever made,” she says with a laugh. “The baskets, materials and supplies have taken over our house.”
Laura says that first basket started her on this 30-year passion, which went from making baskets to teaching others. “It was just instant gratification when it was done,” she says. “At the end of a few hours, I had a useful product. What was just some blank strips of reed is a finished basket I can use or give to friends or family.”
While the classes certainly are productive, they’re not all serious business. Laura makes sure they are a good mix of crafts and social hour. “If we’re not having fun, we’re doing it wrong,” she says.
Students don’t need to bring any experience or materials with them. Laura provides it all, teaching the proper way to identify which side of the wood will be the inside and outside, how to lay out the base and upset the wood creating the sides of the basket and guidance to weave your way up to the top of your basket. She does it with plenty of clothespins, screwdrivers, scissors, tape measures, pencils and spray bottles.
“It’s a very forgiving process,” she says. “It’s not as exact as say quilting. When you finish a basket, you wouldn’t be able to see if a row had to be pieced together or was crooked or cracked. You just don’t see those things.”
Donna Hampe of St. Peters has been a familiar face at Laura’s classes for the past five years in St. Charles. “It’s just neat to come together with everyone,” she says. “Each class is a different basket and whether it’s a unique color for one person or something else it’s fun to see how each basket comes together. It’s relaxing.”
Missouri State Parks is hosting two classes per month through November. The classes are offered on consecutive days between Thursday and Sunday, last five hours and cost up to $55. Class size is limited to 10 people so Laura can give attention to each student. And she ensures everyone leaves with a finished basket they made.
Laura and Sue come up with different themes for each month. The themes are tailored to the season. Attendees in June will make a Fourth of July basket while those in August will make a back-to-school organizer.
“It’s one of the few crafts that you can come in the morning, sit down and everything’s provided,” says Sue, who still has her first handwoven basket on her desk. “And when you walk out a few hours later you’ve got a functional completed project.”
Laura says the instant sense of accomplishment that got her hooked on baskets 30 years ago isn’t unique to her. “I just love seeing the students’ faces when they’ve finished a basket,” she says. “They’re absolutely amazed because they probably came in thinking there’s no way they can do this, they’ve never done anything like this before. They’re just completely floored. They were able to do something they’re so proud of in four or five hours.”
For more information or to register for the basket weaving classes, call 636-940-3322. For a list of classes, visit s.coop/baskets. For events at all of Missouri’s state parks, visit www.mostateparks.com/events. For more information on Baskets by Laura, find them on Facebook.