Introduction: Basket Making With the Kwul 'I'tkin Maker Truck

About: We're the spectrUM Discovery Area, a hands-on science museum in Missoula, MT. We have a physical museum located within the Missoula Public Library, but also create science kits, lead teacher professional devel…

Make a replica of a cedar or birch bark basket out of laser-cut chipboard pads and plastic lace. It's big enough to hold a variety of things, including your cell phone! Depending on how you lace the basket, it will end up with a different shape.

This project is a part of the spectrUM Discovery Area and SciNation's Kwul 'I'tkin mobile makerspace on the Flathead Reservation in Montana. Kwul 'I'tkin means "to make" in the Salish and Kootenai languages, respectively. For more information on this collaboration, see our article in Connected Science Learning or the curriculum .pdf at the end of this Instructable. All activities generated from this project were co-created with the SciNation committee, made up of local leaders from various organizations on the Flathead, as well as makers and artists from The People's Center traditional arts circle in Pablo, MT. Input from tribal elders at both the Salish Culture Committee and Kootenai Culture Committee, and the members of Tribal Council was a critical piece in this project, as was direct help with facilitation from local role models familiar with the traditional techniques used to create these crafts. The truck and development of these activities was funded through an NSF-EAGER grant, with facilitation at pow wows, county fairs, and in local schools in 2017 and 2018. All materials and activities funded through the grant are property of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes, with curation and implementation of further activities and use of the truck supported by the CSKT Tribal Education Department and the CSKT Natural Resources Department.

Step 1: Materials Needed

  • 11" by 17" by .030" thick Chipboard pads, available from Uline item number CT S-8293
  • Lacing lanyard or string/cord/twine - we use Rexlace lanyard-making lace but anything less than 1/8" diameter will work
  • Scissors and paper cutter
  • Optional: If not using a laser cutter to cut out a pattern, a razor, ruler, pencil and revolving hole punch will be necessary

Step 2: Laser Cut the Chipboard

It is easiest to laser cut the template attached to this step for the body of the cedar bark basket. Download the file and cut with power/speed settings similar to what you would use for cardboard. The pads come in 11" by 17" sizes - we used a paper cutter to trim 1" off the long end to make them 11" x 16" to fit the laser cutter we have, some adaptation of the file might be necessary to make the size fit correctly for your purposes.

If you do not have access to a laser cutter, you can use a paper cutter or razor blade and straight edge to cut the chipboard. Simply cut it in half lengthwise. Then, in the center (8.5" from the end) of each piece, cut a little triangular notch with a pair of scissors or razor blade on both sides, about 3/4" at the widest. Use a revolving leather punch or hole punch to create a series of holes up the side - 8-10 is enough. Follow the rest of the steps to see how to fold and lace, and draw your own image on the front and back!

Step 3: Fold, Shape and Lace

It is easiest to "train" the chipboard to take the final shape of the basket before lacing. Fold along the engrave lines that run the length of the template, and also along the curved lines at the bottom. When folded correctly, the holes will line up to lace together, and the basket vaguely resembles a french fry container.

Once folded, start lacing one side up - think about how you might want to run the lace to create a final product that will hold what you intend. About 1.5-2 feet of lace or cord is plenty for each side. Tie a knot in the end of the lace to prevent it from coming through the holes, and cut the other end at a 45-degree angle to create a point that is easier to thread through the holes. Start from the bottom, poke through the holes that are lined up, and lace to the top. Do the other side before tightening the laces, or you won't have room for your hands!

Once you have laced to the top, tighten up the lace to pull in the shape of the basket and tie a knot at the top hole of the lace. If you have a bit of lace left, tie each side together to make a loop that you can put over your neck.

Step 4: Curriculum and Standards Addressed

This activity and other in this series is adapted from the Kwul 'I'tkin maker truck curriculum booklet. See the .pdf included in this step for further activities, and for information on how this beading activity best aligns with science standards and Indian Education for All standards (which may be different in your state or country). There is also a variety of resources included in this curriculum booklet with regards to the cultural aspects of these activities as they relate to the Salish, Kootenai and Qlispé tribes in Montana.