Hösig Di Stitching Methods
Coil construction is an old technique for weaving used by some of the earliest extraordinary Native American weavers in the U.S., whose works are now antiques and valued in the tens of thousands of dollars. It is very different from the “plaited” baskets of New England that we typically associate with in-out woven works.
Coil construction involves a core of fairly substantial materials (stiff grasses, reeds, etc.) in long bundles that will flex as the weaver connects the continuous material up, up and up over the row below. In a geometric design basket, this coil-construction necessarily leaves a “step-up” in the pattern as the weaver changes color or motif from one row to the next. This step-up is not a flaw, as geometric designs cannot be “matched” in continuous coil construction in the same way that a seamstress matches plaids in stitching together two pieces of fabric.
Hösig Di weavers use bundles of the same palm from which Panamá hats are made (though hats are made in Ecuador), which they call “naguala.” As the materials in the bundle get short (winding up and around), the weaver carefully intersperses more fibers while keeping the entire width even and smooth so that it doesn’t appear lumpy in the finished work.
Only the long, newest spear leaf of the black palm, called “chunga,” is used for stitching the designs and “casing” the coil. The young frond leaf is the most flexible and supple—and its fibers can be so fine as to look and feel silk-like
In recent years, the harvesting process has become increasingly dangerous. The elaborate dying process involves first gathering roots, berries, herbs and leaves. Even river mud is used for coloration. Once the fine chunga is dyed, the weaver works with a needle to begin her basket using either silk stitch or rib stitch.
Rib stitch makes the exterior and interior of the basket look like corduroy. To achieve this ribbed appearance, the weaver accentuates the curvature of the round coil by coming in under it with her casing fiber and barely capturing the row below to anchor each new row to the one beneath it.
Silk stitch resembles smooth satin-stitch embroidery and lays flat. Here, the artist’s casing stitch pierces the row below midway through its vertical height. In this way, she de-accentuates the curvature of the coil, and the result is a look and feel more like tapestry.
Some weavers claim silk stitch is the more difficult technique, and, indeed, it can use more fiber material. On the other hand, the finest weavers who specialize in rib-stitch can create baskets whose corduroy-like rows are exquisitely even. The effect of each technique on the motif if profound.
The complexity of the design, as well as the width and length of the stitch, naturally, impact the presentation and overall appearance of the motif. Rainforest pictorial designs, are often highly complex and can sometimes take far longer to complete than geometrics. And, because there is no two-dimensional pattern to follow in creating this three-dimensional art form, the design is in the weaver’s head, and she or he creates it upside down starting at the bottom knot.