I admit I am a little nervous when I sign up for a sweetgrass basket workshop. Making one of the traditional baskets associated with Charleston seems nearly impossible as I watch my instructor taking out amazing examples of her work to show me.
This is an activity coordinated for Wild Dunes Resort guests. Located on Isle of Palms, South Carolina, the resort is known for its beautiful accommodations as well as its golf courses, dining, spa and its many activities from surf lessons and eco boat tours to an ironwork workshop and kayaking.
I am at a little table by the pool. My instructor, Sarah Edwards-Hammond, begins by telling me this is an African art. “It was brought to the South Carolina Lowcountry in the late 17th century by enslaved West Africans. It has been passed down from generation to generation.
“I started when I was seven,” she says. “My mother taught me, and I taught my daughters. Now I am teaching my granddaughters.”
She shows me the different components of the basket: palm leaves from the palmetto tree, sweetgrass, bulrush and pine needles. She next shows me the tool, a nail bone, used to make a hole in the sweetgrass to insert the narrow strips of palm leaves as the weaver makes thebasket.
She patiently shows me what to do. Add sweetgrass by pushing it into the end of the last skein of sweetgrass; easier said the done. Then push the tool into the sweetgrass making room for the palm leaf strip, pull it through and do it again.
I sit with Sarah for several hours weaving the basket and chatting about our families, Charleston and tradition. Finally, my basket is about finished. Sarah puts the finishing touches on the basket including an S handle.
What a thrill to make, with Sarah’s help, a sweetgrass basket. Every time I see it in my home I am reminded of this morning in South Carolina when I met a gracious and patient women who helped me create a treasure.