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A piece of Nantucket, made in Mayberry

The Surry County Basketmakers Guild is preparing for a basket making retreat next week in White Plains where 29 students will be instructed in the ways of the Nantucket basket. This will be the second year they are having ‘Nantucket Weaving with The Whites’ to be held August 12-13 at the White Plains Volunteer Fire Station.

Back again this year is the teaching duo of Charlene and Bill White from New Bern who are sharing their time and skills with the Surry County crafters. The club’s Debbit Badgett said that sharing the know-how of basketmaking is important to keeping the skills alive and yield some high quality baskets. “It is very kind of them to come and share this with us again.”

This is not to be confused with the normal meeting of the Surry County Basketmakers held the second Tuesday of each month from 6-9 p.m. at the Andy Griffith Playhouse in Mount Airy. Those gatherings draw up to a dozen or so members from the area and across the border in Virginia and are self-led by members of the guild.

Rather this is a two-day intensive boot camp on making the Nantucket style basket as opposed to reed baskets of the variety they usually construct. “The class is full, which is really wonderful,” Badgett said after COVID had reduced the number of participants last year.

Badgett offered thanks to the Surry Arts Council for allowing the guild to have its regularly scheduled meetings there. All it takes, she said, is the occasional donation of a basket to Tanya Jones which she may then include in an auction or such.

“I tell people, this isn’t some $10 basket you can get over at Walmart, you can try. Yes, I’m bragging, but you’ll see the quality – you won’t find it over there,” Badgett said.

Donna Edwards said of the Nantucket basket class, “Last year’s event was a lot of fun and a lot of hard work in weaving.”

The length of time for making one of these Nantucket baskets varies based on the size of the basket. Badgett said that a small basket may take up to four hours and that a larger size one could take the whole weekend of the retreat.

She has set a goal to make two baskets next weekend, one being a Nantucket purse the size of which would be used in place of a handbag or clutch to house car keys or a phone. Secondly, she will be making a wine basket, although it need not be used for exactly such a purpose.

An additional design was made available this year — the Aunt Bea’s Nantucket pie basket as part of a custom designed Mayberry series just for the Surry County Basketmakers. It joins last year’s hot item which Badgett said was the Nantucket Mayberry Basket.

The local guild is a member of the North Carolina Basketmakers’ Association, and they send representatives to the state’s annual convention in Raleigh. These gatherings have brought together crowds totaling up to 1,500 attendees prior to the pandemic, down to roughly half that last year, Badgett said.

If the sign-ups for the Nantucket basket retreat are any indication, folks are ready to get back to crafting and doing things they love — spending time with other crafters who share the same joy for the craft as they do is a reward onto itself.

It would be a fair question to wonder where these baskets wind up. “Well, you may laugh, I don’t make them to sell them.” She said to charge the right amount for the baskets would be to create a little sticker shock as the materials are not cheap and her time is of value, too.

She isn’t keeping all the best baskets to herself, “If you saw one and you really loved it, you could ask me, and I’d let you have it…. maybe not that day, but I’d let you have it.”

The Surry County Basketmakers Guild will return to its regularly scheduled meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at the Andy Griffith Playhouse. More information and lots of photos can be found on the guild’s appropriately named Facebook page: Surry County Basketmakers.



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