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Coiled sculpture.

Many years ago crafts were a way of life. Before industrialization, people created the objects they needed by hand. Today, many works of craft have increasingly less to do with function. The role of contemporary crafts merges the skilled hand and the creative mind to produce works of art which are a rich and complex form of expression.

The concept of studying ancient techniques and adapting them to modern arts is an appealing one. Teaching crafts to undergraduate and graduate students at a state university allowed me an opportunity to apply traditional coiled basketry methods into contemporary art forms.

The coiling method for making baskets has been employed for centuries in almost every culture, but it is a relatively new skill for the majority of modern craftspeople. Modern artists who have discovered the versatility of the technique are excited about the variety it offers, not only for making baskets, but also for creating sculptural forms.

After learning the technique of basic coiling, students were challenged with the task of creating a sculptural piece by manipulating the materials to create a form that can stand, sit or take a space and maintain it. They were encouraged to draw from the rich background offered by past cultures and at the same time, express their own exciting ideas.

We began our structures just as we would begin a coiled basket. The end of the core is cut on an angle so it tapers down to a point (figure 1). Thread a needle with a three-foot length of yarn called the weft. Place the loose end of the weft onto the core, about 1 1/2" from the end, and begin to wrap around the core, overlapping the first rotation. Continue to wrap to about 1/2" from the tapered end of the core (figure 2). Bend the core and pull the weft through the center with the point of the needle (figure 3). Secure the tapered end to the core by pulling tightly. Wrap several more times so that the tapered end is secured to the core and push the needle through the center of the loop. Next, bend the core to form a small coil. Wind the weft around the core four to five times from the front to back. Bring the weft from behind the core to the front and attach by placing the needle through the center of the core. Pull tightly and hold while winding four to five more times around the core (figure 4). Stitches should be tightly placed. Continue this process until you complete two coils. As the form becomes larger, the stitches are no longer attached to the center, but are attached to the coiled row below the center


The bottom of the structure is formed by coiling rows side by side. The sides of the basket are formed by working the coiled rows on top of the previous rows. The angle at which the rows are placed will determine the shape of the piece. If the rows are stacked directly on top of each other, the shape will go up at a right angle; if the rows are placed slightly to the side, the angle will be more obtuse (figure 5).


To add more wrapping material, thread the needle with a new piece of yarn and lay the end along the side of the foundation cord with the end of the used yarn. Holding the yarns and the cording with your thumb, wrap around the cord and the yarn ends to secure them (figure 6). New foundation cord can be added by tapering the ends of the original cord and that of the new cord to a point. Place these tapered ends together and hold them by taping or using a glue gun.


Continue the coiling process until the desired shape is obtained. The structure is completed by tapering the end of the foundation cord to a point for about 1 1/2". Continue wrapping and attaching until you near the end of the foundation cord. The foundation cord and previous row are then wrapped together. The yarn is secured and concealed by drawing the needle and yarn back through a few of the wrappings in the opposite direction and cutting the end off.

Many of our coiled structures consisted of one or more separate parts combined to form a larger shape. These pieces were wrapped individually and assembled to create the total form. Parts of different materials and colors can be fabricated depending upon the desired image. Parts can be assembled by coiling one portion to another, by stitching, knotting, sewing or a combination of techniques.

Surface embellishments can be added to the structure by embroidery, beading, wrapping, macrame and crochet accents, soft sculpture, or feathers. To stiffen the added fibers, wrap in a length of wire.

Now that the need for functional baskets has disappeared, creative doors are opened wide for craftspeople to create forms that are expressive of their inner feelings, forms that give the creator the ability to explore various materials and techniques, forms that stand alone visually without the need for function.

Ann Cappetta is the Art Coordinator for the town of North Haven, Connecticut, Illustrations are by Mark Battista, Art Teacher, West Haven, Connecticut,
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Author:Cappetta, Joan
Publication:School Arts
Date:Oct 1, 1991
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