Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Oaxaca Wednesday: A Knack for Knitting

by Aly Lewis

I used to love to watch my grandmother knit. “Knit one, pearl two…knit, pearl, pearl,” she’d murmur, as the needles quickly clicked together. A few years ago I attempted to knit my mom a scarf for Christmas, but absent my grandmother’s expertise and guidance, the red yarn refused to weave itself into a stylish, neck-warming accessory without a fight. To my horror, the scarf continued to grow widthwise at the same rate as it grew lengthwise. I think I unraveled and reknit that scarf at least ten times. Trust me, knitting is a skill.

On my recent visit to Plant With Purpose’s programs in Oaxaca, Mexico I saw something even more impressive than knitting—knitting not with yarn, but with pine needles. Pine needles knitted into baskets! Those things aren’t even pliable!

In 2003, in the village of El Oro, a women’s credit group, eager to take on a new entrepreneurial project, was taught how to make baskets from pine needles gathered in the local forests. They sell these amazing baskets at the local market to supplement their income and provide for their families. Since the first group in El Oro, Plant With Purpose has joined with many other women’s groups to teach them the craft of basket making, along with other handicrafts.

When visiting the village of San Isidro Trementina, I learned from a woman named Feliciana—a member of the women’s handicraft group—that, indeed, the pine needles aren’t pliable until they’ve been boiled for two hours. And the boiling comes after the needles are dried in the shade to keep their green color. The baskets take two full days to make or can be completed over the course of a week.

More than just the explanation, I got to see Feliciana in action. She quickly and masterfully spun a bundle of pine needles around a small button-like object to get the basket started. Then she threaded and shaped the needles, steadily adding additional needles as she went—like knitting, or French braiding, and the sturdy bottom of a basket began to appear before our eyes. Not quite underwater basket weaving, but impressive nonetheless.

The finished products are truly a sight to behold, and Feliciana is grateful for the opportunity to provide additional income for her family.

This year I would have bought my mom a pine needle basket for Christmas instead of clumsily knitting another scarf—but she came on the trip with me and bought a pine needle basket herself. I guess it’s back to the knitting needles for me.

The finished product--told you they're pretty impressive.


Aly Lewis is Plant With Purpose’s Grant Writer. She researches funding opportunities, writes proposals, and submits progress reports on funding received. She also writes the content for Plant With Purpose's Sponsor A Village program.

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