Saturday, June 27, 2009

Mutsume Morikago Part 3: Final Steps

It's taken me several weeks to finally put together the last post for this basket. Sorry to keep you waiting. While I've been busy showing Caitlyn's family around Oita and taking care of other odds and ends, nearly five weeks have flown by. During those weeks we managed to finish the mutsume basket, and, as of Friday, nearly bring the second basket on our agenda to completion. I have a lot of catching up to do.

So, back to the mutsume morikago. With the masa and inner and outer rims firmly fastened with wire, it was now time to secure the entire set with a long strand of thin rattan cane.

Yamato Musubi 大和結び
The rattan we tainees use is purchased by the kilogram unit and comes from Indonesia. It's expensive--about 200 dollars per kilogram when bought as a bundle of thin cane like in the picture. We processed the rattan the same way we do bamboo higo in the latter steps, first by running it between two blades to make it an even width of 2.0 mm (a process called haba-tori, 幅取り), and then running it through a plane-like tool (called urasuki-sen, うらすき銑) to bring it to an even thickness of 0.6 mm. Easier said than done. This was my first encouter with rattan as a raw, workable material rather than as a finished product, like a chair, and it was endlessly frustrating. It's so soft compared to bamboo that attempting to shave off too much at one time runs the blade entirely through the cane, severing it--a mistake I made about 10 or 15 times. When shaving bamboo higo to a certain thickness, we try to find the sharpest part on the urasuki blade; with rattan we had to search for the dullest part, and lower the cutting angle, because it's so soft.

Rattan is probably used in basket making if for no simpler reason than that it is more flexible and less prone to cracking or breaking than bamboo when wound tightly. Brought to the dimensions of 2.0 by 0.6 mm, it really feels like soft leather string, or some synthetic material--but unlike either of these, less dependable. I found this out when tying my baskets with it. The knots in this basket are called yamato-musubi (大和結び), yamato being an ancient word for "Japan." Just as with bamboo, we wet the rattan first to make it even more flexible and to keep it from snapping when tying the knots. For me, this was the most difficult step in the entire basket. Pulling too hard when finishing each knot makes the rattan snap, and not pulling it hard enough produces a loose knot, which in this case is more worrisome aesthetically than technically because there are enough knots on the entire rim to keep it in place. Hoping to make beautifully snug nots, I must have snapped the rattan about 10 or so times, each time requiring a special grafting knot that takes even more time to complete. I had to keep telling myself that it's in fact a plant.

Outer rim ↑ Inner rim ↓
About 2.5 meters of rattan was used to tie the entire circumference. When everything goes well and the rattan doesn't snap it works it's way around the basket continuously, stopping at every other hexagon to wind around the rim twice, pass through a few of it's own loops, and move on. About 10 cm of end left from the first knot is met with the last knot and looped through to give it a truly continuous appearance. When finished tying the rattan, all the metal wires are snipped off. Another challenging part worth noting: when tied well, the two strands on the inner side lie parallel to each other and don't cross (in this case, the right knot is dangerously close to crossing and not as visually pleasing).

Ikada-dake 筏竹
Now virtually finished, the only thing missing in this basket is some support for its bottom end. With the hexagonal weaving left alone, you can probably imagine it's a bit too weak to maintain a clean shape over the long-term if made to contain, say, apples or other heavy fruit. To solve this problem, ikada-dake ("raft bamboo") are used.

Top view (before) ↑ Top view (after) ↑ Bottom view (after) ↓

Technically, this step is simple and doesn't require much explanation. Bamboo strips measuring 14.5 mm wide by 1.8 mm thick are cut to form a perfect, larger hexagon and then woven into the basket's hexagonal latticework. As in many Beppu bamboo craft items, form is prioritized alongside function, so the problem of which strips go over and which go under the ikada-dake is handled with special care, and produces a series of concentric diamonds on both sides. It's this aspect of basket making that gets the wheels in my mind spinning when I think about designing my own baskets in the future.

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