I came across Jill Choate Basketry when I was doing research on willows for my Idaho wildflowers book. I was curious to know how many basket weavers we have in Idaho. I found her while doing my research and her baskets are amazing! They are vibrant, colorful, and fun, and I knew I had to learn more about this basket weaver.
She makes her baskets from rattan reeds and dyes them herself. Many of her clients and customers have commented on the unique colors of her baskets. They are unlike anything else out on the market. She incorporates antlers and driftwood into many of her baskets which I find very cool!
The story of how Jill got into basket weaving is interesting. When her family was living in Heron, MT they had a farm and did all of the logging and farming with draft horses. They used to do the local farmer’s market. At the farmer’s market one day she met a woman named Rane who started her down the basket path. She didn’t teach a lot of technical basketry skills, but it caught Jill’s attention, and from then on she was hooked. She is a self-described renaissance woman, and basket weaving is an age-old craft that she wanted to learn.
From there she went to a class in Missoula, Montana and was taught by a woman in antler basketry. Jill fell in love with it and began making her own designs. The family left Montana and returned to Alaska. They were dog mushers living remote on the south side of Denali off the grid with 60 sled dogs.
When they were living in Alaska, she was approached by a sales rep that wanted to sell her baskets. Her baskets ended up being sold all over the state of Alaska. Jill decided that she didn’t want to spend every moment of her waking life making baskets. It was at this point that she decided to teach basket weaving.
After that, she toured the lower 48 teaching from coast to coast with the entire family in tow. Her daughter Jennah was homeschooled, so, wherever Jill thought that Jennah needed to have an experience they booked classes in that area. When Jennah went to college Jill had gotten tired of being on the road and teaching.
Years later she was doing a farmer’s market in Sandpoint, Idaho selling bike baskets for her daughter. This woman came up to her and said, “These are really cool baskets! My name is Rane.” and Jill said, “Well, yes it is. You are the woman that sent me down this path.” What a small world it is indeed.
Jill Choate on Basket Weaving and Retreats
“There are a lot of different methods and techniques, and really one thing leads to another. I’ll get an idea of something (that) I’d like to create… I have to think about it to figure out if it’s actually possible to construct. If it’s a twill or design element, I have to get the paper and pencil out and graph it to see how it will work in the round.”
“I think that the intriguing thing about basketry is the math that’s involved in it. It’s sort of like solving a puzzle, and then you can take that puzzle and simplify it to teach it to others. That’s magic! So, basically I inspire people to push past their comfort zones at the retreats and try something daring. After 30 years, I don’t want to make just your average over and under baskets anymore.”
“People come to the retreat for different reasons. Some are dedicated basket makers that are there to soak up every bit of information that I can offer. Others are there to enjoy the ambiance of the mountains, take a trail ride, hike, and maybe make a basket. Either way, it’s all good.”
“I have students that come from Alaska to Maine to attend the retreat, and it’s always a great time, with a great group. Women bring their husbands, and the husbands go fishing on local lakes. I’ve got a couple of guys that attend regularly that weave.
“When you get to the Guest Ranch, it’s like you’ve just been incorporated into their family for a couple of days. Maybe a colt is being born, or something is up, and they just want to welcome you into the process. Dogs are in and out of the lodge. One of the reasons I decided to do it there was because of the accommodations and the food. Both are top notch.”
She made bike baskets at one point, but eventually gave that business to her daughter Jennah. Jennah’s business is called Cool Bike Basket and can be found on Facebook at
https://www.facebook.com/coolbikebaskets/. There’s a very cool video showing Jennah making a bike basket with a friend.
Beyond that, Jill also makes brooms. Her latest endeavor is making mittens out of recycled sweaters that she gets from thrift stores. The mitten company is called Mad Mitt Co. and can be reached here https://www.facebook.com/madmittco/. She’s quite an amazing renaissance woman and an incredibly talented artist! For more information about the retreat, to purchase a basket, or to get a pattern for a basket please go to her website at https://www.jchoatebasketry.com/.