Most of the materials which Martha Younkin needs to create natural baskets can be found just outside her front door.
The Union area woman is a basket maker, and her creations are made from scratch. Her husband Doug cuts down specific trees to use, and Martha gathers the leaves of plants like Rattlesnake Master to weave baskets.
Her husband Doug cuts down specific trees to use, and Martha gathers the leaves of plants like Rattlesnake Master to weave baskets.
Martha and her husband Doug moved to the area 30 years ago from Iowa. She studied botany at Iowa State University, where she fell in love with the tall-grass prairie.
Younkin said she is a “self-taught fiber artist” and primarily uses what is grown on her land to make baskets, rustic furniture and cedar log foot bridges. She also carves and wood burns gourds.
Younkin has been making baskets for three decades.
“I started weaving baskets by making Christmas gifts for people,” Younkin said.
At her home west of Union, she is restoring a one-acre prairie, which is now host to more than 312 native tall grass prairie species.
Younkin said she uses the Rattlesnake Master leaves to weave her baskets, but she also uses Dewberry and Honeysuckle vines, and a variety of other plants.
On their 10-acres, the couple has an extremely dense stand of cedar trees, which Younkin had been in the process of clearing for prairie restoration. While clearing the one acre of hundreds of cedars, a friend suggested that she use the cedar bark for weaving.
That changed basket making for Younkin.
“I was just blown away — the cedar bark is rusty orange when it ages and it is gorgeous,” she said. “When I figured out that cedar would work for weaving, it opened up a whole new door for me.”
Younkin hosts three-day workshops from the “standing tree to a finished basket” at her home each year. She flags specific trees suitable for use, and then takes them down herself in the with workshops.
The first day participants will choose their own cedar trees, Doug cuts them down, and workshop participants will spend the rest of the day peeling them.
On the second day they are shown what to do with the bark. And the third day is spent weaving and finishing their baskets.
“I love the tactile element of working with the materials, and the workshops give me the opportunity to share that love with other people,” Younkin said.
She added that basket-making is very therapeutic.
“If someone is depressed, the best thing they can do is to engage their creativity in a tactile way, and making baskets from natural materials which they go out and gather, does that,” Younkin said.
Examples of her baskets, as well as additional information, can be found at naturalfiberbaskets.com.