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Hazel Basket Weaving From Start to Finish

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hazel basket weaving basket Weaver Mircea Cordoș

While in Breb, it was curious to see villagers trotting down the road with hazel pack baskets on their backs. One woman had it stuffed with groceries, another was carrying her freshly picked nettles in one of these baskets. We tracked down the baskets and they took us to the house of basketweaver Mircea Cordoș. Mircea Cordoș is a very diligent person, the kind that had enjoyed working in various branches. This had left serious marks on his health state. Having worked the gold mine had left him with breathing difficulty. Later on, he had an unfortunate accident at the farriery that crippled him. Then he turned to hazel basket weaving.

hazel basket weaving basket Weaver Mircea Cordoș

„I had done all sorts of works. I had worked in a gold mine for eighteen years. My father was a farrier, my father-in-law was a farrier, and I followed in their footsteps. I made hatchets, horseshoes, and buggy wheels, I shoed horses, bulls, and buffalos. Once, I yoked a bull in preparation for shoeing. I didn’t tie up its hind leg, only the front leg. While I was fitting the shoe, it kicked out to the front with the hind leg. When it pulled back its leg, it caught my leg up here, and I collapsed. Since then I’ve been crippled. I turned to hazel basket weaving in 1985. I watched how it’s made, then I made one myself for the first time in my life,” he recalled.

Because he is not in a condition to fetch the materials needed for basket making, his wife, Mărioara Cordoș, has to climb the mountain on her own to harvest hazel rods.

„I go harvest every other day, with rests in between. Imagine how hard it is for me to walk through the woods all by myself in winter,” sighed Mărioara.

Every time she is accompanied by her dog, Maia, who helps her move a bit more confidently through the woods. 

So she packed her axes and her ties and, taking her hazel pack basket, we set off into the wood. Maia led our way through the long swishing grass, sniffing along and barking each time she sensed something wrong.

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Now and again we had to stop to catch our breath and look out over the valley below. Over there, on the horizon, the sun spread its rays over a mountain range, creating a breathtaking vista. With its jagged ridge, The Rooster’s Crest stood tall and prominent. 

The trip took about 45 minutes. Puffing and panting, we finally reached a clearing where numerous hazel bushes grew on the edge of the forest. There she took her ax and began cutting down the suitable rods. We all joined in and harvested enough hazel for four baskets. The best rods for hazel basket weaving are tall, thin, and straight, with very few side branches coming out. The hazel that has grown in shade makes the best weaving material.

harvesting hazel for baskets

She tied the rods in bundles, hoisted her hazel pack, and started back home on the path through the woods, hauling the bundle of rods. Coming down was faster than the climb. Before we knew it, we found ourselves standing on the wooden bridge in front of the house.

A stream ran right in front of their house, its flowing sound along with the birdsongs gave a sense of tranquillity. The whole place looked straight out of a fairy tale. On the right side of the front yard, there is the old farriery, where Mircea often sits and weaves his baskets, an outhouse, and an outbuilding with hanging frame baskets and hanging pots and pans of different colors.

hazel baskets

The outbuilding has two rooms: one is a tool shed and the other is where they live. The people from Maramureș seem to have a thing for displaying a tree with pots outside. If the pot on top of the tree was red, tradition says that there was a girl in that family who wanted to marry.

Anyway, I never thought that pans and pots could make such a beautiful and picturesque decoration and, as I was told, they seem to do so because they have too many pots and no room to store them. A long time ago, gypsies visited the village trading pots and pans, and that’s how they came to own so many pans.

At the bottom of the front garden is the main house, full of vivid weavings and decorations. On the slope at the house’s rear is where Mărioara spends hours, maintaining a little garden just as she takes care of various other household chores. 

slat pack basket

To the left side of the front yard, there is a shed that was made into a kitchen. Just outside, there is a plank bench, table, and chairs. Mircea was resting in the shade, eagerly waiting for our return. He knew it was about time we were back home. 

By the time we arrived home, a tick had already anchored into Mărioara’s chest. Her husband rushed off to remove it, and fortunately, she was alright. 

She gave the dog some water, and set about making cheese pies, while Mircea sat just outside the farriery, his tools laid on a nearby stamp. There were two types of knives: one that he used for splitting off ribbons of hazel and one for shaving them down.

„The strips are shaved thinly and evenly with one knife. The other knife is used to put a notch into the branch. I’m splitting off the first strip from a hazel rod. The knots must be snipped off, otherwise, they are going to get in the way of our process. Now I’m using the other knife to shave it thinly,” he explained as he went about the tasks of doing the ribbons of hazel.

splitting hazel ribbons

 With the first knife, he made a shallow notch in the bark, then he bent it over the knee until it made a small cracking sound and the first strip began to separate from the rod. He ran his finger behind the strip and encouraged it to lift off. This was repeated until what was left of it was only a central core, later used at making the rim.

splitting hazel rods

From thick rods, he raised strong and wide ribs for stakes. From thin rods, he raised narrow thin strips, which are the weavers. Then he began to shave them thinly and evenly with the second knife, making sure that the stakes are thicker than the weavers. The first weaver is of great importance. Although it is a weaver, it is much thicker than the others, because it acts like a stake. When it weaves around it treats the end of itself as an upright. 

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Preparing the material was the most time-consuming part of the hazel basket weaving process and a very physical activity. Mircea is very kind-hearted, he did not like to rush things off and he seemed to enjoy teaching others.

weaving basket base

After having done the material, he set about weaving the rectangular base with a basic over/under pattern using stakes. Then he added an upright and tapered it to become the first weaver too as it begins weaving around the uprights.

hazel basket weaving

Weavers are added, shaping the belly of the basket. The rim is constructed from two cores that have been shaved and made into hoops and lashed in place with thin weavers. The basket has two handles formed from long stakes and wrapped around with weavers.

hazel basket weaving basket Weaver Mircea Cordoș

Meanwhile, Mărioara had laid the table for us, and soon we sat around tasting the delicious cheese pies and cabbage rolls and enjoying their kindness and friendship. This family made our stay in Maramureș a memorable one. For a couple of days, we hang out together. It was as if we had known each other forever.

They told us how they gave weaving lessons to an American couple with whom they communicated through a translation app. They enjoy others’ company, and Mircea does well at teaching hazel basket weaving lessons, so whether you are in for learning an endangered craft, or buying the rare baskets, be sure to ring and visit them.

Contact Mircea and Mărioara Cordoș
For English, contact Mircea Cordoș’s daughter, Delia, on Wassup at 0044 79 79 36 29 95 (English speaker)
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