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Updated 10:00 AM October 31, 2005




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Spotlight: Weaving away

Debbie Montague is the type of person who appreciates receiving a gift that took time and effort to create, not just something bought off a store shelf. To her, these are gifts from the heart.
(Photo courtesy Debbie Montague)

Montague has created more than 300 such gifts through the years in her chosen hobby—basket weaving. For 17 years, Montague, an administrative specialist and event planner for the Office of Alumni Relations and Continuing Dental Education, has given many of her creations away. Friends, family and faculty and staff members have been recipients of her generosity.

She once gave a basket to Dr. William Kotowicz, former dean of the Dental School, who is an avid fisherman. Montague designed a basket for Kotowicz to use on his fishing trips, and he since has hung it up in his cottage for display, she says.

Montague once contemplated making a basket for Martha Stewart, whom she admires. For Montague's 50th birthday, co-workers took a photo of her with several of her baskets and made it to look like the cover of Martha Stewart Living magazine. Instead, they renamed it Deborah Montague Living.

Montague chuckles at the thought of the photo, which was part of a surprise birthday party, but she very well could deserve a magazine cover for her devotion to a hobby she stumbled upon. After agreeing to attend a class to learn basket weaving with a friend, Montague was hooked. "I took off with it, and I've liked it ever since," Montague says. "It's incredibly therapeutic for me."

These days Montague teaches classes on her chosen art, sharing her skills with other interested basket weavers. She has formed a basket-weaving guild in Dexter, where more than 50 members meet twice a month to practice their skills.

When not in class, Montague works out of her basement studio, dedicating 4-12 hours to each basket. Working seasonally she averages 15 hours a month perfecting her creations, spending more time in her studio during the winter. During the summer she takes a break from basket weaving to take pleasure in another hobby, gardening.

To make a basket she uses bamboo reeds to complete the over-under weave to form the base. After twining the base to secure its strength, she pulls the reeds up to form the sides. After ensuring the length of the sides of the basket, she folds the rest of the reeds down. Throughout the weaving process, Montague uses a spray bottle to keep the reeds moist so the basket is soft and easier to manipulate.

Ironically, Montague uses old dental tools to pack the reeds and to keep her baskets tight and hole-free. She then uses a mini-torch, like chefs use to make creme brulee, to burn off the excess hairs. After she has formed the basket she adds the rim. When the basket is complete, Montague may stain it. And the final, mandatory step, she says, is to sign and date the bottom of the basket.

Montague's favorite basket is the Nantucket. "They're classic, traditional and will never go out of style," she says. She enjoys making baskets that are both traditional and utilitarian, so people can make use of them.

Montague gives most baskets away as gifts, but does sell a few on occasion.

Anyone interested in learning basket weaving can visit, then click on "Ann Arbor Area Weavers Guild."

Says Montague, "If people like to work with their hands... I am sure they would find [basket weaving] enjoyable and satisfactory."

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