The Woman Who Wouldn’t Retire Found Herself Reinventing the Basket

Patti Quinn Hill studied all the historical basket-making techniques — then decided to weave with archival paper instead of reeds, rattan, or other traditional materials. Photo by Jack Sorokin.

After years of operating Eat No Evil, a natural-foods restaurant in New Orleans, Patti Quinn Hill retired in 1987 and moved to Western North Carolina with her husband, John. Whatever free time they might have hoped for, however, was quickly consumed by running the small farm they bought near Weaverville. And then came the baskets.

Hill, who says she’s always enjoyed making things with her hands, enrolled in continuing-education craft classes at A-B Tech — beadwork, braiding wool rugs, knitting, etc. But it was basket making that captured her imagination.
She joined a local basket-weaving group and began attending workshops led by professional basket makers. Traditional forms were the norm — Shaker baskets using black ash splints, reed rattan, Nantucket Lightship baskets made with multiple woods, and Native American styles.

“Stardust”

But Hill veered from traditional materials when she found out about weaving with paper — and she never really went back. She uses heavyweight cotton archival paper that she paints with acrylics, starting with an underlying solid color wash and building many layers of paint on top. Then she picks up a creative array of tools — sponges, pot scrubbers, hair picks, toothbrushes, spray bottles — to drag across the wet paint, creating different surface designs.

She cuts the dried paper into long strips in widths from 1mm to 9mm, starting with the thinner strips and weaving with wider strips as the basket grows. When the basket gets smaller toward the opening, she uses narrow strips again.John helps by making the wood molds and bases she weaves her baskets around, before finishing them freehand. She frequently includes curl embellishments, a technique she learned from a Native American basket maker that she reinterpreted into a signature style.

“Fire Dancer”

Other ideas are less direct. She might be inspired by a piece of music or the characters in a favorite book. The fowl on her farm — guinea hens and a peacock — exert their influence, too.

After years of weaving and teaching her techniques in workshops across the country, Hill took a 12-year hiatus from making baskets that ended last year, when Blue Spiral 1 invited her to be in a show. “I’d decided to take a break and do another art form and stay at home.” (She took up Ikebana, the Japanese art of minimalist flower arranging, joined an organization, and began doing exhibitions and teaching.)

“I was right back where I was but with just another medium — flowers instead of baskets. I have now decided I can keep both in my life. I just need to learn how to keep a better balance. I just need to find the time to fit in all that life has to offer.”

“Gold Leaf”

Patti Quinn Hill, farm/studio visits by appointment, pattiquinnhill@gmail.com. The artist is represented by Blue Spiral 1, 38 Biltmore Ave., Asheville. For more information, call 828-251-0202 or see bluespiral1.com.

7 Comments

  • I am so happy to see her work. They are amazing.

    I use to make coiled baskets of yarn on buggy cord. I put designs on they as I worked the yarn to the top. But arthritis got me.

  • All I can say is WOW! I am a basket weaver too and tried weaving with paper once and it didn’t go well. These are beautiful and I am jealous! What wonder talent she has.

  • I have been following Patti Quinn Hill since seeing her fabulous work exhibited at UNC Asheville a few years ago. As an aspiring basket weaver myself I can only say that her talent takes my breath away. I can’t wait to see what she does with flowers!

  • I have had the pleasure of ordering a basket years ago , #492, on a visit to the Blue Ridge. It’s a cats head urn, just as beautiful today as the day it was made.

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