A summer Friday on the farm in August is everything you would imagine it to be. Birds chirping, ducks playing in the pond, and on this particular Friday, we had the honor of spending time with local Vermont Artisan, Alexa Rivera, founder of WOVN.COUNTRY.
Basket weaving is as old as human history. People have used baskets for harvesting food, and simple ritual of collection for centuries. Alexa weaves stunning baskets, along with teaching workshops on the art of basket weaving. Alexa came by the farm, and we watched her soak reeds to then carefully twist into a basket. We couldn’t wait to catch up with her. Read on to learn all about Alexa and how she came to learn the art of basket weaving.
Alexa! Tell us a little bit more about where you’re from. Have you always lived in Vermont?
Hi! Thanks so much for having me. I am originally from Poughkeepsie, New York in the Hudson Valley but have lived in Burlington, Vermont since 2012. I love it here.
When did you first become interested in basket weaving? How did you get into it?
I actually started with needle and thread bead weaving, which I have done since I was 10 years old. I’d be the youngest one in the classes by many decades and would always thread all the needles for the older women because I had young eyes! The owner always told me that she’d give me a job when I turned 14, and she did! I worked there throughout high school and got really good at reading weaving patterns and understanding structure.
When I moved to Vermont after high school, I found myself in the woods a lot (as we do here) and would end up weaving little vessels with materials I found in the woods.
Weaving was so a part of my psyche at that point but I wanted to do it a different way, make things that were utilitarian. I don’t remember exactly how the idea of baskets came to me, but I ended up taking a class with an amazing teacher Scott Slater from the Adirondacks, and after that, it was lots of books and youtube videos and I just fell in love.
What inspired you to launch WOVN.COUNTRY ? When did you start the company and how soon after did you start teaching workshops?
I often feel like WOVN.COUNTRY started without me! I was making baskets and posting about them, and friends asked if I’d teach them. I was living in a 1976 Sequoia Coleman Camper at the time, on a friend's beautiful property, and I decided I’d just make a Facebook event and invite people to come to the field and weave a basket.
I made a huge tortellini salad and set up tables and water buckets and that was that. People who I didn’t even know ended upcoming. We didn’t even have a bathroom for them to use besides an old outhouse in the field, and I had no idea what I was doing! But we had a blast, and everyone made a basket and was really proud of themselves.
After that, before I ever had an LLC or a name for my business, people would come up to me and say, “you’re the basket weaving teacher, right?” and I’d just kind of stammer and say “yes?"
I eventually got a studio in Burlington and started reaching out to venues to see if they wanted to host classes, and people started reaching out to me as well. My favorite part is I can pop into people’s worlds for a day, and be a part of a community I might have never known about. I love to see the amazing things people are doing all over the region.
What are some of the fundamentals you teach in your workshops? Can anyone learn to basketweave?
Of course, anyone can be a basket weaver! It is not hard, it just takes patience. I try to teach the language of basket weaving, or at least the language I have come to understand. I tell my students that the basics of any (or most) baskets is you make a frame-or a skeleton-and you weave around it. For many of my students, this is their first time weaving a basket.
I teach mostly adults, and I’ve realized as we grow up we tend to not often do things we don’t know how to do. It’s often an emotional and scary process for people to give themselves permission to take a day away from their lives, be given a bunch of raw materials, and have to make something out of it. A lot of what I want to do in my classes is hold space for people to experience that, to try something they don’t know how to do, to make something that will hold and carry, to tap into the knowledge in their ancestral DNA that knows how to weave. Basket weaving is a meditation and a forgiving medium. About half of my workshops are planning and forming and shaping what you want, and the other half is seeing what the basket wants to be and letting that happen.
Where does your design inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes really from things I love and feelings I love. It comes from books about basketry from all over the world, from instagram color palettes, sea shells, Egyptian architecture, fashion magazines, bodega flowers, the accomplishments of my friends, my sister, dancing salsa on Christmas Eve, first dates, selfies, New York, statues of luxurious stone women in botanical gardens, bodies of water, minimalism, maximalism, reading murder mysteries on vacation.
Your baskets are stunning. How long does it typically take for you to complete one?
It can take me anywhere from a few hours to a few months depending on the intricacy of the weave, the size of the basket, and the season. (Winter I love to be in the studio watching baking competition shows and weaving all day, and summer I just wanna be outside in the rivers of Vermont!)
What is next for WOVN.COUNTRY? Where can our readers keep up with you?
We have all had to adapt and transform with the pandemic. I am not sure when I will do in-person classes again, I trust that I can do it in a safe way, but it doesn’t feel prudent or necessary at the moment. so I am researching and drawing out plans for online classes and private workshops. I am also taking this time to just rest, drink bubbly and play Yahtzee on my porch with my roommate, swim, talk on the phone with friends, etc. My plans next are to launch a line of WOVN.COUNTRY kits, with all the materials and directions and links to demo videos, and hopefully have them on my website as well as in *fingers crossed* some local stores. As for keeping up with me, I’m super active on Instagram! Follow me at @wovn.country for daily stories about what I’m weaving & eating! Also, you can find a photo gallery of past classes & calendar of *one day* upcoming workshops at alexarivera.com.