Herald JournalHerald Journal, Dec. 6, 2004

A Joel Duske tradition: Christmas fabric baskets

By Liz Hellmann

Christmas always comes early — say, about mid-summer — for Montrose crafter Joel Duske.

Every summer, she makes a special shopping trip to pick out the latest Christmas fabric, so she can make her one-of-a-kind holiday baskets.

Duske sells her decorative baskets at annual Howard Lake Art Exp, Craft and Collectible Fair, which is a family tradition for her.

Martha Borg, Duske’s mother, introduced her to the craft fair.

“I took my mom’s baby blankets with my baskets,” Duske said.

That was 10 years ago, and she has returned every year since then.

Duske genuinely enjoys the process of making the baskets, with the craft fair being a secondary purpose.

“This is my thing to sort of relax, my time to sit at my kitchen table and do my craft that I like,” Duske said. “Some people read, I like to make baskets.”

Forty of the 50 baskets she creates each year are Christmas baskets.

To beat the holiday stress, she makes the baskets before the season begins. Most of them are done by September, two months after the release of Christmas fabric.

“Christmas baskets are a nice, small gift,” Duske said.

For some people, the baskets are an object of admiration at the craft fair, but for others, they are a source of confusion.

People always ask Duske how she makes them. The secret, she tells them, is to use the bottom halves of cylindrical oatmeal containers for the small ones, and the bottom halves of a five-quart ice cream pail for the larger ones.

This unique way of making her baskets not only keeps the price reasonable, but demonstrates Duske’s creativity.

To make the baskets, she did not use a pattern in a book, or have anyone show her what to do. “I just saw some baskets in the store one day, and came home and made them up on my own,” Duske said.

To go along with the baskets, Duske also designs cloth centerpieces for the holidays that coordinate with the various kinds of baskets. She also makes pot holders and place mats, which can be made to match, as well.

Duske has made baskets for Easter, weddings, and home decorations.

“People can buy baskets and put soap in them for decoration in the bathroom,” Duske said. She also made baskets to which balloons were attached at her 50th high school class reunion from Howard Lake.

Continuing to carry on the tradition that her mother started 30 years ago with baby blankets, Duske keeps on making and selling her baskets.

This year, her granddaughters also brought their own handmade items to the annual Howard Lake fair, continuing the circle of family crafting.

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