Billy Ray Sims Basketmaker

Clam Basket Project

Clamming Skiff

The Essex Shipbuilding Museum (MA) has created a project to replicate a vintage clamming skiff and harvest basket, for which I’m digging in on research for the basket.

Here’s the model we’ll follow.

The basket is made with #11 gauge galvanized wire and will be woven with white oak from near the museum.

In the coming weeks, we’ll split out harvested logs, make jigs and molds so that we can replicate the basket and prepare for community classes to make more.


The 8-inch square bottom of the basket is woven with wire in 1-inch square dimensions, almost exactly 1-inch. Handling the thick galvanized wire and commanding it to hold with such certainly appears to have required some kind of jig to secure the wire in place as it was woven. I don’t know how the original maker did it, but I created a jig by sawing a grid 1/4 deep in 1-inch spreads from a cherry board. When the bottom was woven, a plywood square covered the wire and was bolted tight.


weaving clam basket

Weaving clam basket




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This site features the work of basket maker Billy Ray Sims, and offers handmade baskets for sale. If you don’t see a traditional splint basket you covet, Billy Ray will be happy to create a one-of-a-kind basket to your specifications. Email for more info.

Potato Basket & Mini-Spud


10″W x 4″H
securedownload-1A challenging commission, shown in the foreground, came from a client who wanted a version of the potato basket you can read more about below.

But when I informed her how large the original basket is —23″-wide— she asked for something a little smaller. Hence, the petite outcome.

Tennessee Feather Basket

12″w x 22″h

While visiting the Museum of Appalachia, Norris, TN, and admiring John Rice Irwin’s incomparable collection of handmade Appalachian baskets, I was offered the chance to purchase one from his private collection. My eyes were immediately drawn to a large urn-shaped basket with a simple note inside that read, ” Feather basket from Upper E. Tenn. bought at auction by E.L. Martin, Fall 1990.”

DSCF1776 My heart and pocketbook went out the window, and I brought the old basket home with me.

The original is shown at left, and my take on it, which looks more like a ginger jar, is above and details of the top and bottom below.

Thanks to John Rice for his pioneering, inspiring work, and research and preservation of the iconic Appalachian crafts.

Every October, the museum hosts it Tennessee Fall Homecoming. People from around the world attend for the old-time music performances, crafts, and the kind of food upon which I was raised and relish.

I’ve enjoyed demonstrating basket making at the festival and hope to join the fun again soon.



Alabama Corn Basket

white oak field basket14″ H x 18″ W

This field basket, modeled after one by Vonnie Miller, was quickly made at an annual  gathering of white oak basket makers at Mary Ann and Bill Smith’s home in McCalla, AL. About 10 enthusiasts came together to sit under the shade trees of the Smith’s for two days last April. We made baskets, shared stories, techniques, tools and tips.

Painted Lady

egg basket

Gizzard Basket

12″ x 12″ x 10 1/2″

Hand-split white oak and reed; milk paint, varnish

It’s good to break out of strict traditions sometimes, and this basket is about as Billy Ray-goes-wild as it gets. The handle, hoop, wrap and initial woven splits are white oak. The ribs and bulk of weaving are reed. A gift for a friend who needed a basket in her collection that sits way up high on a shelf and says, “Come on up and see me sometime.”

White Oak Market Basket

market basket

6 1/2″ x 10″ x 7 1/2″

I’ve enjoyed the privilege of working before with Leona Waddell, a wonderful master basketmaker in Cecilia, KY, but this one was something special. It’s a small market basket, similar to larger versions Leona made some 50 years ago. Most of the white oak for it came from my property, but Leona pulled a few heartwood splits from her stash to add contrast to the weaving, and the result is what she judged to be “a cute little basket.”

Leona Waddell with market basket

I split out the uprights and whittled the handle before we started. Then we worked for the better part of two days to weave the basket.

As always, I learned more of the finer points of basketry from Leona. Mostly, we just enjoyed being together to catch up on what life has woven of us since we last visited.

white oak market basketBest of all, Leona sent me home with a tin full of homemade fudge. On the long drive back to Alabama, I savored the treats and thought about how deeply I appreciate the opportunity to collaborate with such a great artisan.