“A Tisket A Tasket”

basketOn November 14 &15 I’ll be back at the Olde Mill Cabinet Shoppe in York, Pennsylvania to teach the first of two classes devoted to the design, structure, and carving of a basket of flowers cartouche of the type seen on mid-18th century high chests and double-chests made in Philadelphia.

Less than a dozen original examples of this form survive, at least four of them in public collections. The way they are constructed makes these basket ornaments even more susceptible to damage than other styles of cartouches and many of the originals have suffered breaks and losses.

A basket of flowers with damage and losses.

A basket of flowers with damage and losses.

Examining a number of the originals for this project, it was interesting to discover they could be made up from seven or more separate blanks carved separately and glued together. Eighteenth century furniture cartouches are typically made of one large blank and a smaller blank glued at the middle or top to extend the design while saving the labor of extensive wood removal had they been made from one full thickness blank. But the depth and complex nature of the design of the basket and flower cartouche requires the use many more elements.

With back-cutting thinning out the leaves and the front of the basket and the numerous glue joints, the cartouche would wind up in many more than seven pieces the first time it was dropped!

The lowest section of the basket and flower ornament is the largest blank, its grain oriented vertically. It constitutes the back of the basket, the leaves and small flowers cascading along the sides, and has a flat platform left uncarved where a second blank, also with vertical grain, is glued. The large blossom, its grain oriented horizontally, is the third blank, glued to the second blank, using it as a base to extend out over the forth blank, which is the front of the basket, also with its grain oriented horizontally.



The front of the basket is pierced and hollowed from behind.

Bottom of the cartouche showing the perpendicular grain orientation.

Bottom of the cartouche showing the perpendicular grain orientation.

The fifth blank is the upper, central carving of three leaves and unopened buds. It fits in a V-shaped cut in the lower first blank with the top tilted forward.

top element

There are small platforms on the first blank on either side of the base that supports the large blossom where either small flowers or bunches of unopened buds would be glued (these small flowers and buds are missing or replaced on many of the cartouches but the platforms remain.) That makes seven separate elements but the size of the platforms on either side of the large blossom and empty holes in the same areas on some of the cartouches suggest they may had additional leaves, flowers, or buds attached. These basket and flower cartouches might have been made from nine or ten separate elements.Basket of flowers

The large blossom of this cartouche appears to have been detached and re-glued to its platform upside down.

The large blossom of this cartouche appears to have been detached and re-glued to its platform upside down.

For the most part the blanks are carved to a finished state before the cartouche is assembled.

The large lower blank and the upper three leaf blank with patterns drawn.

The large lower blank and the upper three-leaf blank with patterns drawn.

I’ve begun carving the bottom blank, front of the basket, and upper three-leaf frond. If you want to carve along, here are the measurements of the blanks needed!

Base layer:

10″ 3/4 high x 10 1/8″ wide x 7/8″ thick. Grain oriented vertically.

Platform for flower:

4 1/4″ high x 2 1/4″ wide x 1 1/2″ thick. Grain oriented vertically.

Upper three- leaf frond:

9″ high x 5″ wide x 1 1/4″ thick. Grain oriented vertically.

Large Blossom:

3″ high x 3 1/4″ wide x 2 1/2″ thick. Grain oriented horizontally.

Front of the basket:

3 1/2″ high x 6 1/2″ wide x 2″ thick. Grain oriented horizontally.

Small flowers:

2 pieces 2″ x 2″ x 1″ thick

3 thoughts on ““A Tisket A Tasket”

  1. It’s been fun learning about these cartouches made up of so many elements!
    There is a short, 6 or 7 minute video of me working on a reproduction shell drawer that plays in an upstairs room at Mount Pleasant. It was made in 2008 for an installation on craftsmanship and the relation of architectural and furniture carving. However, it is in no way a “teaching” video. Hopefully it gives visitors a sense that this stuff was made someone, which is a basic first step. It was produced by the museum and is their property and they haven’t put it on their website.
    Producing “instructional videos” is a large undertaking which needs a space, lighting, camera control, editing, etc. We all know many people have gotten into this recently and someplace like Lie-Nielsen is turning them out by the batch-load. They’ve never asked me but I suspect it’s more of the case of the craftsperson interested in doing this type of thing contacting them. But I have a full time job and don’t know if I have the time or if it could be worthwhile. It terms of what’s available, I think Chris Pye’s “Woodcarving Workshops” is the best thing out there though I know it might not satisfy someone looking for specific 18th century style work.


  2. Pingback: John Folwell Chest-on-Chest | In Proportion to the Trouble

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