Vladimir Štibelj is a self-taught wicker weaver. He learned his craft by watching his late father Silvo Štibelj and by studying nifty baskets carefully crafted by local weavers. When he was a farmer he used to make wooden containers on the side, but when he retired ten years ago he focused on weaving. He works with hazel rods, which he collects locally, and wood that he finds in the forest and crafts in his spacious workshop
Vladimir (Miro) Štibelj lives with his wife Marjeta Štibelj and the youngest of his four daughters in a village above the Poljane Valley. His father Silvo Štibelj was a wheelwright, but in the winter he made baskets for the household, like every other family in the village used to. Miro would be by his side, watching carefully: “He was the kind of man who didn’t want to put it into words, so I just watched.” After his father’s premature death he began weaving himself, from memory. His first basket left a lot to be desired, so it ended up in the stove. Later, he would try his hand at weaving now and then, and gradually he developed a feel for this work. He learned also by studying the baskets woven by skilled weavers. Vladimir is aware that the quality of wickerwork varies considerably. He says that Gošar bothers, Pavel and Janez, made the most beautiful things: “I try my best to be like them, but I don’t think I’ll ever rise to their level.” He wove many baskets in the kitchen while watching the children, but his bread and butter was farming and making wooden containers, pallets and the like.
When he retired, he returned to weaving with hazel splints. The first baskets were made to his neighbours’ wishes. They were good, so he kept going. Gradually he came up with ideas for new woven objects, and “I have always completed whatever I tried my hand at”. So he crafted a woven bird house, a nativity scene fence, a pen holder, and then some more. Hardly a day goes by without him weaving something. After he milks the cows and has breakfast he lights a fire and spends his time creating one thing or another in his spacious workshop, where he keeps his wood processing tools. He thinks weaving is an excellent activity for pensioners: “It’s not tiresome, but you have to give it some thought to do things properly.” This work requires precision, skill, and persistence. He has shown the ropes to a few young people and he likes to demonstrate the procedure to those who are interested. He doesn’t worry about the future of his craft, because weaving objects from materials that anyone can pick where they live has recently become increasingly popular. Today, wicker weaving is associated with a pastime activity, probably because it is difficult to sell woven objects at a fair price, given how many laborious hours have been woven into them.
Wickerwork objects usually consist of a wooden base, spokes, and hazel splints. Vladimir finds all his materials in the forest – the boards come from different hardwoods, ash timber is used for the handles, and he finds hazel rods on forest edges. He stocks up in spring, because wood stays fresh if you look after it properly – he keeps the rods in a bucket of water. When the growing season is over he harvests the rods when he needs them, because “you can’t go against nature”.
He cuts the wood for the bases into boards, which he cuts to shape and shaves. To make handles, he saws ash wood boards to the desired width and then bends them in the press around the circumference. Hazel rods for the spokes are first sawn to the desired length and then split with an axe into 16 parts, which he manually crafts with a sharp knife. They are tapered at the bottom so that he can fit them into the holes in the base. To speed up the process, he likes to prepare the spokes beforehand: “if the spokes are ready, you have almost half the job done”. He makes the splints over the knee. He cuts a notch a few millimetres deep and then bends the rod over the knee until the notch begins to open and he can peel off a three- to ten-millimetre splint. He then thins the splint and cuts it to the width required for the piece he is creating at the moment. When the splints are ready, he deftly weaves them around the spokes and finally glues the finishing border or adds a wire finish, to make the object even more durable and long-lasting. Finally, he smooths the object, because “you have to do things properly, so that the result is easy on the eyes.”
Miro weaves his pieces into 15 to 20 different shapes and adapts their size and details to his clients’ wishes. The most popular item is poberač, a woven harvest basket with a flat wooden base. Today, it is often used as a multi-purpose gift basket filled with different treats, such as wine, salami, cheese, and bread. He also makes round baskets called cajna, baskets for Easter food blessing, small baskets for children, log baskets, fruit drying trays, bird houses, and fences with a base for the nativity scene. He is happy to take up repairs of old wicker objects or to offer up new ideas. He also makes miniature wickerwork objects – souvenirs from the village that set the scene for the iconic film Cvetje v jeseni (Blossoms in Autumn).