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Jamit! Baskets

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Monroe County basketmakers catch attention after appearing on QVC

By WHITNEY BURDETTE wburdette@statejournal.com

PICKAWAY — When Judy McDade weaved her first basket 18 years ago, she thought it would be a hobby, not a full-time job.

But now she and her husband, Mike, both retired, sell Jamit! Baskets at craft fairs, galleries and through their website to customers from across the country.

"We're busy!" Mike McDade said.

So busy, in fact, that Judy can't find the time to repaint her kitchen.

In 1994, Judy made a list of crafts she'd like to try to make. Basket weaving was at the top of the list, so she got a kit and liked it. Next, she got a book, and her craft grew from there. She was invited to participate in a trade show in Charleston with home-shopping channel QVC, which ordered 500 step baskets. Judy said she didn't have enough time to make that many step baskets, so she made Molly baskets, named after her daughter. But 500 baskets was too much for one woman.

"That's when I got involved," Mike said.

As Mike built the bases, Judy wove the sides. They completed 50 baskets each week for the 10 weeks leading up to the trade show.

"We had a house full of baskets," Judy said. "There were baskets in every room."

The McDades sold an impressive 100 baskets in the first three minutes of the QVC broadcast and never looked back.

"We figured if we could do that, then we've got a shot at this," Judy said.

Since then, Jamit! Baskets has been juried into Tamarack and is showcased in galleries across the state. Each basket takes on a life of its own, Judy said, even though she and Mike try to keep the varieties somewhat similar.

"Every basket takes on its own form," Judy said. "You might have an idea in your head, but you don't really know. It kind of guides you." 

"They're all one of a kind," Mike added. "It's kind of strange because I made one for Tamarack, and they said ‘OK, make another one.' I thought ‘OK, how does that work?' You make the same style with different colors to make it different than the originals."

So how did the McDades come up with the name? 

"JAM is her initials — Judith Alice McDade," Mike said.

Judy pointed out that although people like the name, they sometimes try to add a French flair to it.

"Some people think it's French — Jamme — I'm like no it's Jamit! Just plain ole Jamit!" she said.

Jamit! Baskets was featured in West Virginia Wildlife magazine's January issue. Judy said the response to that article has been enormous.

"It came out in December, and the response has been steady," she said. 

"We got a wonderful response off of this," Mike added. "We've sent baskets all over the country — Connecticut, North Carolina, Maryland."

He said the article featured egg baskets, which have "sold like crazy."

The McDades try to use natural materials in their baskets — including some from their yard or the woods behind their house.

"If we go on a hike, we always come back with a piece of wood, or we try to use things around here like our rhododendron or wisteria," Judy said.

The couple also grows bamboo and willow specifically for basket weaving. They also use natural walnut dye provided by the huge walnut tree growing next to their house.

"People like having things made out of natural materials," Mike said.

Mike and Judy travel to craft shows and farmers markets across southern West Virginia. They always take a basket or two to work on during the day, which allows Mike to demonstrate basket making to interested customers.

"When we do shows, we try to demonstrate for people," he said. "We take something to work on because it makes the time go by quicker, and the people are always interested."

Although the customers are interested in the crafts, the McDades' children are not. One grandson, who is 7, expressed interest in weaving, Judy said. He recently completed his first basket, but basket weaving isn't something that runs in the family.

"I worked on our genealogy and can't find a basket weaver anywhere," she said.

The McDades allow customers to choose different colors for their baskets, so each one truly is one of a kind. They have a website — www.jamitbaskets.com — but the site doesn't list prices. Judy said customers who want to order a basket can email for information. The McDades do keep several baskets of each variety in stock at prices ranging from a few dollars for the smaller ones to $100 for the bigger ones. Mike said pricing the baskets is the hardest part of the job.

"A lot of our baskets, we couldn't afford them ourselves," he said. "We couldn't buy them."

Judy said she and Mike never keep track of their hours. They don't make any money off the baskets, and every penny they get from sales goes back into buying materials.

Despite that, Judy said she and her husband love what they do.

"We're really basket cases here," she said.