Nova Scotia·Eskasoni Community Bureau

This Eskasoni man might be making the world's tiniest baskets

Virick Francis taught himself basket making by watching master weavers. Now, he's pushing the boundaries and hoping to inspire others to learn the traditional Mi'kmaw art.

"I can probably beat my own record each time'

Basket weaver Virick Francis holds what he calls a 'large miniature' at his home in Eskasoni, N.S. (Erin Pottie/CBC)

This story is part of a series from CBC's Eskasoni Community Bureau, based out of the Sarah Denny Cultural Centre. This series comes from weeks of conversations with community members about what they feel is important to see, hear, and read on CBC's platforms.

Virick Francis believes he might hold a Guinness World Record for smallest woven basket.

But if he ever did claim the title, Francis of Eskasoni, N.S., figures it probably wouldn't be long before he'd find a way to beat it again. 

"Each time I make a basket they get smaller and smaller," said Francis, 54, who started traditional Mi'kmaw weaving when he was 18 years old.

"I can probably beat my own record each time. People... they say, 'You must use a microscope or tweezers, or a magnifying glass or special tools' [but] no, just my hands and whatever I can get at a hardware store or a drugstore."

Virick Francis of Eskasoni, N.S., weaves baskets so tiny they can sit on the prongs of a cellphone charging cord. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

Francis started weaving while living in the United States as a way to make money. But knowing how to make baskets came from years spent watching his mother and grandmother, who were master weavers.

"When I was growing up I guess I was undiagnosed ADHD, so I was always hyper, and they always made me sit down and watch them. And so, my memories of it [are] basically entrenched in my brain. 

"I tried it myself and over the years, it just progressed and progressed. And now it's natural to make a basket. I have patience."

Francis hopes to open a basket shop and training centre in his home community sometime this year. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

The first basket Francis ever made was about the size of a cup. Since that time, he's continued to push the boundaries of his miniatures. 

"I'm always up for a challenge," he said. "I figured anybody can make a big basket, but if you can make a small one then you can practically make any kind of basket after that. The smallest baskets I made are maybe two millimetres across. They fit in the little holes on a standard plug of an outlet."

Francis has contacted the Guinness World Records about his small baskets, but he was told they no longer judge such items. 

Among Francis's creations are baskets that are smaller than Canada's smallest coin — the dime — measuring 18.03 millimetres in diameter. 

One of Virick Francis's strawberry baskets with a lid is small enough to sit in the palm of a hand. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

Amanda Marcus, spokesperson for Guinness World Records, North America, told CBC News that due to difficulties in "standardization and verification," they are currently unable to monitor titles relating to very small artistic items.

Prior to the category's deactivation, a record for smallest woven basket (with lid) was broken in 2002 by Florence Powers of Daly City, California. 

The creation featuring pine needles and raffia measured .79 centimeters in diameter or 7.9 millimetres in diameter. 

Francis started weaving baskets from memory after watching his mother and grandmother make them when he was a child. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

Shelley Acker, the owner of Freedom Miniatures based in Kentville, N.S., said there's a growing trend toward all things small.

Acker's shop specializes in the creation of tiny displays — selling everything from dollhouse accessories and miniature furniture, to painting and landscaping materials. Over the past few years, Acker has seen an uptick in sales, especially of kits depicting kitchens or living rooms and other spaces scaled down to size.

"For me, it's one of the things that you just look at and go, 'Oh, that's just so cute,'" said Acker.

"A lot of times that's just the response and as people come through the door in my store, I hear a sigh or a little squeal of exclamation." 

One of Virick Francis's baskets with a lid sits on top of an ordinary dice. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

Working with small things is a bit playful and inspires a certain level of creativity, said Acker.

For Francis, being creative is a necessary to the work that became his full-time career in 2012. He now sells thousands of woven creations each year.

Some of Francis's work mimics fish, birds, butterflies, eggs, footballs and even strawberries. 

Among Francis's creations are a woven tea set in traditional colours found on the traditional Mi'kmaw medicine wheel. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

Although weaving is a longstanding tradition in his home community, Francis said there now only a few basket weavers left. But he's hoping to try and change that. 

He's planning to open his own basket shop and training centre in Eskasoni sometime this year.

"We need younger people to make baskets," said Francis.

"My legacy of basket making would be to even just reach one person to learn to take up basket making. That's all I want to do is teach people."

Virick Francis learned to weave by watching his mother and grandmother, who were master basket makers. (Submitted by Virick Francis)

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Erin Pottie

Reporter

Erin Pottie is a CBC reporter based in Sydney. She has been covering local news in Cape Breton for 15 years. Story ideas welcome at erin.pottie@cbc.ca.

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