Western Mono “sifting” baskets are used in the Western Mono culture to make acorn mush or soup. The Western Mono Native Californians create a very pudding-like acorn mush and this particular basket is used to produce that texture. The basket is used to separate the very fine acorn flour from the grainer meal after grinding. The acorn flour doesn’t actually sift through the basket like a sieve, however. Once the dry ground flour or meal is placed into the basket, the basket is shook in an upward and outward motion just enough to let the flour shift and spread into the basket. The fine flour gets caught in the fine twines of the basket and the grainier (and heavier) flour falls out. The fine flour is usually removed from the basket with a soaproot brush.
Today, Western Mono Native Californians (the indigenous people of Central California) continue to harvest acorns annually and make acorn mush throughout the year. The process of making acorn has evolved and some have adapted to using modern resources (such as hand grinders and blenders). However, these modern tools do not produce a fine flour and no modern sieve can separate the acorn flour like a traditional sifting basket.
The basket is made in a twined method of basketweaving but requires very slender sticks and very tight twining. The warp of the basket is sumac (sourberry rods), and the weft of the basket is primarily sedge with redbud used for a design. The basket is usually bound with chapparel rods and redbud. This basket is considered a utility basket and is decorated very simply. It is usually very large (24 inches x 18 inches) and made in a triangular-bowl shape.
Avis Punkin learned basketweaving from her mother and other extended family members, and has been weaving since her childhood. As an adult, Avis has sought to share not only basketweaving techniques but also Western Mono culture as a whole with her family and community members. In addition to sifting and cooking baskes, Avis is also proficient in North Folk Mono cradleboards and gathering baskets.
In 2009, Avis participated in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program with her daughter-in-law Julie Dick Tex. During their apprenticeship, Avis instructed Julie in gathering the raw materials for and weaving traditional sifting baskets.
Avis also participated in ACTA's Apprenticeship Program in 2002, guiding her granddaughter and Julie's daughter, Carly Tex, in the entire process of making a traditional coiled cooking basket including gathering, preparing, and storing materials as well as the actual weaving process.