Interview with a Local Nantucket Basket Weaver: Christina Manca of Manca Studio

March 30, 2023


Here are some questions for a weaving blog post. Feel free to elaborate as you see fit:

What called you to become a basket weaver/designer per se?
I consider myself a professional creative and designer above all. I’ve had the privilege to work in multiple mediums – lightship baskets being my current medium. I was called to become a designer when I was in my freshman year of college. My parents were renovating our home with an Interior Designer, and I fell in love with the process. I didn’t realize that it would be my future career at the time, but in retrospect that’s where I saw the passion for design and aesthetics began to form.

At the tender age of 23 my father died, and I had what I like to call my ‘quarter life crisis’. I realized life was precious, so I quit my job and for the next six months I sat on the sofa smoking cigarettes (yes, I used to smoke) and soul searching for my next career move.

In the silence of being with myself I remembered the passion that had been ignited with the home renovation years earlier. I decided to pursue interior design as my next career. I had no design training, experience, or portfolio and so I was fearful that I wouldn’t be accepted anywhere, (well… I randomly took weaving in high school – the kind they do at the looms… and fun fact, I actually met a woman on island named Joan (I think) whose father donated those looms to my high school!!! She’s still a professional rug weaver on the island), but I looked into different schools in Manhattan and found Parsons School of Design. I didn’t need a portfolio to apply, so I did. I gave myself permission to fail – because I had no idea if I could learn drafting and the technical skills I needed to become a professional designer. As it turns out, I didn’t fail, I blossomed, and found my new niche as a professional creative.


After graduating from Parsons I attended a high school reunion weekend and bumped into an old friend. He was working as a prop master in independent film, and invited me to be an art department intern on a movie. I accepted the offer, and began my career in Film and TV. The mix of interior design and filmmaking was magical tome, I loved every minute of the 20hour days and excelled.

These are the mediums I’ve been blessed to work in as a designer. I learned that creative expression is like breathing to me. I have to have it to survive, but I can find satisfaction in more than one medium – I don’t have to be an interior designer, I just have to be in a creative flow working alone or with others to design and fabricate something material. The process of making something from nothing is deeply satisfying for me. Creating beauty is magic to me.

So what does all this have with lightship baskets you ask? Well…
In 2015 I was called back to my childhood home to help care for my mother during the last months of her life. While she was sick the decision to sell my NYC condo and buy an investment property on Nantucket took form. She thought it was a great idea, and so, I worked to make that dream come true. During the six months I spent inCT after her death I needed a hobby to help manage my grief, and a family friend taught me how to make lightship baskets… it was just that – a hobby, a way to express creatively, to ground me during a very difficult and turbulent time in my life. Weaving is like a meditation to me, it calms me and grounds me and gives me the deep satisfaction of making something from nothing.

Fast forward to 2017 I had moved to Nantucket full time, and was again, searching for a career reinvention. I was weaving prolifically, and people kept telling me that I should sell my baskets, so I did. I started with very traditional baskets. I signed up to sell at the farmers & artisans market, and in the span of about an hour literally four people asked me if I taught weaving – which I did not.

I said to myself ‘if one more person asks me if I teach, I have to say yes’. Not five minutes later the question came again, so I said ‘yes I do!’ I handed her my card, and thought she would never call… in fact, she called the next day, we spent three days weaving together, and we are now fast friends. She helped me book a ‘weavers circle’ and, again, I remain friends with all of those fabulous ladies to this day. That weaving circle is where I got  the idea to put Hermés scarves inside the bags as custom inserts, and my own personal take on the friendship bag began to materialize.

For a while I played around with various shapes and sizes, and was still doing custom commissions. Last summer I really found my groove and I now have a full line of purses – called M Bags. I am no longer a traditional weaver, however I use the same traditional techniques of our Lightship Basket making forefathers coupled with a modern twist. Or, as I like to say ‘Centuries of Tradition, with a Modern Vibe’.

I’m happy to say my business is really starting to take off, and I have very exciting plans to expand it throughout this year.

Can you provide us with a little bit of your background?

I’m pretty sure I gave you more than you bargained for above! LOL

What brought you to Nantucket in the first place?

A fresh start, and a reinvention of an investment property in NYC that had lived out its life cycle. I never intended to live here full time but a year in I had moved here full time, and 7 years later I’m still here. What brought me here was a business decision, and what keeps me here is the sense of community I discovered once I arrived.

Does this form of craft connect you further to Nantucket in a way? Why?

Yes, I believe it does. The history and tradition of a centuries old crafthanded down not only by our Lightship Keepers, but also some of our whalers and whaling captains never gets old for me. To be able to help keep this piece of Nantucket History alive is truly a privilege, and now to be able to share it far beyond the shores of our tiny island is very exciting for me.

I mentioned that what brought me here was a business decision, and what keeps me here is the community. As a weaver I feel that I am connected to the deep history and tradition of Nantucket. I never set out to become a professional weaver. I feel like it chose me. It spoke to me during a difficult and vulnerable time in my life, and then again through the community of this island, and it now speaks to me through my own creative lens. I’ll stick with it as long as the conversation continues to inspire me.

For someone new to the subject, what can you shed light on in regards to basket weaving as it connects to Nantucket island?

I would say that basket weaving is connected to our island through the sea. The materials of the staves and weaver come from South East Asia – where our whaling forefathers adventured. The process and techniques were developed on the lightships that kept our vessels safe from the dangerous shoals created by the sea. The original molds were even made from broken masts. The basket weaving was inspired by our native Wampanoag Nation – the original inhabitants of the island. Their design is unique and they were created to be a more sturdy basket that has lasted the test of time, and still brings joy to so many.

What type of weaving do you do?
In doing some limited research on the topic so far I am finding that there are at least 5 basketry techniques listed as twining, plaiting, twill, rib basketry and random weaving. Could you elaborate further on any of these techniques or speak about the technique you work with most or best?

None of those techniques apply to LSBs….
There are 4 defining characteristics of a lightship basket:
It is woven on a mold
The Staves are made of rattan – indigenous to southeast Asia
The weaver is made of cane
The basket has a solid wood base

Here is a link to the NHA Website for more information about Nantucket Baskets.

There are of course modern weavers who experiment with other materials, however, I weave according to this protocol, adding my modernization in the way I accessorize with inserts, handles, and use of the baskets – for instance I make tables and lighting with the same techniques.

What do you want most people to understand about this art?

For me, the art of Lightship Basket making represents timeless design. We currently live in a disposable world. This craft is designed to last – it’s made from incredibly sustainable materials (rattan and cane are naturally renewable – they renew in 5-7 years, and grow in the tropical regions of Southeast Asia and West Africa) The wood bases were originally made from repurposed materials of broken masts. There are many baskets that have lasted for centuries – they are simultaneously hearty and elegant; fun and refined; and they are most of all versatile, and multi-purpose. Their beauty has lasted for centuries, and will never go out of style. Each generation of weavers brings new and innovative ideas to update their aesthetic, and I can only hope my modern contribution does them justice.

You check out and follow Christina’s latest projects on her instagram page: @themancastudio or website: