History of Basket Weaving

Basket Beginnings... A Basic History

The weaving of baskets is as old as the history of man. Traces of baskets have been found in the Egyptian pyramids, and woven basket liners have left their impressions inside the fragments of ancient pottery.

As soon as man (and woman!) were able to plait fibers together, they began to experiment with structures for woven containers.

Baskets were needed as containers for everything imaginable- food, clothing, seeds, storage and transport. I always tell my students that before Tupperware® and Samsonite®- we had baskets!

So how did baskets travel from one part of the world to another? With the explorers, of course. And this is how the various techniques of baskets also traveled to other parts of the world.

As the explorers arrived in new lands, they traded goods. The goods were contained in baskets- thus, as the recipient of the goods looked over the basket, he/she then applied that technique to the materials of their own land. This explains how so many Asian techniques- like hexagonal weaves- are found in European baskets, and how European techniques were then carried over to the Americas.

Thus, the basic types of basket weave patterns can be applied to grasses, trees and other natural fibers worldwide.

Coiling is a technique of winding up the fiber like a snake while stitching it every quarter of an inch or so. The inner coiled material was usually grasses and the sewing material might be a stronger grass or stripped down tree fibers. The Native Americans of the Southwestern states of the US have long perfected coiling with grasses. Their wrapping usually covers the inner grasses completely.

Coiling with sweetgrass is done in West Africa, and those techniques arrived in this country with the African slaves. Today sweetgrass baskets are still woven in the eastern US coastal states. Yet another kind of coiled basket is woven from pine needles- the longer the better. These baskets are popular in Florida and the Northwestern US. Usually they're sewn with raffia. (Raffia is the fiber of the Madagascar palm tree- very soft, waxy and easy to sew with.)

Splint weaving is the technique of weaving with flat materials. In Asia, these are made with reed and cane, the products of the vine calamus rotang, which grows in the rainforest of Indonesia. The vines are cut, transported by barge to ports where they are then exported to China for processing into the smooth coils of cane and reed. The cane is from the bark and the reed is from the core of the vine. So, in much the same way that trees become lumber, calamus rotang becomes reed and cane.

Note: It doesn't harm the rain forest to harvest these fibers. They grow up into the trees and are pulled out of the trees without cutting down the trees.

Splint weaving in Europe and the Americas is done today with reed and cane, but also with the traditional fibers of years past: oak, ash and hickory. Trees are cut down, soaked in water, then finally split open and "peeled" from the inside to make weavable strips.

Round fibered weaving is done with a tremendous variety of fibers. The previously mentioned reed and cane are processed into round sizes as well as flats. Willow, honeysuckle, grapevine, Virginia creeper and many other sturdy durable vines have been uses for centuries to weave baskets. The deciding factor is: will the fiber bend enough to be woven, and will it tolerate the abuse of being handled as a basket?

What kinds of new fibers are being used today? Traditional styles and materials are always continuing. However, innovative basket weavers are always experimenting with fibers of the new age. Newspapers, aluminum, plastics, steel, paper, -you name  it- if it's flexible, someone has probably woven it into a basket. After all, if you were stranded on a deserted island, wouldn't you, too, learn to weave with whatever was there?

©2001 Linda Hebert  - Feel free to use the above as a research source. However, republishing in any form is not allowed without permission of the author.

contents©2001 Linda Hebert
Linda Hebert
V. I. Reed & Cane


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