Basket making or basketry is the process of weaving pliable materials such as willow, cane or rush.
Baskets have been made for many centuries, probably even before any records started. Unlike pottery the material used to make baskets will have decomposed within a relatively short time, so it’s impossible to know exactly when they were first made.
Woven containers can be made from a variety of fibrous or pliable materials; anything that will bend to form a shape – and not break! Examples include pine, straw, stems, animal hair, hide, thread, and fine wooden splints.
Indigenous peoples are especially known for their basket-weaving techniques. They often trade their baskets for other goods or food, and may also use them for religious ceremonies. You can find many beautiful examples of ancient baskets which shows the makers were highly skilled craftsmen or women from their time.
Basketry can be classified into four types:
Using materials that are wide and braid-like palms
Wicker or Splint Basketry
This process uses wicker, Reed, Willow, Oak or Ash, where the material is woven in and out of radial uprights attached to a base to create the form.
Twining uses materials from roots and tree bark. It’s a weaving technique where two or more flexible weaving elements known as ‘weavers’ cross each other as they weave through the stiffer radial spokes.
Coiling uses rope, grasses and rush. The baskets are made by coiling a bunch of the material around and round and tying with some kind of twine.
Before the advent of plastics baskets were used extensively throughout the world for carrying, picking, sorting, storing and transporting of goods. In the UK the willow growing and basket making industry was vast, particularly in the wetlands of Somerset and in eastern counties around Norfolk, with whole communities involved. We now have machines that strip willow, but originally the whole community, including the local children, would have been put to work stripping the bark from the willow. The industries are still there, but to a much lesser extent.
Other than the advent of plastic, world trade has enabled us now to buy baskets in enormous quantities from all over the world and we’ve seen a huge increase in the volume of imported baskets from the Far East.
Apart from a few companies of basket makers, most makers now work alone and probably supplement making with some teaching or demonstrating. Some have taken the craft into the world of art, making sculptures rather than traditional baskets.
It’s a very nice thing to do, to spend an hour or so turning a little bundle of some pliable material into a useful object. Very satisfying and there are lots of opportunities to take courses around the country.