Basketry, or basket weaving, is an ancient art that pre-dates pottery. This process of weaving pliable materials including willow shoots or grass can be made not only into baskets, but mats or even furniture such as wicker chairs and tables.
Basket weaving can be a simple, fun and rewarding project. According to Sue Hahs, of Reedsong Basket Company in Marlborough, when getting started with basket weaving, start small.
“If this is a new hobby for you, browse around online for a beginner’s kit that states clearly that it contains all the components you need. You don’t have to have all the tools right away, but having all the right weaving materials provided is really helpful,” she said, adding that if you want to try weaving some projects from scratch, buy a basket weaving book with clear illustrations and photos. “YouTube is a great reference, too, but books that contain ‘where to buy’ lists are extremely useful.”
Though basket weaving is a hobby requiring just a few tools, some of the main tools you may find helpful are scissors and a sharp knife for cutting, side cutters (helpful for snipping off ends), and a pair of round-nosed pliers often used for kinking the stakes before bending them for a clean fold. A bodkin, which is a pointed metal tool with a wooden handle, is also commonly used. This works well for making space between woven work and pushing a rod into position after the gap has been made. If you’re unable to find a bodkin, a knitting needle could work in its place. Some other items that are helpful, although not necessary, include a tape measure as well as clothes pins to hold things in place while you’re working. Hahs suggests having a few rags or dish towels handy to catch any stray drips in your work area.
When it comes to creating the basket, there are four different methods or classifications: coiling, plaiting, twining and wicker.
Coiled basketry usually involves thicker material or braided materials, and they are coiled and sewn together with the thread of thinner pieces of material.
Plaiting is a great technique to start with because it can be simple and easy. This method involves crossing strips of material over and under each other.
Twining is similar to plaiting, but usually involves weaving two or more strips instead of one.
Wicker basketry is more difficult to master and starts out with stakes or spokes that are used as the frame and to support the basket. Then materials are woven over and under the spokes to create the basket’s shape.
Many types of materials and plants can be used to create baskets. Tree bark, grasses, bamboo, vines, reeds, willow and honeysuckles are some examples and are the more commonly used. It’s important to find materials that are flexible, but not brittle.
“As you start building up a materials inventory, make sure you have somewhere to store it all,” Hahs said. “Reed coils take up quite a bit of space.”
Once you’ve gotten your materials and tools together and are ready to create your basket, you will need to soak the materials in warm water to make them pliable enough to work with.
“Despite all the jokes you hear about underwater basket weaving, you really don’t want to soak the reed for too long before starting your project,” Hahs said. “Unless you’re working with very thick material, 15 to 20 minutes really should be enough. Soaking too long can lead to mushy, discolored reed.”
When you’re done with your project, Hahs suggests making sure any damp materials dry out completely before storing them. Also, avoid storing them in plastic containers.
“I learned this the hard way early on, and had to discard some of my best early works due to mold,” she said.