What is Basketry?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Basketry is a craft which involves weaving or twining flexible materials together to create containers which are known as baskets. All sorts of materials may be used in basket weaving, although plant materials such as wicker, rushes, bark, bamboo, and grasses are probably the most common. Baskets can also be made from thread or wool, strips of hide, and metals. Many cultures around the world practice basketry, and some very beautiful examples of traditional baskets can be found in many museums.

A basket made using the wicker process.
A basket made using the wicker process.

Because baskets are made from materials which are subject to decay, no one is entirely sure how long humans have been making baskets. Many archaeologists believe that baskets have been made for at least 10,000 years, and possibly longer. A basic basket is relatively easy to make, and it can be used to store supplies such as grain and personal belongings, catch fish, and perform a number of other tasks, depending on how it is designed. As a result, most human cultures have a tradition of basketry, from Native Americans to African tribes.

The framework for a basket is made from stakes or spokes, depending on the style of the basket. The elements of the frame are firmly connected before the craftsperson starts making the basket, so that the basic shape is outlined and so that the finished product will be firmly supported. Typically, the materials used to make the framework are larger and stronger than the material woven around them, so that the basket will be load bearing.

Once the framework is done, the craftsperson can start weaving or twining construction materials around it. A basic basket may be very simply woven, but there are numerous schools and styles of basketry design which create intricately woven patterns which may be accented with the use of materials in different colors or textures. The end result can be a work of art as well as a functional household good.

Basket weaving by hand is a commonly taught craft. Occupational therapy programs in hospitals may include basketry, and many kids weave baskets as part of history units on earlier human cultures. Masters of the craft can create baskets of all shapes and sizes, with complex patterns which may be distinct to that craftsperson. Some people who are particularly skilled basket weavers can create minuscule baskets which are obviously intended to be ornamental demonstrations of skill, rather than function objects; the Pomo Indians are well known for their tiny, ornate baskets.

People who want to learn basketry can get information about classes from local craft stores, which may also sell necessary supplies. You can also use the Internet to search for a basket weaving class near you, and you may also uncover information about displays of baskets by local artisans.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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