Basketry: The Human Craft

Nearly every human cultural group shares a history of making one specific item: baskets. Despite differences in tradition, belief, geography, and economy, basketmaking is a craft we all share. Chances are that walking into a home, anywhere in the world, you would find some form of basket at use in the home: storage for laundry or blankets, protecting treasures, beautifying spaces, gathering, serving or storing food and much more. 

It is an art so old, that its origins are unknown, lost in the passing of time.  Perhaps our ancient ancestors were inspired by the birds, weaving their nests together to create an instinctive home. Or it may have been more practical, basketry born of ingenious necessity for survival on the land for our predecessors. An ancient Mesopotamian creation myth speaks of the earth's crust woven like a basket from reeds deftly handled by Marduk. A thrilling mystery.

While we are not basket makers ourselves, or even experts on the history of baskets, we are wholeheartedly basket lovers. Over the last few years, we have curated a small collection of baskets from different areas around the world that we find useful, beautiful and that tell a story or spark a memory. However, in finding these baskets, and adding to our ever growing collection, we have seen incredible beauty in the material, style, uses, and traditions of basket weaving found in virtually every part of the world.

 

MATERIAL & STYLE

Fundamentally basketry is the weaving of fibrous materials like reeds, twigs, roots, and grasses. Usually these materials are woven into some type of container or receptacle, which we call a basket, but can also be seen in furniture making and other similar creations. Reliant on the local plants, each region produces something remarkable, creating distinct local styles.   

Woman with reeds for basket making

Basket weaving is a study in contrasts. Some baskets feel hearty and sturdy, toting logs for the fire, while other baskets are like lace, delicate and intricate in design. This particular basket, made by artisan basket weavers in Cambodia, uses a combination of rattan and cane. The stripped rattan is woven to create the openwork bottom and the spiral sides attaching to a cane framework. While also a beautiful bread basket, its open design makes it perfect for plucking fresh herbs, lettuces, and flowers from the garden.

These stunning Mayan baskets, woven by makers in Sololá, Guatemala are made from pine needles that are gathered in the Guatemalan Highlands. Each basket is then created by bundling the needles and sewing with raffia in an intricate motif.  These would be a beautiful addition to any table as a bread basket paired with our bun warmers and terracotta bread warmer.  

USE & TRADITION

There is always an air of mystery when a basket is placed before you; open it and you may find a baby nestled inside, a food hamper, or even a charmed snake. They house our most precious treasures and hide messes. Some for work and some for play, baskets for everyday. In mythology, baskets were a vessel of bounty or gift giving. The gift basket is actually one of the most ancient gift-giving traditions. Sharing the bounty of our harvest with friends and neighbors spreads joy in a direct way. Our orchard basket is one I always like to keep on hand for the right opportunity to fill with fruit and other delights to brighten someone's day.

Holding a basket full of strawberries

Baskets become an inherent part of the home and the maker, as they are used everyday. In Eastern Paraguay, the women of the Guayaki Indian tribe are intrinsically tied to the baskets they make. When a woman dies, her last basket is ceremonially burned, so that it dies with her. 

 During WWI, basket weaving was taught in recovery hospitals, as the patients learned to regain mobility after life threatening injuries on the battlefield. The wartime program saw such success that military engineers during WWII, were encouraged to take up basketweaving to refine their fine motor skills. After returning from war, many men took up basketweaving as a career. 

Men in hospital weaving baskets together

Discovering the many uses for all of these baskets is ever-evolving. This mosey basket is used constantly in our home, and we definitely need more than one. It has a permanent home storing unsightly things near my nightstand, but it is also the basket we pick up to take on a picnic, picking fruit and veg from the the garden, to pick up books from the library, and it gets filled up by the Easter bunny. Basically it fulfills all of my cottage core fantasies.

Woman on quilt with picnic basket

We have so many more baskets yet to discover. Let us know in the comments where we should begin exploring next as we continue to add to our collection of baskets from around the world.

Shop the current collection here.

July 09, 2022 — Chelsey Newbould

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