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Basketry 101: Materials

November 30, 2010

I started making baskets because I was hired to work at Historic Cold Spring Village last summer. Here’s what I look like when I weave baskets there!

Nina in costume

Photo courtesy of my Aunt Shannon

Basketry was the position they had open there, and I was happy to learn. A veteran staff member (who also happened to be someone I graduated high school with and have known since I was a small child!) worked with me for a few days and taught me the basics of basketweaving. After that, I was on my own with a couple of reference books. This was a wonderful opportunity for me to experiment and practice.

HCSV is an open-air living history museum, so all summer I talked to visitors while I wove. The first question most people ask? “What are you using to make that?” More on this after the jump!

The material I use to weave is Rattan Palm Reed. Rattan palm is a type of tree that grows in Africa and Asia. Vines grow from this tree at an extremely fast rate, reaching lengths in excess of 600 feet. These vines can be as small as half an inch or as large as three inches in diameter. The reed is stripped from the center of the vine. (Sidenote–  when people refer to “cane,” the stuff used to weave chair seats, they often mean the bark of the rattan vine)

This reed can be cut into a number of shapes. Most of the reed you’ve seen on this blog is technically called “flat flat”– it’s flat on both sides.  There is also reed that is cut to be flat on one side and rounded on the other, called “flat oval,” which you’ve seen here to make some of the rims. The last type is round reed which is… well, round. I’ll use this in some ribbed baskets, which you’ll see here in the next couple of weeks. I had trouble getting a clear picture of the reed types, but here is my attempt:

Reed types

Round, flat oval, flat

Reed comes in a number of widths (1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, 3/4″, etc.). Once several coils of reed are open, things can get messy! Here is my reed storage area.

A pile of reed

(No, I didn’t make those baskets I keep it in!) Reed needs to be soaked so that it’s flexible enough for weaving. At HCSV, I haul my own water and soak in a galvanized tub. At home?

bathtub!That’s right, the bathtub!

I also use seagrass cord to fill the area between the two rims of a basket. You can see it clearly in the overhead view of this basket.  As you’ve seen, I also sometimes use dyed reed and pre-made oak handles.  I order my reed and all of these extra supplies from NC Basketworks!

There are a few other tools I use when I weave. Scissors are definitely necessary. You might have noticed from some of the process pictures that clothespins are very helpful for holding pesky reed in place. Popsicle sticks can be good for pushing reed around, whether to tighten the space between two rows or to pry something up so that a final piece can be tucked underneath. I also use a little blade to shave down reed when that’s necessary– for example, it’s good to shave down one part of the overlap of flat oval reed when making a rim.


My supplies, including seagrass cord

I think this wraps it up for materials– leave a comment if you are curious about other aspects of basketry, I’m happy to do a post just for you!

Thanks to Aunt Mo for this question 🙂

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Liz permalink
    November 30, 2010 10:26 pm

    what would you do if i left a mean post? like… that is a stupid basket!

    😉 jk, there isn’t even a basket here to call stupid. i LOVE that you use the bathtub to soak your reed!!!

  2. December 1, 2010 4:28 pm

    If you come down to NC we can road trip to NC Basketworks and get an in store discount of about 75 cents! Think of the savings, that sounds like it’s worth driving 800 miles to me.

  3. December 1, 2010 4:39 pm

    How fascinating. I love that you can teach weaving to others this way.
    Thanks for the post!

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