Basketry – Ancient and Modern

artsy crafty header coiled basket

We have a joke around my house that whenever we have something to put away, and it doesn’t have an assigned place – we obviously need another basket! I use them all the time for organizing mail, magazines, art supplies and kitchen items – grocery or otherwise.

Throughout time, basketry has been used for many purposes besides storage: sandals, sleeping mats, huts, winnowing, catching fish, windbreaks, animal pens, hoppers for seed-sowing, animal harnesses, wine straining – even in building and boat-building. Romans had wicker shields, and basketry shell cases were used in WWII.

Photo courtesy of Vlasta.

Photo courtesy of Vlasta.

Basketry is an ancient craft (8,000-6,000 BCE) – pre-dating pottery or stone carving. Few actual examples exist because baskets are made of biodegradable materials. The earliest evidence we have found of basketry is pottery shards, dated before 8,000 BCE, found in Gambols Cave, Kenya. These pottery shards have impressions of basketwork on their surface. The earliest actual example of basketry was in Danger Cave in Utah, where parts of twined baskets and sandals, circa 7000 BCE, were found. (I found this historical information in a really good book: The Complete Book of Baskets and Basketry by Dorothy Wright.)

While basketry has traditionally been used for functional purposes, it is also a form of art or fine craft. Even if you don’t want to learn to weave baskets, learning a bit about the different techniques and materials can help you to appreciate both collectible and new baskets.

There seem to be as many techniques for weaving baskets as there are uses for them! Whether you use traditional basketry materials and techniques – or you choose to experiment with nontraditional materials (such as fabric or recycled materials) and new techniques (such as using a zigzag sewing machine), basket-making is a great hobby.

Coiled Basketry workshops will take place at local community centers.

Coiled Basketry workshops will take place at local community centers.

The library will be offering two Coiled Basketry Workshops at local community centers in September:

Learn the technique to make coiled baskets using yarn and/or fabric strips. Create a coaster or small basket while you learn! Materials are included, and the workshops are free.

  • Crestview Community Center on Wednesday, 9/7, from 1-2:30 PM. Call 251-2960 to register.
  • Shawnee North Community Center on Thursday, 9/29, from 9-10:30 AM. Call 286-0676 to register.

The library also has some really good books about basketry – whether you are interested in learning to weave baskets or you want to learn about the history and culture of basketry. I especially enjoy the books that teach you how to gather and prepare your own natural materials! I put together a list of Basketry books in our collection along with my notes about them.

Photo courtesy of Joan Nova.

Photo courtesy of Joan Nova.

When trying something new, it’s always helpful to have someone with more experience who you can consult. The Sunflower Basket Weaving Guild is a group of Northeast Kansas basket weavers that meet monthly to work on projects, try new techniques and learn from each other. New members are welcome! There are annual dues, but you can visit first to decide whether this is for you before you join. They meet on the 3rd Saturday of each month (except December) at the Senior Center in Lawrence, Kansas. For more information email alink@cox.net.

Jill Zinn

Jill Zinn is a Public Services Specialist and a member of the Arts and Crafts team. Her passions are art and community, and she believes that art is for everyone! When she is not at the library or working in her studio, she can be found gardening, cooking, reading, or bird-watching.