The History of Basket Weaving

With Easter just right around the corner, The McCarl Coverlet Gallery thought it would be fun to discuss a different type of weaving– basket weaving!


Historical evidence suggests that baskets have existed since the beginning of human civilization. To put this into perspective, archeologists have discovered  ancient basket weavings in Egyptian pyramids, which date back to  2504 BC. That is a long time ago!

Why did baskets exist early on in history? Well, the answer is simple. They are essential for transporting and storing the basic necessities of life– such as food, water and clothing. Think of baskets as the precurser to tupperwear. Fruit, nuts, seeds and dried meets were often collected and stored in these hand-made containers.

Early civilizations also used baskets for bartering, which played a key role in the development of trade-based economies. Because of the care and craft that went into basket-making, when people traded goods with one another, they also traded remarkable pieces of culture and art.


An Early Depiction of Basket Weaving

As mentioned above, various weaving techniques were passed onto different parts of the world through systems of trade. For example, this explains why Asian hexagonal weaves commonly appear in European baskets and how European basket styles ended up in the Western world.

Early basketmakers selected materials from nature that could bend easily in the weaving process. These items included: stems, animal hair, hide, grasses, thread, wood, and pinstraw.


Natural Fibers Used for Basketmaking offers a great description of three baskestry techniques:


Coiling is a technique of winding up the fiber like a snake while stitching it every quarter of an inch or so. The inner coiled material was usually grasses and the sewing material might be a stronger grass or stripped down tree fibers. The Native Americans of the Southwestern states of the US have long perfected coiling with grasses. Their wrapping usually covers the inner grasses completely.

Coiling with sweetgrass is done in West Africa, and those techniques arrived in this country with the African slaves. Today sweetgrass baskets are still woven in the eastern US coastal states. Yet another kind of coiled basket is woven from pine needles- the longer the better. These baskets are popular in Florida and the Northwestern US. Usually they’re sewn with raffia. (Raffia is the fiber of the Madagascar palm tree- very soft, waxy and easy to sew with.)

Splint weaving is the technique of weaving with flat materials. In Asia, these are made with reed and cane, the products of the vine calamus rotang, which grows in the rainforest of Indonesia. The vines are cut, transported by barge to ports where they are then exported to China for processing into the smooth coils of cane and reed. The cane is from the bark and the reed is from the core of the vine. So, in much the same way that trees become lumber,calamus rotang becomes reed and cane.

As always, thanks for reading!

Your Turn: What are your favorite types of baskets? 


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