I don’t know what possessed me to want to weave a basket, but here we are…
A long long time ago, my dad used to say the college football players were all majoring in underwater basket weaving. When I was a small child, I did not understand what this was, but assumed (for reasons that are unclear to me to this day) that meant they donned SCUBA gear and got into big swimming pools to weave baskets.
Then I went to school and minored in textiles, doing a fair amount of weaving, including some minor basketry, and I found out that underwater basket weaving is not actually done underwater. Alas, to my father’s horror, his daughter had went to collage for underwater basket weaving.
To this day, I still think about them making baskets while wearing scuba gear.
A Modern Basket Kit
To begin my foray into basketry, I decided to start with a kit from Etsy. It turns out that basketry supplies are generally bought in bulk, and I was not sure I would enjoy this craft, so I wisely chose a basket kit that would lead to little to no wasted supplies when I decided this was not for me.
The kit came with supplies and detailed instructions, and I went to work.
I won’t spoil the kit by showing too many pictures. But it went very smoothly! I did have to pull out a few rows a few times to give my basket the right shape, but I would say it turned out very well in the end.
This all led me to the question, what kind of baskets did medieval folks have? What kind of weaving techniques did they use?
And did you know there is not a single European woven basket from 1000-1600 in either the Met or the V&A? As baskets are incredibly utilitarian and made out of compostable plant fiber, its not a surprise that none survive to modern day.
There is one basket in a Brussels museum which can be seen here. It is in less than stellar condition, and the picture is difficult to see what is going on, but it is a basket non the less!
However, woven baskets survive from the ancient world! We also know from the variety of weaving techniques and woven baskets from non-western cultures that weaving baskets is as universal to cultures around the world as ceramic pottery. Though technique and style is often dictated by local materials.
There are three main types of Basketry, which are often combined in different ways to create baskets of all shapes and sizes: Twining, Plating and Coiling. The Burke Museum has a great page including diagrams on these types. My basket combined two types: Twining and Plating. These types of basketry show up in medieval illuminations.
Larsdatter.com put together a great list of illuminations that include baskets. And in these illuminations we see baskets of all these types:
Plating: 1475 Annunciation by Jan de Beer. (Zoom in to the basket behind the virgin on the right.
Plating and Twining: Second quarter of the 14th century, Manuscript, An apostle hands bread to another man. British Library
I was unable to find a painting or illumination showing a coiled basket. However, extant baskets using this technique appear extensively in the Americas, Africa, and Ancient Egypt.
Where to Next?
I deeply enjoyed making my basket. I found the ability to make something so large and tangible out of my own hands to be deeply satisfying. I look forward to making more baskets in the future and perhaps re-create one or two found in medieval illuminations. Until then, I’ve bought a few more kits to make placemats and little baskets for the feast table.
And who knows, maybe someday I’ll learn how to scuba dive and weave some baskets underwater.
Northcoast Basektry Burke Museum
Larsdatter.com Listing of basketry illuminations and paintings