Must-Have Homesteading Skill: Basket Weaving

We’re always trying to learn new things to fill our “life skills bank account.” We’re pretty rich in skills around here… And we try to live the best life possible in the simplest and most sustainable way. And we have amazing fun and happiness, which makes us rich beyond belief.

So our weekend skill-building course was learning how to weave baskets. My husband’s aunt has been bugging us for a year to let her teach us, so we settled in for a relaxing afternoon in her cozy Busy Room, surrounded by coils and coils of weaving reed, a sewing machine and ironing board, shelf after shelf of crafting materials, baskets filled with little tools, baskets filled with notions and potions, baskets filled with pens.

Wonderful, tiny photos of baby grandkids and dogs that have passed taped up on shelves and walls. Home and family everywhere.

It’s the room of a woman who does stuff with her spare time. A woman who lives life with creativity and love and patience and wisdom. And my husband and I got to spend four absorbing hours creating with her.

But I wax poetic. Here’s how to weave a basket:

Begin by filling a large-ish tub with hot tap water. Gather up the proper sized reeds (we used a pattern and pre-made reed to learn the craft). Cut the future basket’s spokes (the wider pieces that get woven around) and soak them until they’re pliable. Then weave the bottom of the basket. Mine looked like this:

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Then, after carefully adjusting each spoke so it satisfies someone with a small touch of OCD (that would be me), complete this stage of the project with twining. Here’s Auntie demonstrating twining:

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Basically, you weave two lengths of small-diameter round reed to lock the bottom of the basket in place. First reed over under, over under, with the second reed under over, under over, and watch that you don’t get your reeds cross-ways at the corners. It’s all more complex than it sounds, because while your hands are doing one thing your brains are doing another, and if you stop for a sip of coffee or to laugh, everything can get confused.

Then comes the really dangerous part about basket weaving: Bending the spokes upward to become stakes (the sides of the basket). I say this is dangerous because if you crack a spoke-stake too much in the 90 degree bend, you have to undo the whole thing and start over. Thankfully, none of us had to weep. Here’s what Jake’s looked like at this point:

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And mine:

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Then you begin to weave in earnest. Auntie told us to use smoked reed to make our baskets more interesting. It’s a nice mocha color, and I’m excited to make and smoke reed from scratch someday. Repeat the over under/under over pattern around each spoke, carefully tightening and pulling and adjusting as you go so the weave doesn’t affect the final shape of the basket. The key to making a basket with strong sides is to overlap the reed ends by four spokes–they won’t pull apart even if you put a bowling ball in the finished basket.

It’s tricky to make sharp corners. It’s tricky to pay enough attention to the over under/under over while multitasking conversation about the recent rains, the small patch of blue sky, reports on basket guild, promises to attend weaving classes next winter, discussions about lunch, and small intrusive thoughts about work.

This whole thing is trickier than you might think!

Here’s what an almost-finished basket looks like:

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This is the critical stage where you can completely mess up the strength of your basket or make it a useful work of art that can be passed to the next generation. How you bend and weave and integrate the loose ends at the top makes all the difference in the world.

First, half of the stake ends are cut off and half folded over to lock the top weave together. It feels like a moment of no return to snip, snip, snip.

Then, we cut two pieces of flat oval reed (rounded on one side, flat on the other), one to fit the outside diameter and one to fit the inside diameter of the basket. These got planed on the ends so they would fit together more smoothly. (I happen to be extremely familiar with how to use a plane from making my own butcher-block counter.) These are roughly placed along with a length of braided sea grass and all the bits are clipped with clothes pins to keep it under control:

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Then begins the lashing. That might sound like the most dangerous part, but it’s not. Lashing simply means sewing the top together as tightly as possible, without any of the bits getting cross-ways, or breaking the lashing reed.

Here’s what it looks like, in the best of all possible worlds:

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Yes, I broke the lashing on my basket (twice), and had to try a couple of alternatives before settling on the leather shoelace. Who knew that a found object would become useful in a craft project?

In addition, I wanted to know how a handle would be incorporated into a basket. The handle seemed like a great mystery to me, until I actually put a handle into my project:

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It’s as easy as feeding the ends into the weaving and locking it in. I guess people have thought about how to do this, and have created pre-made helpers, and the simple folks who have never woven a basket can incorporate these items to make a spectacular finished product. Modern life is good for some things, anyway.

As we rounded out our afternoon, my sweetheart’s basket looked like this:

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Nice square corners, straightforward coloring, strongly masculine. A beautiful object of art and love. Jake would like to put his most-used essential oils in the basket to corral them. Purposeful and meaningful.

And here we are, posing awkwardly with our finished products, pleased with the results and still trying to process the learning:

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Aren’t we completely beautiful? I adore my sweetheart husband, who is always willing to pose for a photo. I, on the other hand, am attempting to show the final product in its best light while dealing with dehydration brought on by extremely hard work and talking, talking. And struggling like Jacob with the angel to get my rim lashed. But you know what? The final products were exactly what they should be. Filled with emptiness. Filled with knowledge. Filled with family.

Go out this minute and find someone who can teach you how to weave a basket. Listen deeply to that person, hear the HOW of spokes and twining and stakes and weavers and lashing. Allow the materials to speak to you, and allow the end result to be gorgeous. And be quiet for a few moments after you create your first project, and be in the WHY of what you just accomplished.

Home and family. Priorities, all in the right place. Wish you could have been there with us!

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Have you done basket weaving in your life? It seems like a lost art to me, one of the many skills that have fallen by the wayside in the face of technology. If you have ever woven a basket, please leave a comment here to tell everyone about the HOW and the WHY of your creation.

2 thoughts on “Must-Have Homesteading Skill: Basket Weaving

  1. Wonderful description of your day! I will catch the next “class”. Glad you were able to do it and they look beautiful!

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