Here are few arts that have a longer or more global history than basketry. Before pottery was dated, baskets were useful to hunters and gatherers in the Neolithic period. In the course of the millennium, woven vases and furniture have gained importance in all cultures of the world for spiritual and aesthetic reasons.
Today, basket weaving is an important and useful cultural practice in many societies. Countless materials can be woven into containers of various sizes and designs. Basket weaving artists spend decades perfecting their art, but basket weaving is also affordable and satisfying for beginners.
Read on to learn more about the history of basket weaving and how you can start making your baskets.
The ancient history of basket weaving
The earliest potential evidence of woven baskets dates back to around 25,000 BC. Archaeologists have discovered traces of Stone Age clay, consisting of tightly woven materials, at the ancient site of Pavlov in the Czech Republic.
Although the exact use of the woven material is unclear, the technology of basketry was known. Further first impressions and even fragments of real baskets were found at Neolithic sites in the Middle East and Kenya.
Carbon dating was used to date the remaining fragments; however, the decomposition of natural weaving materials probably erased traces of the early basketry.
A few well-preserved examples of ancient basketry survive in the American West. The weavings in Washoe County, Nevada, are between 10,000 and 11,000 years old. Outside the United States, examples of Chinese bamboo baskets have been found that are over 7,000 years old.
Although this is by no means an exhaustive list of ancient civilizations with a tradition of basket weaving, a glance shows the importance of this craft throughout history. Baskets are represented by Roman mosaics, Renaissance paintings, and Mayan codices.
Ancient Egyptians used baskets in everyday life to store food, while they used woven furniture to decorate the tombs of the rich. Wicker baskets with willow branches were a valuable export to Roman Britain and can still be found in swamps. The baskets used throughout the Roman Empire were very varied in shape and size.
It is impossible to fully characterize the diversity of ancient and historic baskets. Across cultures, materials and techniques vary according to the environment and the needs of each weaver.
The skills needed to create beautiful and useful baskets could take many years to master; many have been passed down from generation to generation.
There are many types of natural fibers that can be used to weave a basket, such as various types of bark. For example, grass, bamboo, vine, oak, willow, reed and honeysuckle are common materials used for weaving.
When choosing a suitable material for basket weaving, the flexibility of the fibers is the most important aspect. If the material is too fragile, it will not be able to flex sufficiently to be woven in tight spools and small spaces. However, it is important to note that stiffer fibers are also used in some techniques to create a frame, or ribs, for the basket.
Basketry today
Basketry is still very important in many cultures. For example, attempts have long been made to preserve basketry knowledge in Native American communities, often in the face of cultural erasure and violence.
Today, the work of contemporary Aboriginal artists such as Dawn Nicholas Walden, Brittany Britton, and Bernice Akamine continues to draw on traditional methods in incredible and innovative ways.
Many African countries retain their rich traditions of basket weaving. Among the various traditions, many weavers have incorporated recycled, non-natural materials.
The Zulu people of South Africa use colored and coated telephone wire and copper wire to weave amazing, shiny pieces. Traditional materials and methods also remain an important art form.
Contemporary Zulu artist Beauty Nxgongo creates graceful, wavy pieces using the traditional method of spindle weaving; for example, this lidded basket from the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Among other cultures with a strong tradition of modern weaving, Indonesian craftsmen continue to make rattan baskets with ornate patterns. The Dayak Desa a subgroup of the Dayak people of Borne Island make intricate baskets, each specifically designed and named for its function.
Although rattan a vine that grows on trees has been used for many centuries, deforestation threatens this supply. Indonesian efforts to protect this important resource will safeguard the future of Indonesia’s rattan plant and basketry.
How to start basket weaving
Basket weaving requires a bit of patience, but the reward is a beautiful and useful piece that you can use at home. To get started, check out this useful article from Felt Magnet which explains many terms you may encounter in basket weaving, especially for weaving or twinning projects.
Next, line up your supplies. The materials you will need will be determined by the type and style of the basket you will be making. A basic woven pattern is a good starting point to begin basket weaving. For this, you will need a reed basket or candles.
You can also buy some simple tools that you may need, but if you are creative and careful, you can manage with a ruler and a pair of scissors or shears.

If you’re building from scratch, this great tutorial from Design Sponge will help you get started. There are also many kits available, in case you want to try a pre-packaged set first.
This Cape Cod Cranberry Basket Kit is a great place to start braiding. To try your hand at weaving, this breadbasket weaving kit is the perfect kitchen accessory.
There are also basket weaving kits, perfect for children, so the whole family can join in the fun.
As you immerse yourself in the world of basket weaving, be sure to respect the traditions that have existed for thousands of years. If you want to buy a basket, make sure that the artists have been properly paid for their work.
Basketry also has the advantage of respecting other cultures, not appropriating sacred designs or buying imitations. While learning the ancient techniques of basket weaving, try out shapes and mediums to create works that you will enjoy forever; after all, you will be participating in a 27,000-year-old tradition.