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Basketweaving Is a Life Skill

August 10, 2016       Building Block
Basket Weaving
Is a Life Skill

The comeback of the lowly bayong and
basketweave containers shows that
the lifeskill of basketry creates both
DIY life-saving applications and
designer luxury goods.

Discard newspaper can be used as twine-like material
for basket craft to create the same forms.

Making woven baskets are seen by most as some handicraft activity reserved for rural communities or school projects and regarded as a waste of time given that we have seemingly more advanced and modern containers. A nice canvass or cloth-bag, or even plastic containers, or those survival packs made with special weave-fibers which are all-weather, waterproof and stain resistant.

Who needs a basket container that rots away, is flammable and takes too much time to make?

Image Credit:   Ynea for  Wiki Commons  CC BY-SA 3.0
Woman weaving harvest basket in Cameroon

Basketry: Life-Saving Applications for Ages

Basket weaving extends beyond just containers for carrying fruit or wet market produce, and it is an age-old craft (29,000 years of recorded artefacts) for building simple gathering tools and other useful objects which include making shelters like huts—the technology for building a Nipa Hut is essentially basket weaving and basket frame houses of all kinds were used by all ancient cultures to build their homes. Basket frame fences keep unwanted predators away from farms and herds of goats or sheep, fishing equipment also evolved from basket traps set on a river while riding a basket-frame boat made water-tight with packed clay and animal skins.

A craftsman making wicker baskets to sell at the local farmers market.

Hmong girl helping family and village gather firewood or
field harvests in Vietnam using backpack baskets that
allow even kids to carry close to their own weight
in survival needs.

Vines being bended on a bamboo pole for basket crafting later.

Agriculture Started with Plants for Baskets before Food

The first farmers may regularly have used open fields for planting basketry plants like wicker willows before they grew edible plants. Example: burning down forests may have been purposed for encouraging the regrowth of willows for harvesting their bark for basketry, according to anthropologist M. K. Anderson.  This idea may seem like common sense because early human settlements would not want to run out of useful tools if the gatherers were just foraging for basketry materials—settlers had to grow the means to make their own tools.  The type of edibles they planted should have plant material that could be useful for one form of basket weaving or another.
Among the important things basketry created was body armor and shields—Japanese splint mail is a variety of metal carapaces and basket weave. Wars were prevalent over feuds for control of vast lands so people had to arm and protect themselves. 

A shop showcasing handicraft baskets--woven containers are
still useful for day-to-day work errands for carrying food or
market produce or as personal fashion accessories.

Basket weaving makes use of fast-growing, green and organic materials -- branches, twigs or shoots which can be sourced only if communities grow plants or trees that provide them or take care of forests and woodlands instead of cutting down all trees.  Other notable basket applications include hats, chariots, weirs, temporary shelters, furniture and all manner of containers.

Food such as rice cakes in Asia are wrapped using banana leaf wrap or
coconut leaf wrap with
basket weave techniques to securely package
and store delicate foods for portability--packed food/lunch for Pinoys.

Knowing how to weave baskets into any form or application allows almost every person, even with no monetary resources and few tools, to create a plenty of useful goods in a way that is one hundred percent sustainable—from building their own homes to making basket products that can be bartered or sold for money to earn income, to practical containers for food storage.

The most useful material for making baskets may be wicker—it can be manipulated with versatile technique, can build weaving flexible but sturdy material like tree shoots around upright sticks that provide support. Wicker is the form used for fences, walls, furniture, animal traps and many other advanced shapes,  In Asia, aside from wicker, bamboo, abaca, and many other local plant materials are handy for making baskets and basket forms.

If you master the technique of fashioning wicker, you can build a wide variety of tools and goods for carrying and preparing food containers.

Hundreds of Plant Species for Basketry

Among the most popular basket material plants available to any community that can plant fields or vacant lots with them include willow in the West and bamboo in the East.

Willow or vikker in Old Norse, is highly pliable when young or wet, lightweight and tough when dried, and grow so quickly that a new crop of branches up to three metres long can be harvested each year. It is also one of the first trees to grow back after a forest fire razes an area. Bamboo on the other hand grows wild near riverbanks and have so many uses aside from basketry material that it is essential to cultivate a grove near your settlement if you want a replenishable source for a wide variety of basketry products and other tools.  Reeds can be gathered and dried and wound around a pole to make them pliable for basket weaving.

Rediscovering Traditional Crafts and Forgotten Techniques

Today a small but growing movement of people around the world tries to rediscover and re-cultivate traditional crafts and technologies. Many such techniques deserve to be revived; but some require substantial experimentation, skill, training, infrastructure or community participation.

Elora Hardy was a successful marketing person who decided to quit her job and build bespoke houses made of bamboo in Bali with her company Ibuku.  Her magnificent bamboo mansions and the Green Village / Green School buildings in Bali are made using basket weave techniques for interior partitions and for the house walls aside from taking advantage of bamboo's pliable and flexible yet extremely tensile and strong properties.

Image Credit: Ibuku website
Sharma Springs, a designer bamboo home built by Ibuku
owner, Elora Hardy.  This all-bamboo construction partially uses
basket weave technology to create the roofing as well as
the wall partitions inside the house which is located in
the Green Village of Bali Indonesia.

Another designer green home tree house made using basket weave
techniques to create the railings and walls.  Traditional nipa huts and
variations of them in Asia also use basket weave techniques.

Antique Nantucket baskets restored, a handicraft made famous
by a Filipino in the U.S.

Jose Reyes personally hand weaving his famous
basket purses in the late 40s up to the 60s.

The Nantucket purse was made famous as a high fashion accessory by Jose Formoso Reyes (1902 – 1980), who migrated to Nantucket Island.  His designs in the 60s were hand-me-down ideas from his grandmother who taught thim how to weave wicker.  Oval shaped baskets in Nantucket gave Jose an idea of adding a hinged cover or lid that can be locked by a wood lock or whale ivory clasp.  Additional fluorishes over time included  a carved whale ivory gull by Nancy Chase mounted on the lid.

Jose Reyes was renown for keeping the craft of Nantucket basket-making alive, and creating the first collectible purse around 1948 when he was out of a job, deciding to make baskets for sale to tide him over.  The accessory became so popular that by the late 60s and 70s people were paying $300 per purse.

The most famous Kevin Cobonpue designer item, reportedly
bought by celebrities such as Brad Pitt, the Voyage canopy
bed woven wicker design.

Even in the digital age—the most coveted, shabby-chic, upscale furniture are basketweave, objet d'art chairs, bed and divans made by Filipino designer Kevin Cobonpue. We've seen Filipino fashion designers win prestigious awards off abaca fiber, basket weave dresses, skirts and jackets. 

Why Basketweaving Is a Life Skill

Not all low-tech solutions can be adopted casually by modern urbanites taking their first steps toward a more traditional life.  Basket-weaving, however, requires no money other than that needed for training and possibly materials. It uses plants easily found in almost every corner of the planet--bamboo, willow wicker branches, coconut leaves, abaca, reeds.  Weaving basket shapes and containers requires few if any tools.   As you can see from the high-ticket basket weave products, skilled weavers can create precious and highly valued pieces, but the village idiot can be taught simple and practical weaves to create equally beautiful and useful day-to-day objects such as bayongs and food and seed containers.  can be done by almost anyone.

Basket weaving is one traditional craft that must be kept alive among all cultures that have the tradition to save not only world heritage craftsmanship but to keep even the poorest of communities alive and productive creating green and useful products for survival and for making good money too.


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