What is Basket Making? Weaving Function and Art

It’s an age-old craft blending utility with creativity, but precisely what is basket making? “Weave” got the answer to that and more.

6 June 2024

The craft of basket making is possibly the oldest on earth, not to mention one of the most prolific. Also known as basket weaving or basketry, it’s been practised for at least ten thousand years. The resulting baskets have been fundamental tools for cultures throughout the world, serving practical purposes.

Yet, in many cases, these baskets are also works of art, showcasing intricate designs produced through a variety of techniques and materials. So, precisely what is basket making? And what materials do you need to weave a basket?

What is Basket Making?

The art of basket making (Credit: Ratnakorn Piyasirisorost via Getty Images)

At its simplest, the answer to “what is basket making” is that it’s the craft of interweaving flexible fibres by hand to produce a container or “basket.” Yet, deconstructing that definition reveals an underlying complexity. For instance, classic basketry uses vegetable fibres, like canes, leaves, rushes, twigs, and grasses. And the end structure tends to be quite rigid like, say, a picnic hamper. It’s also usually intended as some sort of receptacle. However, there are many variations to traditional basket weaving materials and methods, as well as the containers thereby created. First, let’s look at materials.

What Materials Do You Need to Weave a Basket?

Basket making using bullrush leaves (Credit: lynnebeclu via Getty Images)

What materials do you need to weave a basket? The options are vast and depend on the type and purpose of the basket. Traditionally, natural fibres such as reeds, willow, bamboo, and grasses were favoured for their availability, flexibility, and strength. In modern times, synthetic materials and even recycled products have found their way into the craft, expanding the possibilities for basket makers.

Reeds & Canes

Reeds and canes, such as rattan and willow, are among the most common materials used in basket weaving, valued for their flexibility and strength.

Grasses & Rushes

Grasses and rushes, including sea grass, sweetgrass, and bulrush, are lightweight and flexible, making them perfect for coiling techniques.


Bamboo is a versatile material used in various weaving techniques due to its strength and flexibility. It can be split into thin strips for fine weaving or used whole for more robust structures. Bamboo’s natural resilience makes it ideal for both indoor and outdoor baskets, and its smooth surface allows for intricate patterns and detailed designs.

Pine Needles

Pine needles are commonly used in coiling techniques, creating baskets with a distinct texture and aroma. These needles are typically harvested, dried, and bundled together before being stitched into spirals with a binding material such as raffia or sinew. Pine needle baskets are often smaller in size, making them suitable for decorative purposes or holding small items.

Synthetic Materials

In recent years, synthetic materials like plastic and nylon have been introduced into basket weaving, offering increased durability and a broader range of colours. Synthetic materials are particularly useful for outdoor baskets and items that require extra strength and resistance to the elements.

Basket Making with Paper

Making a basket with paper (Credit: Elva Etienne via Getty Images)

An interesting evolution in the craft is basket making paper. This technique utilises strips of paper such as recycled newspaper, magazine pages, and fabric scraps to create baskets. The process is similar to traditional weaving but can also allow for a more environmentally friendly approach. Paper basket making is not only accessible but also provides a platform for creativity, as the paper can be coloured, patterned, and manipulated in ways that natural materials cannot.

Other Basket Making Supplies

Willow bundles and hand tool (Credit: Mint Images via Getty Images)

In addition to the primary weaving materials, basket making supplies encompass a wide range of tools. The basics include knives, scissors, and awls, which are crucial for cutting and shaping materials. Other supplies might include soaking tubs for pliability, dyes for colouring, and moulds for shaping specific basket forms.

The Craft of Basket Making

Traditional basket plaiting technique (Credit: Flavio Coelho via Getty Images)

Craft basket making involves not just the selection of appropriate materials but also mastering various weaving techniques. These techniques include plaiting, coiling, twining, and wicker. Each method has its own historical and cultural significance and is suited to different types of materials and basket forms.


Plaiting involves weaving flat strips of material, such as palm leaves or paper, over and under each other to create a flat, strong base and walls for the basket.


Coiling uses a continuous spiral of softer material, such as pine needles or grasses, stitched together with a flexible binding to form round or oval baskets.


Twining involves twisting two or more flexible elements around vertical stakes or ribs, ideal for creating intricate patterns and sturdy baskets using reeds or canes.


Wicker weaving uses stiff materials like willow or rattan, woven tightly together to form strong, durable baskets often used for furniture and large storage containers.

Artistry in Basket Weaving

The artistry of basket weaving (Credit: CribbVisuals via Getty Images)

While basket making is fundamentally a functional craft, it also holds significant artistic value. The patterns and designs in basket weaving are often reflective of cultural identities and personal expression. Intricate designs can be achieved through various techniques, including changing the weaving patterns, using dyed materials, or incorporating different textures. This blend of utility and aesthetics makes basket making a unique art form.

Cultural Significance of Basket Making

A stunning Native American Navajo basket (Credit: Hoptocopter via Getty Images)

Throughout history, baskets have been more than just utilitarian objects. In many cultures, they are symbols of community, tradition, and artistry. The techniques and styles of basket making are often passed down through generations, preserving cultural heritage.

In contemporary times, basket making has seen a resurgence not only as a craft but also as a sustainable practice. The use of natural and recycled materials aligns with the growing environmental consciousness.

Basket Making Explained

The perfect picnic (Credit: Debbie Burrows via Getty Images)

And so, we’ve examined the question of what is basket making, including how to choose materials and supplies. Ultimately, basket making is a timeless craft that continues to weave together functionality, art, and cultural significance and remains a popular craft and industry to this day.


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