Updated March 22, 2008An Ancient Craft
Basketry is one of the oldest crafts known to mankind. In the United States, ancient fragments of baskets have been preserved in all parts of the country. Basket impressions on prehistoric pots indicate that this art was practiced in areas where no basket remains have been uncovered.
There are three basic techniques of basket weaving, although the variations on these is almost limitless. The first, plaiting, generally is considered the most simple technique and commonly utilized flat weave elements such as wood splints and split cane. In this technique, in which two elements are woven together in an over and under pattern, variation is achieved by “floating” stitches over opposing elements. Baskets produced by the Eastern and Western Cherokees, Mohawks, Winnebagos, and Passamaquoddy use this method.
Both repetitive patterns, such as the twill in a Pueblo utility basket, or complex non-repetitive patterns, such as the woven images found in Chitimacha basketry, can be achieved with this technique. Plaiting which utilized round weaving elements and where one set of elements is completely covered by the other, is known commonly as “wicker,” typified by the willow plaques produced by the Hopis.
Coiling, the second technique, consists of a fixed element which is wrapped with a flexible element. The stitches of the flexible elements are attached to the preceding completed coil, thus attaching the coils one to another. The body of the coil may be either a single, rigid element, as found in some Pomo baskets; a grouping of a few rigid elements, as with Chemehuevi and many Apache baskets; or a bundle of fibers such as with Papago, Hopi, Paiute, Coushatta and Eskimo coiled baskets.
The third technique is twining, in which rigid elements are connected by at least two flexible elements that are twisted between each rigid element.
Certain techniques tend to dominate certain regions. However, almost all regions practice several techniques. For example, coiling is the principal technique utilized in the basketry of the American Southwest by such tribes as Hopi, Papago, Pima, Apache and others. These tribes also produce a variety of baskets utilizing both twining, as found in Makah and many Apache utility baskets, and plaiting, as is common in the utility baskets of the Pueblos.