Basket weaving dates back a very long time. In fact it pre-dates some forms of pottery and woven cloth. Evidence for this has been discovered in the form of stone carvings from around 20,000 years BC. The materials used would have depended on people’s surroundings and varied considerably, from willow to roots, brambles, vines, oak, ash, hazel, bamboo, leaves, straw, rush and bark. Some things were woven, others were coiled.
Baskets were woven and lined with clay to create waterproof bowls. Houses were built with basket work (wattle) and daubed with mud, right up until the 1700s. Men would go to battle with wickerwork shields, babies were put in woven cribs, and people were buried in woven coffins. Gypsies would make baskets from hedgerow materials, as did many more people during the Second World War, because all the willow (osier) beds were reserved for baskets to transport food and ammunition for the troops.
Two hundred years ago, willow was a huge industry. Weavers lived around areas that grew willow, and this included East Anglia. Basketry was a hugely popular form of packaging – it was used for transporting fish, dairy products, brick, stone, coal, and manure and also for woven animal muzzles, bird traps, eel traps, lobster pots, and coracles. Each area within a country usually had its own styles of baskets and containers, which could be very different.
The introduction of plastic has caused a huge decline in the basket industry, for both growers and weavers. The problem with plastic is that it’s cheap and considered disposable despite not being bio-degradable, so it creates huge environmental problems for wildlife and the planet. Years ago people would reuse their baskets until they fell apart, then compost them.
So what can we all do to help?
Answer: come and learn how to make a basket. Use it for shopping, and help save the planet!
It is vitally important that all traditional crafts are kept alive, so come and learn a craft – please don’t let them die out.