Basketry is made from a variety of fibrous or pliable materials — anything that will bend and form a shape. Examples include pine straw, animal hair, hide, grasses, thread, and wood.
The aborigonal tribes are famous for their coloured basket weaving techniques. To achieve a multi-coloured effect they first dye the twine and then weave the twines together in the most ellaborate fashion possible. These baskets may then be traded for goods but may also be used for religious ceremonies.
The type of baskets that reed is used for are most often referred to as “wicker” baskets, though another popular type of weaving known as “twining” is also a technique used in most wicker baskets.
Popular styles of wicker baskets are vast, but some of the more notable styles are Nantucket Baskets and Williamsburg Baskets. Nantucket Baskets are oversized and bulky while Williamsburg Baskets can be any size, so long as the two sides of the basket bow out slightly and get larger as it is weaved up.
The 'static' pieces of the work are laid down first. In a round basket they are referred to as 'spokes'; in other shapes they are called 'stakes' or 'staves'. Then the 'weavers' are used to fill in the sides of a basket.
A wide variety of patterns can be made by changing the size, color, or by placement of a certain style of weave.
The oldest known baskets have been carbon dated to between 10,000 and 12,000 years old, earlier than any established dates for archeological finds of pottery, and were discovered in Faiyum in upper Egypt. Other baskets have been discovered in the Middle East that are up to 7,000 years old. However, baskets seldom survive, as they are made from perishable materials. The most common evidence of a knowledge of basketry is an imprint of the weave on fragments of clay pots, formed by packing clay on the walls of the basket and firing.
During the Industrial Revolution, baskets were used in factories, and for packing and deliveries. Wicker furniture became fashionable in Victorian society. During the world wars thousands of baskets were used for transporting messenger pigeons. There were also observational balloon baskets, baskets for shell cases and airborne pannier baskets used for dropping supplies of ammunition and food to the troops.
The technique of weaving has been passed along, re-discovered, and expanded upon throughout the years, and is still being expanded upon today. Baskets were at one time used simply for storage and transportation of goods. Decoration was an afterthought at best. Today, functional baskets are still in use, but many are made for more decorative purposes. Patterns and “how to” books are now available for anyone to learn the craft.
Native Americans made their baskets from the materials available locally. In New England they wove their baskets from Swamp Ash. The wood would be peeled off the felled log in strips, following the growth rings of the tree. They also wove baskets from sweetgrass. Northwestern tribes used spruce root, cedar bark, and swampgrass. Southeastern tribes like the Cherokee used bundled pine needles. Southwestern tribes coiled baskets from sumac, yucca, and willow. In northwestern Mexico, the Seri people continue to "sew" baskets using splints of the limberbush plant, Jatropha cuneata. Arctic and Sub-Arctic tribes use baleen, and incorporate ivory and whale bone. Birchbark was used by Northern tribes like the Dene. Birchbark baskets are often embellished with dyed porcupine quills.