From ancient times to the present, Native Americans have created baskets. In fact, basket weaving is one of the oldest known crafts. Native American Indian baskets range from very simple to elaborate and colorful works of art that took great skill to make. This artwork often involves secret techniques that have been passed down from generation to generation among Native American Indian mothers and daughters. It is not uncommon for a well-crafted basket to contain over one hundred thousand stitches! Below is information about different basket-weaving techniques, what materials were used in making them and the names of the tribes who made several well-known styles. Whether you are an adult or a kid, you will also understand why these baskets required the work of skilled artisans to produce them.
American Indian Basket-Weaving Materials
The materials that went into making baskets greatly depended on the geographic location and to a lesser extent, the traditions of the tribe.
Many Northeast Indians used sweet grass. The Southeastern tribes, including the Cherokee tended to use pine needles and wicker while the Northwest Indians used a lot of spruce root and cedar bark. Yucca and sumac were readily available for use by the Southwest Indians.
Basically anything pliable could be used in basket weaving as long as it was bendable and could form a shape.
Pitch, a resin which comes from Pine trees, was commonly used inside the baskets to make them waterproof.
Besides raw materials, tools were often needed to create baskets such as saws, knives, and an instrument to beat stiff pieces of willow or other raw material to make it more pliable.
After Native Americans encountered European settlers, natural fibers that had previously been used to create dyes in their baskets were replaced by colored embroidery thread that was much less labor intensive.
Types of American Indian Baskets
Utilitarian baskets were made to be functional or to be used for a specific purpose. Burden Baskets were utilitarian by design. The Apache made very colorful ones which were often waterproof. They were meant for carrying and storing.
Gathering baskets are a type of utilitarian basket which often has long straps to facilitate the gathering of berries. Some other utilitarian baskets include soup baskets, baby baskets, and ceremonial baskets such as those made for the sole purpose of being set on fire during a funeral ceremony.
Fancy baskets were primarily used for trade or gift-giving. They were beautifully crafted and elaborately decorated, often with vibrant coloring. The Pumo Indians of California were known for their feather baskets which contained meaningful designs and elaborate details.
American Indian Basket Making Techniques
Although there are variations to the basic methods, there are generally four types of basket weaving techniques.
Plaiting - start with a flat base and weave the strips in an under-over pattern upward from the base to create the sides. The result will be a three-dimensional basket. Examples of materials used in this type of basket would be palm or banana leaves or any other material that resembles the width of a ribbon.
Twining - Native Americans used roots and tree bark and crossed them though each other around the basket. By spacing out the twined rows, they were able to create things like fish nets. By making the rows closer together, they were able to create a usable basket.
Wicker Weaving - Often made from sumac and have a large and open shape. Some baskets were as large as 3ft (91.44 cm) in diameter.
Coiling - A popular Native American technique which usually involved grasses or another similar material stitched into a coil formation. Two types of coiling are open-coiling and close-coiling.