The Art of Basketry
Basketry, also known as basket weaving or making, is the process of weaving or sewing pliable materials into three-dimensional artefacts - from simple mats to hot air balloon gondolas. It is one of mankind’s oldest crafts and is found in almost every corner of the world; in fact, anthropologists believe that that there has never been a tribe in any part of the world that has not employed some form of basket weaving, and that all the weaves in use today have their origin in baskets made by our ancestors.
Older than both stone carving and pottery, basketry is also often cited as the origin of all the textile arts of the world and called the mother of the pottery.
While basket weaving is one of the widest spread crafts in the history of any human civilization, it is hard to say just how old the craft is, because natural materials like wood, grass, and animal remains decay naturally and constantly. So without proper preservation, much of the history of basket making has been lost and is simply speculated upon. The oldest baskets found to date were discovered in Egypt and have been carbon dated at 10,000 to 12,000 years old.
Plants are the cornerstone of basketry, as their natural fibres, twigs, stems, leaves, vines and bark are woven into both ornamental and utilitarian forms. There are generally five types of basketry. “Coiled” basketry tends to use grasses and rushes. “Plaiting” uses materials that are wide and ribbon-like, such as palms or yucca. “Twining” uses materials from roots and tree bark. “Wicker” and “Splint” baskets use reed, cane, willow, oak and ash.
A thorough and steady training of twelve months is necessary to become proficient, and three years to acquire sufficient accuracy and speed (training the eye for shaping and the hand for regular and even weaving) to be able to fill correctly orders for special designs, and to reproduce models from specified measurements.
In Pakistan, basket weaving is a well known craft, and every province has its own unique way of making the craft their own. Punjab leads the pack, with some of the most skilled weavers in the country, producing colourful wares for local as well as international market. Using wild growth from river banks as the foundation, wrapped with date tree leaves that are boiled in different colours, craftsmen create beautiful baskets that are eco-friendly, sustainable, multi-functional, easy to clean, make excellent hot plates, and can last decades when cared for.
Sindh follows the lead, where local community of artisans utilise date leaves, branches of plants, wheat husk, dry grains, and other raw materials to create wonderful handicrafts that help supplement their family income. Woven primarily by women in their homes between harvest seasons, these baskets also create a source of income for a part of the population that does not have other options to earn a living.
As both demand and popularity of hand woven date-palm leaves baskets have increased in recent times, the craft is no longer limited to villages and rural areas. A handful of institutes in metropolitan cities like Lahore and Karachi now teach the craft to urban population, pushing forward a sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.