The Art of Making a Basket with Date & Palm Leaves

An interesting fact about the age-old craft of basket making is that, while many other crafts have become mechanised, no one has ever invented a machine that can make baskets. They are still handmade. It’s not an easy task to mass-produce baskets, even with the aid of molds, electric saws, sanders, and a multitude of “assembly line” processes. In fact, the earliest and most basic techniques of basket making are still alive and regularly used.

The process of producing a medium sized basket from date and palm leaves involves three main steps, and can take anywhere from 3 to 30 days, depending on the complexity of weave and density of the basket.

In the first step, artisans collect palm leaves and then leave them to dry under sun for about 3 days. Each palm stalk contains both hard and soft leaves that must be separated and severed from their base. Once dried, they scratch the palm with a knife to remove the cuticle and slice it to the required size.

In the next step, leaves are soaked in water for about 15 minutes, to make them pliable. At this stage, dyes are added if the basket is to have any other colour than its natural colour. Traditional craft calls for natural dyes, including ones obtained from the same plants’ bark and roots.

Last step is weaving. The artisan selects a bunch of long rushes, grass or straw and holding the sheaf (about as thick as a small finger), deftly starts winding the sliced palm/date leaf strips over the straw, binding it in the process. The basket centre begins to take a circular shape from the core, and is worked from the inside to the outer rim by increasing the ring into wider and wider circles, and raising the walls by pilling coil upon coil and fastening it at regular intervals. The spiral weave of the basket is held in place by interlacing the palm leaf strips between each layer, thus eliminating the need for any extra binding or sewing.

Each basket takes at least 2-3 hours to weave and an artisan can weave up to three baskets per day as their fingers work at mechanical speed after years of weaving.

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