Styles of Woven Baskets

Shalina Ramirez-Melton

Woven baskets have many practical uses, from storage and organization to ornamental and decoration. Basket weavers have been creating woven baskets from various grass types for thousands of years. Techniques such as coiling, twining, plaiting and twining are used to make different styles of woven baskets.

Woven baskets vary by style and technique.

Some of the nation’s most common styles of woven baskets include Nantucket and Williamsburg.

Shaker Ash Basket

The Shakers were a religious sect well known for their simplicity of design and quality manufacturing. The group is said to have learned basketry from the Algonquin Indians, who were also trading partners. Perhaps the most important element in Shaker basketry was the use of wooden molds to ensure accuracy in size and shape. This also allowed the group to produce baskets in commercial quantities. Shaker women produced most of the baskets, while the men worked black ash wood into weavable strips and manufactured basket handles. This guaranteed efficient production and high output, generating a large dollar income for the community.

Nantucket Lightship Baskets

No other style of woven basketry is as unique to its birth place as the Nantucket Lightship basket. These originated in the early 1700s by crewman manning lightships off the coast of Nantucket Island, Massachusetts. The whaling industry sent sailors abroad where they were introduced to rattan cane. This raw material combined with a solid wooden disc base, symmetrical ribbed staves, tight weaving techniques and the use of molds, made Nantucket basketry sturdy and durable. The idea of topping a basket with a woven lid to create a lady's handbag was introduced in 1948. Today’s Nantucket basket handbags are adorned with various decorations, such as a carved ivory whale or scallop shell. This style of basketry has become a symbol of Nantucket Island. Many of these baskets are considered family heirlooms, passed on to generation after generation.

Williamsburg Market Baskets

The square-to-round shape of Williamsburg market basketry was common in 18th-century Virginia. Rounded hardwood handles made the baskets comfortable to carry, and the design was sturdy enough to tote vegetables home from the market. Colonial Americans also used Williamsburg baskets to haul grain, store sewing implements and carry eggs. Its strength and durability made white oak wood the preferred construction material for this style of woven basketry. Some Williamsburg market baskets required a tight weave and top to retain small items. Those used for harvesting crops had large gaps to let rocks and dirt sift out.

Ribbed Basket

Ribbed basketry features the God’s eye wrapped pattern on each end of the basket where the handle meets the rim. This style is known as the buttocks basket because of its shape. Other regional names include melon basket, fanny basket, peanut basket, gizzard basket, bow basket and egg basket. American ribbed basketry originated in the early eastern colonies, brought over by settlers from Great Britain. As the colonists headed into the mid-Atlantic, so did the ribbed and buttocks egg basket. Native Americans also wove this particular style, influenced by basketry entering their territories. Most traditional styled egg baskets were made of split hardwoods. However, early settlers experimented with whatever grew in their area, such as honeysuckles and other native vines.