Over Two, Under One: Basket Weaving With Reeds

If you like working with your hands, basket weaving can provide you with beautiful objects for your home, to give as gifts, or to sell.


| January/February 1983


Everybody loves a basket! And whether you're using that woven container to tote vegetables from the garden, display fruit on your kitchen table, or just stash away an unfinished needlework project, you'll find that your satisfaction in the task is doubled if the basket is one you've made yourself.

Many types of material are suitable for basket weaving, but one of the best is reed. Strong, pliable, and light, reed comes from the core of the long shoots of the rattan palm, which grows in the tropical forests of many South Pacific islands. These shoots reach lengths of 200 to 600 feet as they trail over the floor of the jungle or hook onto other trees and plants. And once the thorny outer bark has been removed, the smooth, glossy underbark is stripped off in specific widths to be used for caning chair seats and such.

Beneath this layer is the actual reed — the core of the vine — which is harvested and machine-processed into round and flat strips of different diameters and widths. The sizes range in diameter from No. 0 at 1/64" (used for making miniatures) to No. 12 at 3/8" (used for sturdy handles). As a rule, the spokes — which are the ribs or framework — of a basket should be two numbers coarser than the weavers... which are the flexible strands that are woven over and under the spokes.

Reed is sold in one-pound bundles priced at approximately $5.00 to $7.00 each. It can be purchased either from craft stores or through such mail order suppliers as H.H. Perkins Co., the Cane & Basket Supply Co., or The Earth Guild.

On Nature and Bristles

Since reed is a natural material, each of the strands will have its own unique character. After you've soaked a bunch of them in water (the first step in the basket-weaving process), you'll find that some lengths are very strong and sturdy, others feel as soft as cooked spaghetti, and still others snap all too easily. To sort out the No. 5 (1/8") reed that's generally used for the basket spokes, leave an entire bundle in warm water for five minutes. Because the spokes must be firm and strong, you can then discard any that feel spongy or soft. No. 2 (5/64") reed is often selected for the weavers. All but the most brittle of these can be used. Do save the more pliable ones for starting the base of the container, though, as that's where the coils are tightest.

You'll have to use care not to soak too much reed at a time, because if the material is kept wet for too long, it becomes "hairy." Although some reed is naturally bristly, prolonged soaking will bring out these whiskers in droves! It's best to leave the selected strands in water for just ten minutes or so before using them, and then keep them under a damp towel as you work. [EDITOR'S NOTE: According to one authority, adding a teaspoon of glycerin to each quart of soaking water will help prevent fraying.] Any hairs that do show up on a finished basket can be burned off with a propane torch or over a gas stove, but do be sure to wet the container first and then move it rapidly over the flame or your masterpiece might catch fire! (Don't use a match or candle for this purpose. Either one gives off carbon, which will blacken your basket.)





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