How to Make a Paper Basket

Learn how to make a paper basket from recycled materials.

| April/May 1998

A good basket may be one of the most utilitarian and universal containers in human history. From cradling babies to Sunday picnics, these simple, handy containers have been a part of almost every culture. They are, perhaps, one of the most enduring forms of folk art. Basketmaking is still practiced today as much as in ancient times; the patterns and weaves have changed little over the years. Only the materials used to make the baskets has changed. In the past, if you lived near a creek or river, your baskets might have been made of willow or reeds. Near the mountains, pine needles might have been your choice. A city girl might have used scraps of cloth to make her baskets. Whatever materials our ancestors chose, their baskets were more than art: they were meant to be used. Yesterday, as today, baskets represent the heart and soul of folk art. A need is met-with both an intimate understanding of the environment and the desire for a thing of simple beauty.

Although basketry is still popular, most of us don't have ready access to willows or strong vines — without getting arrested! Sure, we could go to the craft store and buy them. But somehow, that's not as satisfying as gathering our own materials. It all comes back to the folk art idea. Something as personal and basic as a basket should reflect our environment. It should speak of our culture and tell future generations who we were.

And who we are is right in front of you, or rather it's in your hands. It's paper — magazines, newspapers, boxes, and bags — we're drowning in the stuff, and it's not going away. Paper is the single largest product of our culture. It's cheap, it's plentiful, and it's durable. Forty-year-old newspapers have been unearthed in landfills, neatly folded and ready to read. Paper is the willow and reeds of our culture. Let's stop fighting it and start using it. Making a paper basket with recycled materials, like grocery bags, is a great place to start. So let's learn how to make a paper basket!

A good first project to demonstrate the power of recycled paper bags is a garden basket. Garden baskets are handsome, easy to make and decorate, and chances are you have everything you need on hand. Although crafted of recycled brown paper grocery bags, they are extremely durable and can withstand being soaked and muddied over and over. I've discovered through experience that these baskets will withstand at least one full summer of rain and mud and, I'm ashamed to admit, one full winter of ice and snow. Just wash them off, reshape them a bit, and set them on a flat surface to dry. In fact, I'll venture to guess these baskets will outlive us all to be haggled over by yuppies at a farm sale. (For photos of the basket-making process, click on the Image Gallery link above.) Here's what you'll need:

  • scissors
  • white glue
  • brown paper grocery bags
  • brass brads or buttons
  • thread stapler
  • assorted scraps of ribbon, paints, stamps, raffia for decoration

For the smaller basket, you will need six paper bags.

First, carefully open the grocery bags at the seams. It is easiest to open the bottom first, then the back seam. Cut off the ragged edge lengthwise along the fold line.

4/3/2012 3:58:03 PM

I've written up my corrections here:

4/3/2012 3:56:32 PM

I've written up my corrections here:

Laura Zerhusen
1/28/2012 8:35:22 PM

I had to take my basket apart and re-do it. You have to fold the strips one more time than the directions indicate - so fold the two raw edges into the center, then fold the two folded edges into the center, then fold the strip in half. The finished strip is an inch wide, or just a little less. You also use 12 ribs - one more than the directions suggest - so once you've looped them all around you wind up with 6 ribs on each side of the basket. I haven't finished mine yet, so I'm not sure if I'm going to want 4 or 5 weavers around the sides. I used paper clips instead of staples to arrange the ribs when I was setting up the bottom, then glued them all in place before I began weaving the sides, so I won't need a second strip to run around the rim. I wound up leaving 1/4" between ribs, instead of 1/8". Hope this helps!

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