History of Basketmaking

 
   
 
   
   
     
 

    The craft of basketmaking, as we know it today,  probably began soon after our earliest ancestors stood up on their hind legs and began to carry things from one place to another.  This would mean that we have been basketmaking for about 1 million years and we still do it today.  This is also the reason why every race of people on the planet today have practised, or still practice, the art of basketmaking as we are all descended from these early basketmakers who got up on their feet and walked out of Africa.  The earliest baskets were probably just a collection of twigs or grasses similar to constructions made by other animals.  Gorillas for example make a sort of bed from branches to sleep for the night and various small rodents make "beds" from straw, grasses etc.  I suppose these are the beginnings of basketmaking.  The real expert basketmakers of the animal kingdom must be the birds.  Some nests made by our feathered friends are quite intricate and are better than some of my earlier attempts at basketmaking.  I am not sure how long the birds have been making nests but the thought struck me that, since the birds are supposed to be the descendants of dinosaurs,  then perhaps basketmaking is a very, very old craft indeed!    Once the technique of twisting or weaving the material had been discovered all sorts of new basket designs began to emerge.  Fish traps, rucksacks, matting, cooking pots, boats and even houses all were made using basketmaking skills.  Gabion Baskets which are made like cylinders with open ends were used as protection for soldiers against cannon and musket balls. They were stood on end and filled with soil and were very effective. Sometimes these gabion baskets would be filled with wool or straw and rolled in front of advancing troops. These skills which, as we see, have been developing for a considerable time probably reached their peak a few hundred years ago.
   
    As I said earlier, basketmaking is practised throughout the world the only variant being mainly due to the availability of suitable materials.  In colder climates the trees, willow and birch offer suitable material while in the more tropical regions, bamboo and cane are used extensively.  Where suitable trees do not exist then various grasses, rushes etc. are used.

Medical Problems

Basketry is very hard on the hands and arms. It is very easy to cut yourself with the knife. A very common complaint when you first start basketry. This, although very inconvenient, is usually quite quick to heal and not a very serious problem although it is possible to pick up quite nasty infections from the knife. One of these possible diseases is:-

leptospirosis

Damage to the tendons is quite a common problem and can stop you basketmaking for a considerable time. It is therefor a good idea to try to avoid tendonitis is possible. Don't work for long periods. Take a lot of breaks and if you feel any pain or tiredness then stop and take a rest. There are a number of exercises which you can do to help strengthen the muscles and tendons. A good website for information about this sort of injury is:

http://www.nismat.org/index.html

Another problem which has come to my attention recently is the effect of toxic substances on the raw materials. This might be weedkiller or pesticides which have been sprayed on the plants before you collect them. If you suspect that your material may be contaminated then always wash your hands after touching the stuff and avoid putting your fingers into your mouth.