By Marilyn Hess
Baskets of various kinds can be seen being used in Old English Cuts and Illustrations, a collection of 18th-century cuts by Bowles and Carver (Dover Publications, Inc. New York, 1970) and many other books. They were used for storage and working equipment as well as carrying.
The British were known since Roman times for their basket-making skills and brought the rib-type construction from Europe. They introduced this construction to the Indians of North America. The Indians used baskets for everything from seed beaters to armor. They made snowshoes of hexagonal weave and nests of rectangular baskets to hold their clothes. The eastern Cherokees made waterproof baskets of river cane that was double-woven and coated with beeswax (G). Germans made coiled baskets of rye straw, wheat, rushes or even wire grass and sewed them with strands or spits of hickory or oak. The rye straw basket was used for bread raising, keeping sliced, dried apples and beehives as mice refused to eat through the baskets. They used large covered hampers to hold clothing and food. African Americans in the South made baskets by coiled sweet grass while the Southern Indians used split cane.
Materials that would be correct for the late 18th-century would be as follows:
Things that you should stay away from are Honeysuckle as a material, Nantucket Lightship baskets, cane or rattan from palm trees grown in India and the Philippines, bamboo from the Orient, Raffia from Madagascar and Shaker type baskets. Decorative curls on baskets didn't start until 1860.
The type of weaving done on the basket should be of the rib type, wicker (willow and Blackberry canes are often used in wickerwork), plaited splint, twill weave, twill and hexagonal plaiting, twining and coiling. The easiest basket to make is the square shape, then round, with oval being the most difficult. The bottom can be punched in to create a dome for spreading out the load to the outside of the basket where it is the strongest The handles can swell to a greater thickness in the center and also be short to just fit on your elbow. Most Indian baskets are flat- bottomed.
Names of baskets often expressed their uses. Here are some of the ones appropriate for our use:
Now, after all this don't you think you need a basket for storage rather than a heavy box? Baskets are light, practical and sturdy yet adaptable.
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SOURCES (and for further study ): The Pennsylvania German Collection, Beatrice B. Garvan, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Handbooks in American Art #2, 1982 (pages 253-257)
Early American Antique Country Furnishings, Northeastern America, 1650-1800, George Neumann, McGraw Hill, 1984, (pages 219-220)
After the Revolution, The Smithsonian History of Everyday Life in the 18th Century, Barbara Clark Smith, Pantheon Books, Random House, 1985, National Museum of American History, New York (pages 100-101)
The Baskets of Rural America, Gloria Roth Teleki, E. Dutton and Company, Inc., New York, 1975
Seneca Splint Basketry, M. Lismer, Iroqrafts, Ltd., Iroquois Publications, 1982
Antique Baskets and Basketry, A Collector's Guide, Francis Thompson, South Brunswick, New York, A. S. Barnes & Co., 1977 Collecting Traditional American Basketry, Gloria Roth Teleki, E. Dutton, New York, 1979
Basketry of the Appalachian Mountains, Sue H. Stephenson, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, New York, Cincinnati, Toronto, London, Melbourne, 1977