Coiling Baskets With Cable Ties





Introduction: Coiling Baskets With Cable Ties

Coiling, as a technique for making baskets is many thousands of years old and was done on every continent except maybe Antartica. The basket that baby Moses was supposedly floated down the Nile in was most likely coiled out of local rushes. That said, I figured this method was long overdue for an update.

I started learning about basketry because I saw it was an excellent medium for recycling and repurposing materials. When I first learned about coiling, I knew I was hooked. Anything long and flexible can be coiled into baskets, rugs, and almost any sculptural shape you can imagine. You generally have a long rope like core material which is then built up and lashed together in coils. My techniques are really very traditional. It's my materials that make my work look so different. In truth, anyone with a little patience can do this.

So, lets gather some tools and materials and get rolling. My intent here is not to give you a detailed set of instructions to make one specific basket. Instead, I'm giving you a basic technique for working with these materials to make almost any vessel or form you can imagine.

Step 1: Tools and Materials

Core Material - 1/4" poly tubing, 50 ft.

For this instructable I'm recommending 1/4" o.d. poly tubing like you'd use to hook up an ice maker (white) or for drip irrigation tubing (black). It's available in any hardware store. (If you like this first project, I highly recommend experimenting with anything flexible enough to work for you that catches your fancy. I've worked with materials from garden hose and rolls of tickets, to traditional materials like grasses and pine needles.)

Cable Ties - Roughly 1/8" wide x 5 1/2" long (3.5mm x 140mm), I used 222 for this small demonstration basket but 1000 would be a good amount so as not to limit yourself.

You might want to go online for these. Local stores might not even have 1000 on hand and will probably have them in bundles of 50 or 100. If you can get them by the thousand, they'll be much cheaper.

Center Piece - roughly 2" diameter or larger (see next step)

Sharp Knife or Shears

The only tool you must have for this project is something to neatly cut the tubing at a shallow angle to start and finish. A sharp knife (with a blade longer than a box knife) or a sharp pair of utility shears will work. Large side cutters will also work if they have a 1" or so depth of cut.

Tweezers and/or Small Flat Blade Screw Driver

These can be handy for pushing the ties back and forth after they're attached to keep your rows neat.

Step 2: Find Your Center

Since the tubing won't bend well below a certain radius, you need something that you can lash the tubing to in order to get started. I like valve handles or drain covers but anything big enough to bend your tubing around without folding it, and with holes or openings around the edge that you can lash to, will work. Here are some examples. Click to enlarge for more detail.

1) A nice rusty old valve handle

2) A vintage tub overflow drain plate

3) An older valve handle wrapped with waxed linen cord

4) A new shower drain used with garden hose

5) This center was made from short (3/16") sections of the same tubing used for the core. I stitched many pieces together to make a center large enough.

Since we're working with plastic tubing and zip ties, hardware stores or junk shops are a good place to look. Wheels from broken toys might work, as would things like metal jar lids or poker chips if you drilled holes around the edges to lash through.

Step 3: Getting Started

Your first step will be to cut the end of your tubing at a shallow angle as shown in the first picture with the long point to the inside. This will provide a smooth transition when the coil completes it's first full circle and moves on top of the starting end.

Secure it to your center piece with a cable tie so that the tail of the tie is passing under the core and pointing toward you. Position the pointed end of the core so that the point is right next to the adjacent hole so that on the next pass, the core will ramp over it right after being secured to your center. (1st & 3rd image) Continue fastening the core to the center with ties at each hole until you come full circle. The ties should be just snug enough to hold the core in place against the center but not overly tight. If you wrench them down to tightly, you'll have a hard time slipping in the tie for the next row.

When you get back to your starting point, continue over the first coil and start lashing the second coil down to the first coil. Put your next tie just past the first tie but as close to it as possible. Continue stitching around until you have 3 complete coils.

Step 4: Keep It Orderly

As you go, keep an eye on your coils to insure that they stay flat. If you look at them from the side as in the 1st image above, you should notice that all the cable ties are parallel to each other at a slight angle downward from the the flat plane of the bottom. A unique aspect of coiling with cable ties is that you can control the shape of you basket by watching and controlling the angles of your ties.

This is a good place to stop for a moment and clean up your newly forming rows of ties. Use the tweezers if you have some or a small flat blade screwdriver if you don't. You'll want to slide the ties snugly up against the ties from the previous coils bellow. Pay attention to the spacing between rows and keep this as even as possible. For reference, an imaginary line from one tie, to it's counterpart on the opposite side, should pass directly through the center. You can check this in the beginning by laying a loose cable tie across opposing ties to check their alignment.

Step 5: Adding More Rows of Ties

As the size of your basket increases, the distance between the ties will grow. When the distance reaches a certain point you will want to ad a new row between each of the original rows. I did this twice in this sample basket, increasing from 6 rows to start, to 12, and then again to 24. On larger baskets you'll need to keep increasing the number of rows as your diameter increases. If you start decreasing your diameter towards the top, you will need to then drop rows in the same way.

Step 6: Shaping the Sides of the Basket

Observing and controlling the angle of your ties as you add each one, will allow you to control the shape of your basket. When your base has grown to the point where you want the sides to come up, you can guide the shape upwards by changing the angle between the new ties, and the ties from the previous coil. The angles you see in the 2nd picture formed a fairly sharp but still gradual bend in the base. A smaller angle between the ties will give you a more gradual up turn. If at some point you want the sides to form a straight line again like the side of a flower pot, return to keeping the ties parallel to the previous rows.

Step 7: Finishing Your Basket

Your stopping point should be at the same point in the pattern where your first coil began. When you approach the final shape you want and are ready to finish, stop lashing about 3 or 4 spaces before this final stoping point. Lay your core into the path it will take and cut the excess material away a little past where the final tie will lash it down. Don't forget to leave space for the final tie with a little extra. You can see in the 2nd photo that I've inserted the last tie in place to help judge it's position.

Trim the end at a shallow angle like when you started, but this time the long end should be on top so it will neatly end the last coil without exposing the inner core. Finish lashing the last few steps. When you get to the final tie, be careful to keep it as close as possible to the one from the previous coil since the tapered end will make it want to slide away.

That's it, your done! Be sure to post a picture in the comments of what you made. If you want to try a more complicated shape and aren't sure how to go about it, ask me in the comments and I'll try to help.

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31 Discussions

Great idea!

I found zip ties in different colors, I made a small basket out of black tubing and hot pink zip ties. I trimmed all the zip ties so they aren't sticking out everywhere and I use it on my desk for ink pens.

Sorry for some reason I have been unable to load my pictures

1 reply

Thanks for trying though. You make a good point I didn't mention. You can get different effects by changing the direction of the ties or by trimming them.

Congrats on the win! Well deserved. Next old garden hose or tubing I get my hands on is getting coiled for sure!

Now THAT I want to see! You can do it this way. Ask if you need help.

It's Mardi Gras here, so I have other wearing apparel distractions, but I have the concept. I need to do some research first.

VOTED! Absolutely beautiful and this is something I can do in front of the TV! I love it! Thanks for sharing and good luck!

excellent combination of art /DIY /function.. Really creative images. thanks!

How very cool !!!! I have a bit of the wimpy in me a lot of zip tie and things I can coil with. Thank you so much I’m going to raid my shed right now!

Absolutely beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing :)

Bummer. I just saw this today...too late to vote. Check your email. I have some sculpture pictures that I am going to send. I think I still have them on my phone. Betty


2 years ago

awesome! how do you get to envision something like this?!

1 reply

I already had a bit of a zip tie fetish from my days in manufacturing. When I started learning basketry and was introduced to coiling, I instantly saw it as fertile ground for cable ties. My teacher and fellow students were quite surprised when after working with traditional coiled materials, I came in with one of these the following week.