Imagine for a minute that you lived 4,000 years ago. You are on your way home from a hunt and you come across the biggest berry patch you've ever seen. After eating your fill, you want to gather some to bring back to your camp. Unfortunately, you have nothing to carry them with and you don't think your family will appreciate a handful of smashed berries.
Enter.... The Expedient Grass Basket.
The most important feature of this basket is how quickly it can be put together. This one took me about 30 minutes, but I'm sure with practice I could get it down to 10 or 15 tops. It can also be made using all natural materials found in the wild. Making one of these would have been an essential skill for any primitive gatherer.
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Step 1: Materials
A wide variety of materials can be used to make a quick basket. For the main coil of fibers, any type of grass or sedge will work. I have even used pine needles before. Use whatever you have on hand and make sure you have a lot of it.
For the binding material you will need something flexible and strong. Many types of soft bark work well (willow or elm). For my basket I used dried cattail leaves. By bending them slightly and running them through my thumb and forefinger I was able to quickly find leaves that were both flexible and strong. If the leaf cracks or the fibers begin to separate during this process move on to the next plant.
Its important to make sure that whatever material you use it has been thoroughly dried out. Fresh cut materials will shrink a lot the first time they dry. This could warp your basket and make it unusable.
Step 2: Starting Your Coil
The simple structure of this type of basket is what makes it so quick to put together. The grass is bundled in a coil which is then wrapped around itself to form the body of the basket.
To begin your coil, grab a handful of grass and bend it to form a loop. The cattail binding is then threaded through the loop and wrapped back around the grass, binding it into a solid coil. The binding wraps can be as close together as you want, but remember that the closer together they are the more time it will take, and the more material you will need to use. Because we are trying to go quickly, a little bit of space is acceptable. I left about a half inch of space between each wrap.
Remember: As a primitive gatherer, you don't care how pretty your basket is. You care about utility!
Step 3: Forming the Base
Once you have a few inches of coil created, begin to bend it around itself in a circle. This will form the base of your basket.
Now, take your binding and wrap it through center of the circle you've created and pull it back tightly toward the outer layer of coil. I call this double wrapping. By double wrapping the inner layer of coil with the outer layer, you secure both layers together. Continue to wrap the outer layer of coil as before, but from here on out, every few wraps you will want to double wrap around the previous layer of coil.
Because this is the base of the basket, you may want to double wrap more than usual. This keeps the bottom of the basket tight and will prevent small seeds or berries from slipping out between the coils.
Step 4: Adding Grass and Binding to Your Coil
As you continue wrapping your binding around the coil, you will eventually notice that you are running out of grass to wrap. No problem. Just grab another handful and stick it up into the middle of the unwrapped end of your coil. I've found that it helps to bend the new grass back at the top when you stick it in. (This keeps loose ends of grass from getting all over the place.) Then, simply continue to wrap the coil as before. Double wrapping adds an extra layer of strength to a section where you have added new grass.
When you notice that you are running out of binding, take the end of your cattail leaf and lay it flat along your coil, running parallel to the grass fibers. Then simply grab a new piece of binding and wrap it around the end of the previous piece. If your coils are bundled tightly together, the coils themselves will hold the new binding in place. You can even wrap the binding once around itself for added strength.
Step 5: Forming and Finishing
One of the draws of coil basketry is that you pretty much do the same thing the whole time. Just follow the pattern: wrap, wrap, double wrap. Add grass and binding when needed. That's it! Just keep going. With practice you can get a nice rhythm down.
When you feel that the base of your basket is wide enough, begin easing the coil slightly up on top of itself. Keep up the pattern (wrap, wrap, double wrap). As you continue to do this you will form the walls of your basket. You will be amazed at how quickly the basket begins to take shape. Keep going until your basket has reached the desired size, or until you run out of materials.
To finish off the basket, give your coil a few strong double wraps and then cut off the excess grass.
Total time: 40 minutes (30 for coiling and 10 for collecting materials)
Step 6: Enjoy!
It may not be pretty, but its fast and efficient. Perfect for the primitive gatherer who needs a basket in a pinch.
Now my friend, gather your berries and carry them home to your waiting family! Not only will they be grateful for the delicious treat, but they will marvel at your skill and ingenuity.
Toss your basket in the fire when empty. You can make another one any time.
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