Technique: Basket Weaving
THE TECHNIQUE : BASKET WEAVING
Many of the artisans we work with at The Little Market use weaving techniques to create beautiful handmade baskets and bags. In the Bolgatanga region of Ghana, West Africa, artisans weave beautiful and durable baskets from thick, tough elephant grass. Basket weaving around Bolgatanga in Upper East Region serves as an example of the craft skills of women in the north, and each colorful basket can take up to a week to finish.
The process begins by harvesting tall elephant grass from local fields. The straw is bundled together, then dipped into boiling water and natural dye to gain it its vibrant color. The weaver selects the proper pieces of grass for each part of the basket, then weaves from the bottom up. Finally, an artisan applies a tightly wrapped leather handle to finish the piece. A classic icon of African craftsmanship, Bolga baskets from Ghana are known for their durability, unique patterns, and vibrant colors.
Across the continent, off the east coast of Africa, artisans on the beautiful island of Madagascar weave stunning bags and baskets from natural, sustainable materials. Madagascar is famous for its colorful baskets and local men and women use them to carry their everyday essentials. The stunning patterns and colors are influenced by Madagascar’s vibrant culture. Family businesses work together to develop the products and the entire production process of each bag can take up to a week to finish. For products like the Tassel Beach Bag, created by artisans working with Mar y Sol, the process begins by weaving the inner basket. The inner basket is made from a natural sea grass-like fiber and the weaver selects the proper pieces of grass for each part of the basket. Next, the outer shell is woven from dyed sisal, adding beautiful and bright colors to the bag. Finally, an artisan applies organically tanned leather handles and the bag is finished off with a playful tassel made from raffia palm fiber.
Talented artisans in Laos, which is located in Southeast Asia, weave baskets and boxes that are beautifully made from bamboo. There are many different types of this fast-growing tropical plant located in Laos and in forests of Southeast Asia; bamboo is also used for different reasons, such as for constructing houses, building sheds for animals, and weaving everyday products like household goods and clothing. The plant’s shoots can be boiled and eaten as vegetables, the stem can be used for building materials like fences, and the outer skin can be used for making baskets, purses, and more. There is a traditional bamboo pattern native to Laos, and artisans can make different patterns based on the use. Patterns are carried through generations, and many patterns are woven to represent the Lao culture. The artisans who are making products at Saoban Handicrafts are Lao villagers, and their primary occupation is rice growing.
Many Lao groups use bamboo to weave everyday products by hand. To make these boxes, the bamboo stem’s skin is stripped, and then the bamboo is scraped clean until the skin is left. The skin soaks in water over several days, making it soft. The villagers weave the skin into the products like boxes and baskets, and then they allow these products to dry for one or two days. The skin is the part of the bamboo that is used because it can be stripped into long and narrow strips that the villagers can use for weaving. The Little Market’s bamboo boxes are made by the lowland Lao ethnic group known as Lao Loum.
Artisans at JeevanKala in Nepal follow a traditional weaving technique to create products including baskets, bowls, and accessories; the technique has been practiced since the creation of the crafts program and is a Nepali tradition. JeevanKala works with two types of artisans — some of them bring ready-made crafts to JeevanKala, while other artisans work on a full-time basis. On average, one to three artisans are behind the creation of each product. Production time for these pieces varies depending on the size and complexity; it can range from a few hours to create an ornament to several weeks to create larger bins.
The materials used in the creation of JeevanKala products include organic grass-like material, recycled snack wrappers, twine, and needles, and the materials are also sourced locally. Artisans working with JeevanKala collect the organic materials, while the twine and needles are found in local markets. The organic-grass like material is covered with recycled snack wrappers, and either a multicolor or a metallic silver surface is added to the piece; the materials are woven in a circular pattern and held by twine that is threaded through every strand. The snack wrappers are found in recycling programs when cleaning up the villages in which Himalayan HealthCare, JeevanKala’s parent organization and a nonprofit, is operating. The basket weaving technique the artisans practice is used to create these beautiful products.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE ARTISANS
In the East African country of Rwanda, artisans at All Across Africa are making hand-woven baskets from locally grown sisal and sweetgrass. Each basket takes approximately two to three days for production. Rwandan women have been passing the skill and talent of basket weaving from generation to generation for centuries. These baskets can function as tools used by Rwandans, as well as ornaments, heirlooms, art, gifts, symbols of culture, pieces of tradition, and embodiments of friendship. In many ways, the baskets are closely tied to the country’s identity. They serve as a source of Rwanda’s pride and a livelihood for thousands of people.
Artisans in the Bolgatanga region of Ghana, West Africa, weave beautiful and durable baskets from thick, tough elephant grass. A classic icon of African craftsmanship, most Bolga baskets hold up to daily use for years on end. Today, Bolgatanga, known as the crafts center of Northern Ghana, with its surrounding villages comprise the largest producers of leather works and straw baskets in the country. Basket weaving around Bolgatanga in Upper East Region serves as an example of the craft skills of women in the north. The sales of these baskets have allowed many impoverished farmers in the Bolgatanga region of Ghana, West Africa to attain a sustainable way of living.
Based out of Nepal and a member of the Fair Trade Federation, JeevanKala is a social enterprise dedicated to supporting artisans and their economic development. In Nepali, “Jeevan” means life, while “Kala” means art. Therefore, the name JeevanKala means “Art for Life.” Each product from JeevanKala is artisan-made; JeevanKala currently employs approximately 200 artisans who are between the ages of 25 and 50. Many of the artisans working with JeevanKala are single mothers, widows, and individuals with disabilities. Many have also been affected by the caste system in Nepal and are known as “untouchables,” an oppressed group of individuals. Every purchase of products made by artisans working with JeevanKala goes toward supporting the artisans and their families and providing them with fair wages, as well as toward supporting the healthcare and education programs of Himalayan HealthCare, which is JeevanKala’s parent organization.
The women of Wolof Weavers of Senegal are proud to preserve the coil style of basket weaving by passing the technique from generation to generation. Traditionally, Wolof weavers used palm fronds and a thick local grass, called njodax, to create the coiled baskets. However, palm fronds were very rough on the hands of the weavers, so they decided to substitute them for recycled plastic strips. Today’s Wolof baskets represent the merging of traditional and modern techniques, and represent the beauty of the basket’s development over time.
Mar Y Sol, founded in 2003, works with several communities of artisans and family businesses in Madagascar to develop their products. Approximately several hundred artisans are involved in the production of their work, 80% of that being women. Each basket is woven from natural, organic and sustainable materials and is inspired by Madagascar’s vibrant culture. The Mar Y Sol team is committed to benefiting the communities of their artisans. Depending on the nature of their work and business, many of their artisan partners are given the leisure to work in their homes and offices, allowing families to stay together while supporting themselves.
Saoban Handicrafts is a social enterprise located in Laos, and the name Saoban means “villager” in the Lao language. A Lao NGO known as PADETC founded Saoban, which works to provide new and meaningful opportunities to artisans, improve product quality, and preserve cultural traditions. Within 10 provinces in Laos, Saoban has been working with hundreds of skilled and talented artisans. The artisans are village crafts producers, and the majority of them are from rural communities that experience poverty. More than 90 percent of the crafts producers are women, while approximately one-third of the group is from minority communities. The organization is committed to practicing fair trade principles and providing artisans with fair wages. Saoban provides resources such as micro-credits and basic training and helps these artisans work independently. Saoban also works with development partners to help artisans in their communities, such as with access to proper water and sanitation sources. All of the producer groups that Saoban works with are able to work from their communities and homes, allowing them to tend to other work as needed and to take care of their families while working.