How to Make a Sweet Grass Basket

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Saw palmetto leaves are used to stitch the coils of a sweetgrass basket.
Saw palmetto leaves are used to stitch the coils of a sweetgrass basket. (Image: Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

Sweet grass baskets are coiled baskets made by members of the Gullah community near Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina and on the Sea Islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. The craft is based on a traditional African coiled basket form that enslaved Africans brought with them to South Carolina in the seventeenth century. The coiled bundles are made from the Muhlenbergia filipes plant, commonly called sweetgrass, but you can also use long pine needles. The fiber used to sew the coils together typically comes from the plant Sabal serrulata or saw palmetto.

Things You'll Need

  • Plant material such as sweetgrass or pine needles
  • Plant fiber such as saw palmetto
  • A pointed instrument, traditionally a sharpened spoon handle

Tear a saw palmetto leaf into long strips about 1/4 inch wide. Take a bundle of the sweetgrass fiber and align the ends of the fibers at one end of the bundle. Wrap one of the palm leaf strands around the end of the bundle and then fold the bundle back on itself. This is the beginning of the bottom of the basket.

Begin to coil the bundle of sweetgrass around the center fold. Every 1/2 inch or so, poke a hole in the bundle row below with the pointed instrument. Thread the end of the palm strip through this opening in the bundle. Bring the palm strip back over the top of the new row you are adding. Poke another hole in the row below and thread the palm through, securing the top bundle in place.

Continue coiling around the circle, poking holes in the bundle below the row you are working on, adding new rows of sweetgrass bundles and securing them with the palmetto strands. When the bundle begins to get thin because you have come to the end of one of the strands in the bundle, add another piece of sweetgrass by poking it into the bundle. Continue splicing in new pieces of sweetgrass as you go.

Cut a new strip of saw palmetto when the first one is used up. Leave a bit of the previous piece sticking out, which you will darn in later. When the basket bottom is big enough, begin shaping the basket sides by adding new bundles at right angles to the previous rows of the spiral. Work up the sides of the basket by continuing to add new bundles and stitch them down with saw palmetto fibers.

Continue adding new coils until the basket is the height you desire. Stop adding new fibers to the sweetgrass coil, so that it gradually becomes smaller and smaller and finally dwindles to nothing.

Tips & Warnings

  • Sweetgrass baskets are made in many different shapes and sizes, with handles and decorative fibers in different colors.
  • You can make a lid for your basket in the same way that you made the bottom of the basket. You can make a handle for the lid by coiling a tiny basket for the knob before beginning the wide lid of the basket.

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