How to Do Cherokee Basket Weaving

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Reed and river cane are traditional Cherokee basket-weaving materials.
Reed and river cane are traditional Cherokee basket-weaving materials. (Image: Jupiterimages/BananaStock/Getty Images)

The Cherokee double-walled basket is the Southeastern United States’ oldest form of basket making, according to Peggy Brennan, a professional Cherokee basket weaver and teacher. Traditional basket patterns honor Cherokee traditions. Although mastery of complicated patterns requires instruction from a skilled teacher, basic Cherokee basket weaving is simple enough to be self-taught.

Things You'll Need

  • River cane or reed strips
  • Scissors
  • Shallow pan
  • Water
  • Towel

Preparation

Select your basket materials. Some basket weavers prefer to purchase reed strips from a craft supply store, while others prefer the challenge of gathering and splitting their own river cane. For those who gather river cane, Brennan recommends selecting two-year-old or older cane with approximately the same diameter as a thumb. Split each cane into several "straws" and strip clean before weaving or storing.

Soak the reed or cane until soft and pliable enough to shape. Freshly harvested river cane may require boiling to achieve adequate softness. Reeds may be soaked either before or after cutting, but for tougher materials like cane, soaking makes cutting easier.

Cut your cane or reed into strips. Your basket’s size determines the strips’ length. According to The Coulson Family basket-weaving website, strips that are 24 inches long will yield a basket that is approximately 4 to 6 inches tall. In addition, cut several long strips -- exceeding 30 inches -- for "weavers," which will be used later.

Weaving

Gather the shorter softened reed strips in two groups, each containing six strips. Hold the two groups of strips so they form right angles in the center, making a symmetrical cross. Position one group of strips vertically, and the other horizontally. Keep each spoke of the crisscross shape equal in length.

Bind the horizontal and vertical reed bundles together by wrapping a long reed strip, called a "weaver," several times around in a counter-clockwise, over-and-under motion. You are running the weaver over and under groups of reeds, rather than through individual reeds. For example, after you place the weaver under the top vertical spoke, you will place it on top of the left horizontal spoke, under the bottom vertical spoke, over the right horizontal spoke, and so on.

Begin weaving the inside bottom of your basket by dividing the reed groups into pairs. Instead of moving the weaver over and under groups of reeds, you will now move the weaver over and under pairs of reeds. Continue weaving, gradually shaping the basket sides after the bottom has reached the desired size. When one weaver becomes too short, overlap it with a new one and continue weaving. Stop weaving the inner wall approximately halfway up the length of the reed pairs.

Form the basket's outer wall by bending the reed pairs down so that they reach past the bottom of the basket, crossing the end of one pair over the adjacent pair. Weave your way toward the bottom, using the same over-and-under motion. Now that you are working on the outer, visible portion of the basket, tuck weaver ends in neatly. Continue weaving until the outer basket wall is level with, or very slightly beyond, the inner wall.

Trim the remaining reed pairs back approximately 2 inches, if necessary. Tuck the reed pairs into the basket, crossing over the adjacent pair. This creates a slightly scalloped appearance, and allows your completed basket to rest upright. Keep the ends from penetrating through the inner wall by tucking them into the space between the inner and outer walls.

References

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