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Basketry - Traditional Scottish Craft

Basketry or basket weaving is one of the oldest traditional crafts in Scotland.

Basket by Lizzie FareyThe skills needed to make baskets were developed in response to the necessities of everyday, rural life in Scotland but over time basketry has also become an art form.

Nowadays traditional Scottish basketry skills are used to produce decorative, sculptural pieces as well as functional items. In addition to using locally grown materials such as willow, heather and rushes, contemporary makers also experiment with new materials such as recycled newspaper and plastics.

The first settlers who arrived in the Hebrides 9,000 years ago made long baskets out of willow to catch fish. Over the centuries, basketry remained a common and essential skill throughout Scotland and was used to make vessels to store food, catch fish and shellfish, and carry heavy loads, particularly fuels such as peat from the moors to the home.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, crofting families in the Highlands and Islands made tightly woven grass containers to store grain and meal, and creel baskets for carrying heavy loads such as fuel, manure, crops and other goods.

Baskets were made and repaired beside the hearth during the long, dark winter months.

Creels are deep baskets that can be carried over the shoulder with straps made of leather or grass rope or in pairs across the backs of ponies. Creels are usually woven from strands of willow on a wooden frame.

A particular form of creel basket called the kishie was developed in the Shetland Islands.

Shetland is a predominantly treeless environment, so kishie baskets are made with Shetland oat straw and soft rush, both of which are more readily available on the island than wood.

A similar form of basket developed in Orkney was called a cassie, and was often made from woven heather.

There has been an upsurge of interest in learning basketry skills in recent years and there are courses held across Scotland.

Find out more about basketry:

Watch basketmaker Lizzie Farey:

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