Basket weaving is the most unlikely of survival skills and, compared to learning how to build shelter, is not the first one you and I should master. However, after teaching my children and some school friends that basics of basket weaving, I started to realize anew what a handy thing it is to know how to do. (It’s something I used to do in my single days, when I sat down for longer stretches of time.) Whether you need some quick plant pots for gifts or indoor herbs, or whether you’re out on a hike and score some wild berries, here is how to make your own plant pots and baskets.
If you’re interested in more seasonal activities, be sure to sign up to be alerted at the release of our next book, Homestead Holidays! Full of seasonal celebrations, foods, crafts and fun to enjoy each month of the year with your family.
Making Plant Pots and Baskets a Survival Skill?
Hopefully your survival won’t depend on your ability to weave plant pots or a basket to carry stuff in – but your happy, berry picking afternoon might depend on it. When we lived in North Carolina, we would often go walking in the woods. Our backyard was pretty much a forest, since trees grow like weeds in that beautiful state. Blackberries, herbs and wildflowers grow abundantly all over, and every now and then, we’d want to carry some home.
Here in Utah, as well, we find elder berries and mullein in abundance. As a mother with young children, I don’t take anything into my hands that I don’t absolutely need because, at any moment, someone might decide to fall into a lake. It often happens that I’m out with nothing in which to carry our treasures home. The one plastic bag I have has usually been stuffed full of the wet clothes from the lake incident.
No big deal, because we can weave a quick basket from the natural materials that are all around us!
Likewise as winter sets in, it’s fun to bring in a few herbs to enjoy during the holidays, and these quick baskets make wonderful rustic plant pots.
Basket Weaving with Children
Basket weaving is something that even children can do. You will most likely need to help kids at first, but after a time, they’ll take off on their own. I do recommend for grown ups and kids alike that, before you begin basket weaving, you try your hand at wreath making.
You can find our post on wreath making by visiting this link.
Wreath making is a different process than basket weaving, but the techniques are similar. Learning the smooth in-and-out weaving of wreath making is a good step towards mastering the slightly trickier motions in basket and plant pot weaving.
If crafts with kids are something you aspire to do more of, I can highly recommend the classes through Craftsy. My kids and I have gone through several and we love them
Basket Weaving with Natural Materials
You don’t have to be in the woods or mountains to find sufficient vines and pliable branches to make a small basket or a plant pot. There’s usually a great supply of basket making materials in your own backyard.
I’m writing this in the fall, which is a customary time of year to cut back some of the vines, bushes and trees in your landscape in order to prepare them for the coming winter months. Where I live, winter means snow and snow means, you definitely want to clean up wayward branches and limbs so that snow load doesn’t cause them to snap, doing damage to your plants.
You can certainly chip or shred these materials, and add them to your compost pile for the winter. Or, you could simply add the leaves to the compost and keep the semi-woody material for basket weaving!
Some natural materials to use for basket weaving that have worked well for us are:
Grapevines – the best, in my opinion, because they’re strong, pliable and gorgeous.
Ivy – incredibly strong and easy to use and it’s also very pliable. The younger vines are very smooth, and will sometimes slip. So, I suggest using another kind of vine with ivy, if you’re new to basket or wreath making because the slipping can be hard to control.
Virginia Creeper – great texture with lots of traction. It is pretty brittle at times but, even if it breaks a bit, it often works out that you can just keep weaving right over any trouble spots and it holds just fine.
Honeysuckle – the younger vines are wonderful for securing handles, wayward branches and as a secure last layer over the top to finish things off. The thicker, older vines are very sturdy.
Mulberry branches – the young ones worked really well as spokes (you’ll find out what those are), and were the best of what we had on hand this year in our backyard.
Really, anything that’s pliable will work. We’ve tried maple, lace vine, herbal branches, trumpet vine, jasmine and privet this year all with varying degrees of success. These materials are alive and have minds of their own sometimes. To make them even more pliable, you may want to pre-soak your vines for a 6-12 hours. (This makes it more fun for the kiddos, but don’t soak your baby for 6-12 hours.)
A note on wildcrafting materials:
If you are in a forest or open space area, be sure to check local, state and federal laws about gathering natural materials in a potentially protected area. Where wildcrafting (gathering natural materials for use) is permitted, do it responsibly, remembering to never take more than 1/3 of any plant at a time and to never disturb the roots. For more information on wildcrafting, click here.
This is the same respect you afford the plants in your garden when you prune them back so, if you’re a gardener, this idea won’t be new to you.
Basket Weaving Steps
A little disclaimer before we begin:
If you’ve been reading this blog any length of time, then you know that details are not my thing. It’s not in my nature to be precise – I do what I need to do to get the job done. When I do these tutorials I try really, really hard to be as specific as I can in the instructions because (thankfully!) not everyone is like me and attention to detail is a good thing. IF I MISS SOMETHING and you’re left thinking, “Wait, wha?!!”, please let me know!
Having said that, I will say this – these organic crafts are never the same each time you do them.
Because the materials you’re using are unique, each item you create will be, too. That’s actually my favorite part about them!
Bear in mind, too, that I’m showing you just one, simple method of basket weaving with natural materials. There are A LOT of different weaves. This one is meant to be field and child friendly. When using these as plant pots, you can fill in gaps with moss or coconut fiber, so don’t worry too much about little hands not weaving perfectly.
Grab your garden clippers and gather a huge pile of vines. Also find young, pliable branches of any shrub or young tree that will give you lengths of at least three feet. Anything shorter than three feet, for the most part, isn’t worth your time (but they make great miniature wreaths!). You always need more vines than you think you’re going to because branches break, your weaving compacts and, eventually, your baskets will shrink a bit as they dry.
Strip your branches of leaves. If you’re working with grapevines, Virginia creeper or something with similar curly tendrils you may want to leave those on, because they’re lovely and provide some traction while you’re weaving. You may also choose to leave a few leaves here and there on your finished product (how very artistic of you!), but do bear in mind that they will dry and shatter over time.
You can put all discarded materials on your compost pile, or in your fire pit. I usually put the leaves in the compost, and the scraggly bits I use for fire-starting material.
Pick five three foot long, strong but pliable branches – these will be the spokes of your basket. The spokes are the part that form he skeleton of your basket, and you will be bending them up to form the sides of your basket.
With these spokes, make a cross in your hand – three going one way and two going the other, with one set vertical and the other horizontal.
Take a thin and flexible piece of vine – honeysuckle is ideal for this, but anything thin and flexible will do.
Hold up your spokes in the shape of a cross, and place the end of the thin vine somewhere in the middle, with your thumb holding it in place.
Begin to weave over, under, over, under around the groups of spokes. The thin vine will be setting your cross in place, going over and under first the group of two, then three, then two, then three. When you reach the end of your vine – anytime you reach the end of a vine while making your basket – simply find a place to securely tuck that end. Its very Zen; you can feel when it’s secure and you’ve tucked the end well.
If you’ve ever made one of those God’s Eye crafts, you’ve done this motion before. This weave does not need to be fancy, because you’re merely setting your cross in place. It will be visible, but don’t obsess over it because you’re really just getting your cross to hold still in your hands.
Now that you have a cross, forget that and start thinking about a spider.
Slowly, and with a great deal of finesse as you weave, you’re going to be moving your spokes apart, so that they spread out to look like a spider’s legs.
Before you even begin to weave again (which you’ll do in a minute), carefully and gently pull apart the spokes. This is living material so go ahead and talk to it. Ask it to bend where you want it to go, and warm it up with your hands as you gently move the spokes. Go ahead and go all Earth Mother on your plant pot.
Take another vine, still pretty thin but strong, and place it just outside your last weave – that’s the vine that tied together your cross.
Hold the end with your thumb again, and start to weave but THIS TIME you’re going to weave with each individual spoke. So, you go over one spoke, and under the next – over one spoke and under the next.
Because you have an even number of spokes, once you’ve gone around your circle completely, you’ll notice that if you continue on, you’ll end up weaving the exact same pattern.
You need to cut out one of your spokes. Just cut out the one where you began weaving so that you don’t repeat your last pattern.
So, last time you went over, under, over, under. Once you’ve made a complete circle and cut out your extra spoke, you’ll be going under, over, under, over. Until you make it around again, and the pattern continues to alternate.
This pattern gives the basket strength, and makes a lovely weave.
As you weave, try to keep your vines tight and pulled in – don’t allow your vines to be loose and wobbly. The vines wills shrink as they dry, and if you’ve haven’t woven tightly, the basket can be floppy when dry. While you’re learning, though, don’t fret too much over it – just concentrate on one thing at a time.
However wide you want the base of the basket to be is how many times you add vines and keep weaving on the base part of your basket. Remember that your basket is limited in height and diameter by the length of your spokes. You’ll will be bending up your spokes to create the sides of the basket, which will give it its height.
Once your basket’s bottom has the diameter you want, pause from your weaving to once again gently bend the spokes. This time, you’re beginning to bend them up, to form the sides.
As you weave your sides, I find it helpful to pick up the basket and put it in my lap, turning it sideways so that I’m slightly pushing the spokes against me to coerce them to bend up to form the sides. Weaving the sides is the exact same motion you’ve already done. Secure your new vine by tucking it in near where you finished the last weave and begin to weave.
Keep adding layers of weave as you pull up the spokes to form the sides. Each time you go behind a spoke, really pull your weaving tight so that the spoke stands up and does its duty forming the sides of your basket. As you weave, stop every now and then to push your weaving down from the top – smoosh it together to compact the weave. Check to see if its leaning – if it is, gently but firmly push it the other way. You can try tamping it on a level surface to even it out, too. Don’t smash it, but do be firm, and make it see your point of view about how it should be shaped.
This is the part where you will really begin to think I’m crazy. You’ll look at your contorted spider, and be convinced that it will never look like a basket or a plant pot. By now you’ve probably already broken some vines, or are about to break a spoke (don’t worry, we can fix it). Just trust me. You’ll feel like you need a third arm but, in the end, you will have a basket.
IF YOU BREAK A SPOKE, DON’T PANIC!
If you break a spoke while:
- you’re still weaving the base (not very common but can happen), just start over.
- you’re forming the sides of your basket (much more common), then there are a few things you can do.
When you break anything as you’re weaving, see if you can get that spoke or vine to hold on, even if its just by a thread, until you can weave a few more layers around it. Each layer will secure your break in place and give it strength; even a spoke can be bound in place this way.
If your spoke is broken-broken, don’t pull it out. Simply find a spot near its original place where you can wedge that spoke, until you can get the weaving around it. Just wedge it and weave, layer after layer around it and the weaving will secure it in place.
Keep weaving up the sides until you reach the desired height, or until you are about four inches from the end of your spokes.
Compact your weaving by pushing it down again; check to make sure its basically level, and that the basket isn’t leaning one way or the other. If it is, prod until it looks better. Add a few more layers of weaving if you need to.
When you’re ready to finish off your basket, gently pre-bend the ends of your spokes. You’re going to be taking the end of your spoke and bending the end over to the hole of the neighboring spoke, wherein you will tuck it so that the body of the spokes lies flat against the top of your basket. When I say “top of your basket” I mean that last layer of weave you put on; the layer where you stopped weaving.
To get these spokes to bend and not break, you’ll need to warm them up in your hands and pre-bend the spokes to get them used to bending that far over.
IF YOU BREAK A SPOKE, DON’T PANIC!
Trim off the broken spoke until its level with the top of the basket. Find a scrap branch or vine of similar width, but that is pliable enough to bend from where your broken spoke is, over to its neighboring spoke. Insert one end of your scrap into the hole of the broken spoke (or some place really close by if you can’t manage that same hole). Push it down a few good inches until its secure.
Then, bend over the scrap, so that the loose end goes down into the hole of the neighboring spoke – push it down a few good inches, too.
Gradually make your way around the entire top of your basket. As you do, gently bend the end of the spokes down into the hole of the neighboring spoke. This locks in place that last row of weaving, and keeps all your weaving secure so that nothing will unravel.
Holy cow, Batman – you made a basket where there was no basket before! Or a plant pot for your container herbs! Congratulate yourself!
If you’d like to, add handles at this point. On most plant pots the handle will be purely decorative since the weight of the plant, soil and water will preclude their use.
Use pretty much the same method you did for replacing spokes, as you locked the weaving in place at the top. Find a scrap piece that will be big enough for the look you want to create. When forming a handle, you need to use a vine the length of the desired finished handle, plus a few inches on each side to shove down into the basket.
To secure the handle in the basket, find good openings and just shove the ends down until they feel secure. You can wrap the handles with more thin vine, basically tying them in place. If you want the handle to bear any weight, you may want to come back after the basket is dried and really secure the ends. You can do that with twine or thin wire wrapped in brown florist tape (to make it sticky and to camouflage it).
Plan to adjust the shape and compact the weaving multiple times as your baskets and plant pots dry. Be the boss, and make sure they dry in a way that you like. My favorite basket from this year is one that I fought the whole time I was making it. When I was done, I thought the shape was just so weird. I came back later and realized that I loved the shape!
While you’re weaving or when you’re done, you can insert some herbal branches to add dimension and fragrance. I prune my semi-woody herbs like lavender, tarragon and rosemary this time of year. So, I always have some on hand. Whatever herbal trimmings you don’t use, you can feed to the goats or burn in your fire pit or fireplace.
You can also add ribbons or raffia to make them extra purty. I’m not very crafty, so I’ll leave all that in your capable hands.
For Plant Pots
We used these baskets to create living, herbal Christmas gift baskets this year. We actually rooted most of the herbs for the baskets from cuttings we took from the summer garden. I was so impressed with myself for remembering to do that because I hardly ever do remember! It takes several weeks to get roots but once they were ready, they potted up beautifully in these baskets.
If you’re a visual learner, here’s a YouTube link for making a similar basket – he has a slightly different way of finishing it off and that way works great, too. Here’s another one that’s good – watch as many as you can to learn different methods!
Pretty Fall Things…
So, what’s your favorite end of season garden craft? There are so many things we can be doing in the garden this time of year!
Don’t discount skills like learning how to make your own plant pot or basket! These skills can be just as useful and beautiful as growing a pumpkin and building a chicken coop. They’re especially meaningful if the children can take part, too.