Basketry was a handcraft of early America. Baskets for carrying grain were made by the farm craftsmen from the native materials at hand. Expensive reeds and raffia were not used.
Baskets are still being made of native materials by craftsmen in the southern states. In Allen Eaton's book "Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands," is pictured a breadbasket made of grass coils, from Virginia, and a sedge grass and raffia basket made at Tallulah Falls Industrial Schools in Georgia. One afternoon the author visited the school and saw the young students coming in from a field trip with various grasses for their baskets.
It seems that everywhere baskets are made the coiled type is a favorite with the craftsmen. The different native materials furnish the variations in texture and form. Fundamentally, the stitch is what is commonly called the Lazy Squaw stitch, whether Indian, Chinese, Eskimo, or Mexican.
Native slough grass is an excellent core for this type of basket. The split sections of the common rush or strips of cornhusks make ideal raffia substitutes. Gather the slough grass and dry it as for the woven mats. Soak the grass overnight to make it more flexible. Between working periods, the basket should be dried to prevent molding. Dampen the piece before resuming work.
If cornhusks are to be used for the wrapping material, they should be torn into strips and dampened. These may be dyed. Common rush, found in marshy places near the cattails, should be cut and dried. Soak them in water before using them. They may be split to the desired width and the pith scraped out with a table knife or flattened and used whole.
The flat mat and round basket with a lid, Plate XVII, page 41, were made of slough grass wrapped with cornhusks. The whiskbroom also was made of these materials. Cornhusks bind the strands above the handle.
PLATE XVIII. Overlap the ends and hold them in place with the thumb.
Take a bundle of the grassy section of the slough grass, about the size of the little finger, and start wrapping the end with the cornhusk strips or rush. Lay the husk near the end of the grass and wrap over the grass as well as the end of the cornhusk. For maximum flexibility, hold the piece under water.
Press the wrapped portion into a coil and thread a darning needle with the end of the cornhusk strip. Then stitch around the first coil; bring the cornhusk strip around the outside of the grass coil and wrap it three or four times; stitch around the adjoining coil; wrap the grass coil again, and continue until it is necessary to splice the wrapping material.
In Plate XVIII is shown how the new piece of rush or cornhusk is added. Overlap the ends of the material about 2 inches. Hold them in place with the thumb, wrap over the short end two times to make it firm, and continue as before. Clip the extending ends later.
To add more length to the grass coil, add a few pieces of grass at a time by sticking them into the end of the bundle. Keep the coil even. The end of the coil of a completed basket or mat is tapered off by trimming the grass until it makes a smooth, wedge shape.
To give the basket form, lay one coil upon the other for vertical sides, or at a half step for a curved or an oblique shape.