Various forms of plaiting, roping and tracking are used for bordering off or finishing.

An ordinary oval basket is made by preparing the requisite number of bottom sticks, preserving their length greater than the required width of the bottom. They are ranged in pairs on the floor parallel to each other at small intervals, in the direction of the longer diameter of the basket, thus forming what may be called the "woof," for basket-work is literally a web. These parallel rods are then crossed at right angles by two pairs of the largest osiers, on the butt ends of which the workman places his feet; and they are confined in their places by being each woven alternately over and under the parallel pieces first laid down and their own butts which form the end bottom sticks. The whole now forms what is technically called the "slath," which is the foundation of the basket. Next other rods are taken and woven under and over the sticks all round the bottom until it be of sufficient size, and the woof be occupied by them. Thus the bottom or foundation on which the superstructure is to be raised is finished. This latter part is accomplished by sharpening the large ends of as many long and stout osiers as may be necessary to form the stakes or skeleton.

These are forced between the bottom sticks from the edge towards the centre, and are turned up or "upset" in the direction of the sides; then other rods are woven in and out between each of them, until the basket is raised to the intended height, or, more correctly speaking, the depth it is to receive. The edge or border is finished by turning down the ends of the stakes, now standing up, behind and in front of each other, whereby the whole is firmly and compactly united, and it is technically known as the "belly." A lid is constructed on the same plan as that of the bottom, and tied on with hinges formed of twisted rods; simple handles may be made by inserting similar rods by the sides of two opposite stakes and looping them under the border to form rope-like handles of three strands. This is the most simple kind of basket, from which others differ only in being made with finer materials and in being more nicely executed; but in these there is considerable scope for taste and fancy, and articles are produced of extreme neatness and ingenuity in construction.

In addition to willows many other materials are employed in the fabrication of wicker-work. Among the more important of these is the stem of Calamus viminalis or other allied species - the cane or rattan of commerce - which is used whole or made into skains. Since 1880 the central pith of this material, known as "cane-pulp" or "cane-pith," has been largely used in Great Britain and on the continent of Europe in the manufacture of furniture and other finer classes of work. About the same period plaited rush and straw, often coloured, came into use together with enamelled skains of cane. It must be admitted, however, that basket-work in these developments has encroached somewhat on the domain of cabinet-making; for wood and nails are now much used in constructing basket-work chairs, tables and other furniture.

With splits of various species of bamboo the Japanese and Chinese manufacture baskets of unequalled beauty and finish. The bamboo wicker-work with which the Japanese sometimes encase their delicate egg-shell porcelain is a marvellous example of manipulation, and they and the Chinese excel in the application of bamboo wicker-work to furniture. In India "Cajan" baskets are extensively made from the fronds of the Palmyra palm, Borassus flabelliformis, and this manufacture has been established in the Black Forest of Germany, where it is now an important and characteristic staple. Among the other materials may be enumerated the odorous roots of the khus-khus grass, Anatherum muricatum, and the leaves of various species of screw pine, used in India and the East generally. The fronds of the palm of the Seychelles, Lodoicea sechellarum, are used for very delicate basket-work in those islands. Strips of the New Zealand flax plant, Phormium tenax, are made into baskets in New Zealand. Esparto fibre is used in Spain and Algeria for rude fruit baskets.

Various species of Maranta yield basket materials in the West Indies and South America; and the Tirite, a species of Calathea, a member of the order Zingiberaceae, is also employed similarly in Trinidad. Baskets are also frequently made from straw, from various sedges (Cyperus), and from shavings and splints of many kinds of wood.

The chief centres of English basket manufacture outside London are Thurmaston near Leicester, Basford near Nottingham, and Grantham. Large but decreasing quantities of light basket-work are made for the English market in Verdun, in the department of the Aisne, and in other parts of France; and great quantities of fancy and other work are produced in Belgium, in the Netherlands and in Germany, notably at Lichtenfels in Bavaria, at Sonnefeld in Saxony and in the Black Forest.

The import and export values of baskets and basket-ware, and of willows and rods for basket-making, have been enumerated in the Board of Trade returns for the United Kingdom since 1900, in which year basket-ware from foreign countries was imported to the value of £239,402. In 1901 the imports increased to £264,183; then they declined to £227,070 in 1905. The main sources of supply are shown in this comparison of 1900 and 1905:

1900.

1905.

Belgium

£72,031

£77,766

+£5,735

Holland

58,214

54,407

- 3,807

France

55,870

27,910

-27,960

Germany

33,155

22,892

-10,263

Japan

8,140

25,536

+17,396

Portugal

5,066

3,971

- 1,095

The increase from Japan (for 1904 the value was £52,377) and the decrease from France are remarkable.

The import values of foreign willows increased from £52,219 in 1900 to £62,286 in 1905, the most important exporting countries being: -

1900.

1905.

Germany

£22,594

£34,752

+£12,158

Belgium

18,800

11,864

- 6,936

Holland

9,771

12,750

+ 2,979

Small British re-exports of willows (£1808 in 1900 and £371 in 1905) and of baskets (£3785 in 1900 and £6633 in 1905) to foreign parts and British possessions are tabulated. No particulars of exports of British produce and manufacture are specified in the returns.

(T. O.)

[1] See the report of a paper by T. Okey, published in the Journal of the Society of Arts, January 11th, 1907.