Japanese ikebana basket

My best Christmas present was from ESP’s parents – who previously presented me with the tortoise shell.

It’s a Japanese ikebana basket (ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arranging). The basket is made of woven bamboo and dates from the early 20th century. It’s about 20cm high, has a lovely leather-like patina and is signed on the bottom.

The smooth rim contrasts with the texture of the woven body and the knotted handles and ornamentation. It’s amazing what delicate work can be done with bamboo – there’s an interesting article here on Japanese bamboo baskets through the ages.

Plarn coiled bowl

I’ve written before about knitting and crocheting with plarn (plastic yarn). But you can also use plastic like any other yarn or fibre to make coiled baskets or bowls.  Cindy’s method of making plarn is best for this, as the joins are relatively smooth and you don’t get big knots sticking out (unless that’s the look you want).

The main problem with using plarn for coiling is that it’s quite fragile. It depends on how thick the plastic is, of course – the bags I used for the bowl in the photo above were very thin. If I pulled the plarn hard, it stretched; if I pulled even harder, it broke. But the wrapping needs to be quite firm, especially the wraps that join two coils together. So it takes a bit of practice.

I also found it easier if the strands of plarn are not too long. I joined two loops of plarn, started wrapping, and when I had nearly reached the end joined on another two loops. If it’s longer than this the plarn tends to get caught or tangled, and there was more risk of it being stretched or broken as I tried to untangle it.

The bowl I made is a bit ‘fluid’ in places (‘expressively organic’, I’d say!). But it was very satisfying to make, and I’m going to try some more.

Coiled baskets

Last week there were only five of us in class – a rare luxury (for the students) of lots of space and attention. Everyone ended up working on different techniques, such as knitting with paper strips cut from magazines and sewn together, or weaving strips of pelmet Vilene dyed in the heatpress.

I’d missed the previous week’s class because I was on holiday, so I decided to have a go at making a coiled basket. Essentially the principle is that you wrap strips of one material (in my case raffia, but you can use strips cut from plastic bags or fabric) around some kind of cord (sash cord is ideal, as it doesn’t fray, but it’s rather expensive, so I used nylon clothes line). As you wrap the cord, you also coil it around itself, and then on every fourth or fifth ‘wrap’ you thread the wrapper through the previous coil to bind the whole vessel together.

By coiling the cord around the outside of itself you produce a flat disc; if you want a 3D version, you coil it on top of the other coils. Indian and native American baskets are often made this way, using materials like split twigs and yucca fibres.

You can also produce ‘open’ structures by keeping the coils apart and binding them only occasionally where they come into contact. I decided to try both methods in a bowl with a flat bottom and open sides.

Work in progress - the bottom of the basket is closely coiled, while the sides are more open loops
Nearly there - I'm not sure how to finish it off!

Coiling is quite a slow process, so I took the basket home with me to do some more work on it. The problem is, I’m not quite sure how to finish it off, so at the moment I have a bit of the blue nylon washing line sticking out! I’ll have to ask my tutor on Wednesday.