Sweet grass baskets are traditionally woven of Muhlenbergia Filipes, a smooth grass. They are stitched with palm leaves of the Sabal Palmetto variety. Bulrush is a rougher fiber that is sometimes incorporated with the sweet grass for strength and because of a dwindling sweet grass supply. Long stemmed sweet grass grows between the marsh and the woods in stable, sandy soil. South Carolina is the center for this traditional coiled basketry of the native Gullah artists.
Peel the outer layer of saw palmetto stems off, with a knife.
Lay burlap across your knees, while sitting, and place the palmetto pieces on top of the fabric with the pithy side up.
Scrap this material away with a knife to leave the green skin.
Split the skin lengthwise, into narrow weaving strips.
Dry in the sun.
Store in a bucket of fresh water.
Gather sweet grass in the spring and summer by pulling it up. It slips easily from its roots.
Spread sweet grass to dry in the sun. Woven green sweet grass will shrink and produce a loose basket weave. Fresh grasses turn pale in a day.
Plan to make either a round or oblong basket. Only the first foundation rows differ for each shape.
Tie a small bundle of sweet grass into a knot to begin a round basket. For an oblong basket, tie a saw palmetto weaver around a coil of grass. Coils can be any diameter, just keep them consistent throughout the form.
Wrap a spiral of weaving material around the grass coil, at even 1/2-inch intervals.
Add sweet grass to the coil with the ends overlapping. Incorporate new grass, as you proceed along the rows, to keep the coil size consistent. Stagger the ends of the grass so the newly introduced fibers interlock with the established coil shape.
Bend the coil around itself so the second row lays next to the first.
Make stitches to connect the coils by wrapping palmetto strips over and under at regular intervals. Weave each row into the previous one.
Push a "sewing bone" through previous coiled rows to make a space to easily feed the weavers through the tight coils. Bones are often made by sharpening a metal spoon to a point with a file. A 20-penny nail also works.
Build row upon row, staggering the woven saw palmetto strips so they fall directly next to the one from the previous row. This creates a radiating pattern that flows out from the center of the basket.
Add new weavers when the one being used gets short. Overlap the ends and work the new one firmly into the course of the weaving.
Finish the coils by cutting the last six inches into a taper. Wrap the weavers to bind this last portion to the edge of the basket. Backstitch a few inches, to secure the end of the weaver into the last row.
- Sweet Grass, Muhlenbergia Filipes
- Palm leaves, Sabal Palmetto
- Fresh water
- Metal spoon
- 20-penny nail
Weavers are also called "binders". Sometimes the entire top edge of a basket is backstitched.