Containers are undoubtedly an essential part of our kit, and in this luxurious modern world, we have access to all different sorts of materials with which containers can be made from. We can buy robust stainless steel kettles and ultralight titanium pots for cooking, slim rubber and PU coated nylon washing basins which fold flat and can be easily packed away, plastic canteens for water storage, etc. Virtually gone are the days when baskets were so important in daily life…nowadays, they are pushed aside into the decorative category and rarely given any practical use in the field. And while there are some basket-makers left, more people would rather buy pre-made baskets instead of learning the craft on their own. It is startling how much knowledge has been lost over the generations.
Seeing as how the invasive Asian Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) is such a problem in the eastern US, I resolved that I would make use out of some vines.
This bittersweet grows very aggressively and strangles trees, sometimes topping them over by weighing down one side. About the only good thing is that it creates thickets and homes for wildlife…but when not properly controlled, it will quickly take over a forest. The berries are mildly toxic and should not be consumed. However, the tangled vines can be woven into decorative holiday wreaths, drying racks, and open-weave baskets. They do not need any preparation and can be collected year-round. Harvest the green, flexible vines that are approximately 1/5 – 1/2 inches (.5 – 1.27 cm) diameter…otherwise you will have to carefully split overly-thick vines to keep everything even. Whether or not you choose to leave the bark on or scrape it off is your choice…just remember that it will adhere tightly to the wood during the cooler months, but during summer and spring, it can be removed easily.
Now, this post is not meant to be a tutorial – there are many excellent sources out there that explain the basket weaving process far better than I can. It should also be noted that there are numerous other natural materials one can use to make a basket with: willow shoots, cattail leaves, rose vines, pine needles and raffia, juniper bark, and birch bark, just to name a few. I am by no means an artist when it comes to basketry – my goal is functionality, not making a pretty design. The prettiness comes in when I weave Asian Bittersweet into wreaths ;). With so many vines available, the design possibilities are infinite.
Two foraging baskets and an autumnal wreath to hang over the front door :). For more colour, I added the leafy twigs of Japanese Barberry and Dog Rose hips to the wreath. The baskets are quite sturdy and resilient, and should last for many a year.