These baskets are usually started with the making of the hoop that is the top of the basket. This hoop can be of any shape. Generally baskets of this type have a round or oval hoop. This hoop is often made in advance and then dried so that its shape is not distorted by the pressures of the rest of the construction.
This may be made in various different woods…including willow, hazel, rattan etc. Willow has the disadvantage of an obvious taper to each rod. This means that the possible size of the hoop is quite limited. A thick rod of willow would be used to create the hoop by bending it round and estimating the size. The ends are then tapered to fit together. The thick end or ‘butt’ goes on the top of the join with the taper on the inside and the thinner end has the taper on the outside. This join can be tied together using a thin skein of willow.
Size can be increased by using two rods. Oval frame baskets are often made like this. Larger hoops are usually made of hazel or rattan. Sometimes layers or strips of wood are used.
Making the basket
Once dry the first ‘rib’ or ‘ribs’ of the basket are attached to opposite sides of the hoop, away from where the hoop join is. The weaving takes place from both sides with other pairs of ribs being added gradually. The basket is finished with weavers added in the very centre.
These ribs can be rods of willow, slightly thinner than used for the hoop, either whole or split. Different forms of frame basket may use split oak or hazel ribs. Split rods mean the basket has a flatter weave. Liz Balfour noted to me that she had not seen a Scottish willow frame basket with split ribs. She said this was much more common on the Irish frame baskets. Alisdair Davidson shows how to attach the first ribs here.
There are various methods of having a handle on these baskets. Often finger holes are used with gaps being left in the weave directly under the hoop, sometimes with an extra short rib inserted. Two hoops can be attached together at right angles, often with the ‘gods eye’ weaving. Alisdair Davidson shows how to make a gods eye here. This makes a bow handle. This can be left as it is or wrapped.
This basket maker appears to be using hoops made of shaved wood with shaved wood ribs. In the background are two hoops joined together ready for the next basket to be woven. Note that where his hands are there is no weaving. This basket is not yet finished. More weavers would be added in. We can see the pile of willow behind him that he is using as the weavers.
A similar handled frame basket became known as an egg basket. Alisdair Davidson describes it…’ This one is more for…egg basket. Its because of that bit there. (showing frame basket with the centre rib of thebasket higher than rest) This ones not very pronounced that’s why I’ve still got it. This should be higher up, so’s you’ve got your eggs lying on either side, rather than being in the bottom where if you tilted it they would all roll and smash, you have quite a ridged one. This one should be a lot further up’.
This basket was a particular form of the frame basket made using five hoops. Three hoops of a similar size and a pair of smaller hoops. Ribs would be added later.
On the left you can see the inital five hoops being woven together and on the right is the finished basket. Note all the extra ribs at the side. This finished basket has been made in stripped willow with the weavers having been skeined. Skeining is where the willow rod is split lengthways into two or more. These new pieces are called skeins. Using skeins makes the material go further and the basket lighter.
The weave used is a simple one. Thin weavers are woven alternately in front and behind the ribs and then right around the frame, usually twice around the frame on each side.
On this rattan basket each rib is started at the frame making a very neat line of ends.
The skill in the basket is both in the making of the hoop(s) and the creation of the shape by the correct length and positioning of the ribs.
These baskets are also made using a frame construction. Two oval frames of a similar size are used. One is placed inside the other and the ‘ends’of the ovals are bound together using the ‘Gods eye’ method. The ribs are placed to form the rugby ball shape.
Dawn Susan, based on the Outer Hebrides, gives an account of her experiences making this type of frame basket. Here described as a mudag.
Making a mudag
Funny how life sometimes gives us second chances. I was asked by the Highland Folk Museum to make them a mudag a few years ago. I thought it unlikely I would make another but then about a month ago Sheila Henderson, who has been coming on my basketmaking workshops, emailed me to say that Uig historical society, Lewis, who have a small museum in Uig community centre, were doing a spinning and weaving exhibition. I asked her if she knew about these strange shaped baskets, with a variety of names…that I know as mudags. She was able to look at the one on this site. So the society commissioned me to make one for them.
We don’t know for sure that they were used here…hopefully it may be through the exhibition that someone will remember them, although possibly they may have died out in use outside of living memory. Dr Evelyn Baxter collected one on Skye where it was known as a ‘crealagh’. There is a good photograph of it in Dorothy Wright’s book ‘The complete guide to Baskets and basketry’ and she gives the dimensions. Length 19 ½”, diameter 12” and opening 6 ½” x 5 ½”.
On my first attempt I remember making the two oval hoops to approximately 19”. However as the basket progresses with the ribs added and gradually woven from each end, the basket elongates under the pressure. So it ended up being longer and thinner than planned! So this time I made two roundish hoops about 16” diameter. This did the trick and my mudag ended up with perfect dimensions!
One thing that I couldn’t tell from the photograph was the number of ribs used. It looked like there were 5 in each of the hoop sections. However to weave continuously round and round you need an odd number to enable the weave to be opposite each time. So I added and extra rib in one of the sections.
It is quite a challenge to keep an even and rounded shape! But was reasonably pleased with this my second attempt!
See also Muirlags in the basket-types section. Alisdair Davidson shows how to make a gods eye here