Baskets in museums on Lewis

Museum nan Eilean

I went to the depository of Museum nan Eilean in February 2012 to see what baskets they had in store there. You need to contact the museum in advance to see these baskets as only a few are out at any one time in the museum itself.

Child’s creel, Museum nan Eilean childs creel

Most of the baskets have not been made here on the islands and are of limited interest. But there are several creels. I was particularly interested in the use of kuba cane in some of them, presumably because of its resistance to rot from seawater.

There are also some quarter crans from the fishing industry, presumably coming from Norfolk.

There is a cliff rescue helmet, the same design as one found by Julie Gurr in the Arran museum. I wonder who made these and how many were distributed to rescue services along our coasts?

Cliff rescue helmet, Museum nan Eileann, Dawn Susan

There are a couple of long line baskets woven in willow with hazel ribs. Presumably these were made here on the islands. One is documented as being made in the 1920s by Angus Campbell in Tarbert.

I was disappointed not to find any frame baskets. I have been looking for one all-over as hundreds of these would have been used in the herring industry here. But they probably rotted and fell apart. I haven’t met anyone who remembers this type of basket being made here. Maybe the skills of frame basketry died out. Maybe all the ones used in the herring industry were shipped in along with the quarter crans.

Museum nan Eilean has collections of archaeological, social, domestic and economic historical interest of the Island , including artefacts, photos, prints, paintings and archives.

Bernera Historical Society Collection

This is a very small museum with only 4 baskets. Three of these are fishing baskets, two small line frame baskets and a great line basket. All are made of rattan and with line inside. All the baskets were donated by people living in Kirkibost, Bernera.

Ciosan made of marram grass courtesy of Bernera Museum, Isle of Great Bernera, Western Isles

This ciosan is unusual because of it having a handle. This basket is well worth a visit. It may be in storage so you may have to ask to see it.

More information on this basket in my article in musuems

Comunn Eachdraidh Uig/ Uig Historical Society Museum

Uig Historical Society has a great little museum based in the Community Centre at Timsgarry, Lewis.

They have eight baskets including a commercially made small round shopper, a small line basket, a great line basket a creel, a ‘child’s creel’, a bonnet basket, a newly made mudag and a ciosan. Both creels were made by Donald MacDonald of Gisla and you can see him in action in the Creels section of How to make.

The ciosan is not in the best of condition and was not on display but kept in the back…so if you want to see it I would contact them in advance.

marramgrass rope uig4 cut enhOne of the Uig historical members, Finlay MacIver, has made a length of marram grass rope for the museum and there is a bunch of dry marram grass with it. He also ‘made’ some pot scrubbers out of the roots of the marram grass.  The roots were sometimes exposed after a storm and then

marram root pot scrubber uig cut enh

a bunch was torn out and rolled together to form a mat.


bonnet basket uig1 cutbonnet basket uig2 cutThe bonnet basket belonged to Teen Anne’s great grandmother, Anne Mackay, around the turn of the century. Although I really doubt that this was made on the islands it is great to know it’s actual use and who by.

More information on items in this museum in a longer article in Comunn Eachdraidh Uig


Comunn Eachdraidh Nis / Ness Historical Society Collection

Comunn Eachdriadh Ness/ Ness Historical Society Collection, Old School Dell, Lewis





This collection is housed in the Old School of Dell in the district of Ness, Isle of Lewis. Ness includes many villages or ‘townships’.




Definitely worth a look are the creels here.

mixed creel nis cut enhThere are two creels. One is made of mix of a dark cane and willow.



The other is of a type I have not seen before, more like the east coast creels. It is made of wood and cane and

Creel, cane and wood. Ness, Lewis

looks to be made by someone used to making the small line baskets. both have woven straps of the same design as Donald Macarthur has taught me, using quite a fine string. These would have taken hours to make on a hand loom.


The wooden baskets are unusual in the collections around the island although local people say that they remember them being around in different places.

great line basket wood nis bait enh There are two small line ones and one that Anne MacLeod said was for the great line once baited. This photo show the large one and in front is a great line basket with line and cork on the border for the hooks.

There is also a length of heather rope.

Comunn Eachdraidh Siabost/ Westside Historical Society Collection

Comunn Eachdraidh Siabost, Lewis


In 2013 this collection is currently housed in the Shawbost Community Centre but may well be moving. I was lucky to be able to talk with a member of the Society but usually there is no one in attendance and entry is by donation.

It is a small collection made from various of the Westside villages including treasured items kept and handed down.

The collection includes two creels, a small line basket, a length of heather rope, a heather brush and a marram grass brush.

The creels are both woven at the start with a different technique to the Uig and Bernera ones. One has a trac border at the top, which is unusual. This one is in great condition and apparently was not used for work but stored inside and looked after.

Heather rope. Comunn Eachdraidh Siabost, Lewis

Heather rope. Comunn Eachdraidh Siabost, Lewis

The heather rope is particularly finely woven. A work of beauty! Great too to see a heather brush and another find I have not seen before is a marram grass brush. This is in superb condition. It has been bound with marram grass twine but also modern string and is possibly a recreation and not ever used.

See more photos of what is in this museum here

Arnol BlackhouseArnol Blackhouse museum

This museum is in an original black house and consequently has the same problems for the baskets as in the old days…a peat fire which coats everything with oily peat smoke and it seriously suffers with damp. There are a few commercially produced small baskets in the house.

To me one of the best items to see here is the huge pile of heather rope….it gives one the idea of just how much was needed for the roofing.

Heather rope in Arnol Blackhouse

I have made two creels for the museum and was asked to copy a fabulous cane long line basket…which I could not. This basket was donated by an islander but we do not know where it was originally made. It was certainly made by a professional basketmaker as the quality of the work is so good. The conditions in the Blackhouse are causing it to degenerate pretty quickly though.

Long liner at Arnol Blackhouse

There are some photos in the museum including a great one of a group of people with creels loaded up with peats which was taken on Lewis.

The Blackhouse Museum on Lewis is managed by Historic Scotland. Blackhouses were straw-roofed dwellings. Inside was a peat fire. There was no chimney. There was a special area for the animals inside.