People used whatever materials were available to them. This would usually have been what was growing in the local vicinity. It is also possible that as people travelled and settled in different places that they may have taken cuttings or seeds of their preferred basket making materials. As Lois Walpole notes though if a new material turned up on the docks as packing material from across the world then it too would be used. Also at times local materials would be denied to people through the law, such as heather and marram grass.

Bent grass or marram grass

Marram grass growing on machair, Isle of Lewis

This coastal plant was used to make various types of island basket on both the Western and Northern isles as coiled baskets. Sometimes the grass was also used, twined, as the stitching on these baskets. It was also used for brushes, ropes, grain sacks, horse collars and pack saddle pads, mats, chair seating and nets.  The…

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Bramble stems, Isle of Great Bernera

Bramble is a very strong material and can be gathered selecting good long stems which have a more consistent thickness than for instance willow.

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Rumex obtusifolius flowering

Dockens, dokkins, bulmint are all words for the dock plant from Shetland and Orkney. These dried dock weed stalks were used because they did not rot so readily as straw. Dock stalks are used dried hard after being cut in August/September and cleaned of leaves/seed heads. These need to be soaked preferably in salt water prior…

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This is one of Scotland's native trees that has been used traditionally for basketry. The tree readily coppices, with lots of straight poles growing from the stool. Hazel is often left on an eight-year rotation, depending on how thick the rods are required.   Hazel is usually the material of choice for the hoops of…

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Ling heather, Isle of Great Bernera

Baskets, brushes and mats are made from heather on across Scotland, especially in the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and in the Western Isles. To gather heather, it must be 'pulled' from sites on the moor where it grows long. This means that areas where it has been burned or there have been sheep grazing are not…

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Rattan is a weaving material which has been imported to the UK from South East Asia over several centuries. It can be recognized by its scale-like surface, its fibrous core, and its length, which means that any basket made from it will, unlike willow, have very few ends.

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Soft Rush in March. Isle of Great Bernera

  The rush used in Scottish baskets appears to be Juncus effuses, common names for this are Soft Rush, Field Rush and in Shetland, Floss. This rush grows and spreads readily in poorly drained fields.   It is hard to work when first cut. It is easier once dried and then made damp (from Liz…

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  Straw has been used traditionally for basketry in Scotland in a variety of ways. Bundles of it are twined together to make kishies in Shetland, it is sewn in coils to make coisans in the Western Isles, and toigs in Shetland, and of course the famous Orkney chairs are woven with straw. The straw…

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One of Scotland’s native trees, willow actually comes in several different species. Along with other trees it is willow’s potential for coppicing that has enabled its use in basketry.

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Owen Jones splitting oak

Wood has been used in baskets either finely shaved and interwoven such as in the oak spales or sometimes used to strengthen baskets, such as on the base of the crans. Fishing line baskets on the Isle of Lewis were sometimes made with wood strips. There is strong tradition of making oak swill baskets in Lakeland…

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