A Flax Basket: Do-It-Yourself

Try making this natural, sturdy bread basket out of flax.


| June/July 1995


In many cultures, artisans have made simple coiled baskets of locally available materials for thousands of years. I’ve drawn from this tradition to make a sturdy bread basket out of flax, stitched with waxed linen thread. The contrast of the natural, earthy flax (which you can grow and process yourself or buy commercially) and the smooth, precise stitches is wonderfully satisfying both to make and to look at. Waxed linen thread comes in a rainbow of colors and is so strong that you don’t have to worry about its breaking.

If you have never coiled a basket before, I suggest that you make a small sample first to get the feel of the materials. As you stitch, pull the waxed linen good and tight and don’t let it twist around itself as you go. Do, however, twist the flax fiber as you work; this makes it both stronger and less apt to come apart. An easy way to add the twist is to turn your basket over from time to time in the same direction. If you are left-handed, reverse the directional parts of the instructions: you will be much more comfortable working from left to right.

To make the basket shown, I used prepared flax roving: a loose, thin, continuous roll or snake of fiber that’s available from fiber stores or weaving shops. Roving has a rich odor, the result of soaking the flax to rot away the woody and sticky parts and free the long, silky fibers. Find a work area with good circulation (I work on a covered porch) and carefully dump the roving out of the bag. Spread it apart gently and let it air out for a day or two.

To make roving from flax that you’ve processed yourself (see “Growing and Processing Flax”, page 50), lay out the pile of line fibers into a long, continuous roll of consistent thickness, twisting it as you go. When compacted, the roll should be about 3/8 inch thick, or twice the thickness of commercial roving.

If using prepared roving, you’ll need a double thickness for the basket; place the two ends together, then repack the roving loosely into a basket or sack, aligning the doubled strands. Set the basket or sack beside you as you work.

Materials

  • 1 pound flax roving
  • 2 fifty-gram spools of 4-ply waxed linen
  • 2 or more blunt tapestry needles
  • Scissors
  • Cloth tape measure

1. Cut a piece of waxed linen 3 to 4 yards long and thread it doubled through a tapestry needle. Gently straighten the end of the doubled strand of roving. Bury the ends of the waxed linen in the roving and, starting at the end, tightly wrap the waxed linen around the roving (from right to left) at 1/4-inch intervals for 51/2 inches. Twist the flax as you go. Turn the work over and bend the flax back against the wrapped portion so that you are again working from right to left. Wrap the waxed linen away from you and over the top of the new row of roving. As you bring the needle back up for the next wrap, stitch through about 1/8 inch of the previous row.





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