How to Weave a Bread Basket

Learn how to weave a bread basket, includes history of basket weaving, using straw and wheat for weaving and steps to weave a basket.

| October/November 1992

  • You can learn how to weave a bread basket using nature's materials.
    You can learn how to weave a bread basket using nature's materials.
    Photo By Fotolia/soleg

  • You can learn how to weave a bread basket using nature's materials.

You can learn how to weave a bread basket using these simple instructions.

Since the beginning of ­civilization, people all over the world have used grains to enhance their surroundings. Ancient Egyptians pressed wheat heads into the walls of clay pots, and the heat of firing burned out the wheat, leaving the design in the finished pot. Throughout human his­tory, grains with hollow stems or stalks that could be spliced or joined have been plaited, braided, or spiraled into useful and decorative objects. Straws were tied and bent into animals, human figures, and other symbolic forms.

The art of braiding or plaiting straw (referred to as “corn” in Europe and Asia) is steeped in folklore, tradition, myth, and spiritual beliefs. It originated mainly in the old peasant cultures of Europe, Scandinavia, and China, where people believed that if a small amount of grain from a successful harvest were preserved over the winter and planted again the following year, the next harvest also would be plentiful. Wheat was often a symbol of fertility, and in many traditional harvest festivals, the season’s last sheaf of grain was formed into the shape of a woman, symbolically dressed and decorated, and ceremoniously transported to a place of honor in the belief that the harvest spirit lived within this “corn dolly.” Gifts of artfully woven “corn” were symbols of friendship and good wishes.

As the combine and mechanical harvesting began to revolutionize wheat farming in the late nineteenth century, the tradition and art of making corn dollies nearly died out in the more developed countries. However, the early 1950s saw a revival of the craft in England. Classes were offered, new books written and old books reprinted, and making corn dollies became a craze, although it was now a form of decoration rather than a fertility rite. In the early 1970s, a Kansas woman named Doris Johnson encountered corn dollies in England and brought the techniques back to her wheat-growing home state. The craft took off like wildfire in Kansas, and its popularity soon spread to other Wheat Belt states. The National Association of Wheat Weavers was organized in Kansas in 1986, and state and local organizations now also exist in Illinois and California.

Today, anything made with grain straws is referred to as a corn dolly in areas outside the United States. However, the term “wheat weaving” was coined in 1974 because of widespread confusion between corn dollies, which are made from wheat, and corn husk dolls, which are made from corn husks and were quite popular in the same area of the United States. Wheat weaving is now the American term for corn dolly.

Harvesting and Processing Wheat

Many varieties of wheat are grown in the United States, but most are bred for grain production rather than wheat weaving. The best wheat for weaving generally is hard red winter wheat, which has long first joints (18 to 26 inches, measured from the bottom of the seed head), well-proportioned heads, and golden to creamy straw. If you’d like to grow your own wheat, you’ll find details on page 30 in this issue. Growers who produce wheat specifically for wheat weaving are listed at the end of this article.

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