Coiling is one of the simplest methods for making baskets and it is the best method for waving a basket from sweetgrass. Pine needles, fabric braids, straw and rushes are some of the other materials used for coiling baskets. In addition to the basket material, the only supplies required for basket coiling are a sturdy cotton twine and a large gauge needle. It will take several hours to several days to finish a sweetgrass basket, depending on its size and how quickly you master the skill of coiling.
Begin by smoothing out several strands of sweetgrass, enough to make a bundle that’s approximately 1/2 inch in diameter (at the thick end) when squeezed tightly together. Gather the thick ends of the grass together and keep them even as you make the bundle. You will need several of these tidy bundles for an entire basket. You can make many of them at once, and tie them loosely with a piece of twine or a twist-tie to keep them organized.
Loop a simple knot in the wide end of a bundle. The knot will be the center point of the basket’s bottom. Coil the bundle of grass around the center knot, whip-stitching the bundle to the knot as you work. Continue to coil and stitch, securing each new spiral to the previous one. Add a new bundle of grass by intertwining the thick end with the last several inches of the old bundle.
When your twine becomes too short to work with, tie a new piece to the end of it. Try to hide the knots on the inside of the basket as you go. Use a study cotton twine when you are learning, and make your stitches as often as needed to keep the coils together. As you gain experience, you can use a higher quality linen twine and improve your stitching techniques. For example, a stitching method employed by skilled basket makers is to make the stitches part of the overall pattern by staggering them at even intervals, or creating stitch lines that appear to swirl out from the basket’s center.
After you’ve formed a flat bottom, begin lifting and stitching the coil up to form the sides of the basket. At this point, you’ll be stitching coils on top of each other instead of connecting flat concentric circles. When the basket is as tall as you want, stop adding new grass bundles. The wispy ends of sweetgrass create a naturally tapered shape for completing the final coil. Stitch the ends down securely and the basket it complete.
Once you become adept at basket coiling, try working with very large or very small bundles of sweet grass for different aesthetic affects. Make miniature baskets with thin coils and oversized baskets with plump coils.
Cover a portion of your basket’s flat bottom with a round patch of heavy leather. It will give the basket extra stability and an attractive embellishment.
Handling the sweetgrass for long periods of time can be drying or irritating to your hands. If so, wear thin rubber gloves as you work. Avoid using heavy creams or oily lotions while you’re coiling. The dry grass will absorb the emollients, giving a stained, splotchy look to your basket.